Enter Mitchell Robinson's Airspace At Your Own Peril

Illustration for article titled Enter Mitchell Robinson's Airspace At Your Own Peril
Photo: Frank Franklin II (AP)

Here’s a photo of a shot Mitchell Robinson blocked in the Knicks’ win over the Magic Tuesday night. That’s a common sight as of late. It’s not the only shot Mitchell Robinson deleted on that possession. It’s not even the only Aaron Gordon shot he deleted on that possession. When Gordon lays his head down to sleep, that 7-foot-4 wingspan will be there, spiking sheep into the hills.

In the last two Knicks games—both of them, improbably, wins—Robinson has tallied five and six blocks to go along with his double-doubles. He’s scary closing out. He’s scary off his second (or even third) jump. A 20-year-old playing his first year of organized basketball since high school leads the league with 4.5 blocks per 36 minutes. Block rate, which estimates the percentage of the opponent’s two-point attempts blocked by the player while he is on the floor, also has Robinson right at the top of the league, at 10.6 percent.


Blocks are far from a definitive case for good defense—you’d rather have a big stay grounded and steadily contest shots than have him take a few isolated flashy gambles—but in this case they partially explain why Robinson has the only respectable defensive rating (106) on this otherwise catastrophic 27th ranked defense. No jump shot is safe when he’s anywhere in the vicinity. It doesn’t matter how open an opponent is when they receive the pass; he’ll find a way to torment them.

Helping one pass away isn’t great practice, but it’s okay if the defender can make up the lost ground with one monstrous bound. Robinson takes off from the left block and ends up getting a piece of this D.J. Augustin 25-footer.

Though he was credited with just one block on this play, Robinson jumps four times in five seconds and alters all three shot attempts. Dude still has to learn the finer points of positioning, but in the meantime he can more than compensate with tireless pogo-sticking. With all due respect to, er, Henry Ellenson, Robinson closed down the paint singlehandedly.

Bryn Forbes, launching this three in the Spurs’ loss on Sunday night, probably thought he was safe, because there were two whole human beings between him and Robinson. Didn’t matter.

Perimeter mismatches don’t frustrate him either, because Robinson can dance with agility that belies his huge frame. DeMar DeRozan finishes an impeccable 70.6 percent of shots at the rim, but this particular reverse layup was doomed from the get-go.

Mitchell Robinson is doing this on limited minutes, with scarce experience with defensive schemes, on a plainly tanking team. He averaged 10.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks in February, starting no games. Imagine what he’ll do when the Knicks actually want to win.