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In sophomore season with Knicks, Mitchell Robinson hones his defense

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson reacts during training camp

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson reacts during training camp at the MSG Training Center on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Mitchell Robinson spent the end of the Knicks first day of training camp workouts casually dropping in three-pointers, one after another, looking around to make sure that the cameras were on him. And then he grabbed the Knicks film crew microphone and confidently held court with the media.

It was all part of the show for Robinson, an ever-expanding repertoire for the 21-year-old as he was more than willing to let everyone know.

“I’m shooting the thing now,” Robinson said. “We have vets now. We just got extra work, getting them up, getting something done every day after practice. I like that. So we continue to grow . . .  I worked on them all summer. Why work on something you’re not going to use? I’m looking forward to it.”

For a player whose offensive range last year went about as far as dunking, that is an attractive trait. But for Robinson, defense remains the part of his game that gets him on the floor. And on day one it was the part of the game that the Knicks hope will improve top to bottom to lift them from the struggles of last year’s 17-65 season.

“Heated, very competitive practice,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “We spent most of the practice on defense, hammering home our concepts. I felt that we have a pretty smart group, they pick up things fast.”

Robinson was one of the few players on the roster who displayed an aptitude for that end of the floor last season, coming into the league as a second-round draft pick after sitting out the season after high school. He earned second team NBA All-Rookie honors as he finished second in the NBA in blocked shots per game at 2.44 and establishing a new franchise record for blocked shots with 161.

But the numbers and his freakish wingspan and athleticism also covered up the flaws as he was a raw talent with little actual team defensive concepts. 

"He’s more disciplined,” Fizdale said of Robinson as camp began. “Multiple times, guys tried to get him up in the air and he did a great job of staying down on shot fakes and keeping his hands out. He’s really coming into his own and understanding how he can be effective in the league. Because this is now his second lap and I think he’s more comfortable with what he’s facing. His strength and his post defense is much better. Early on last year the bigger guys would give him problems because they would back him down. But he’s a lot tougher to back down now.

“It’s film. We put in a ton of time in talking about it. We held him accountable in practice. DeAndre Jordan was a huge part of that helping him understand being disciplined and using his voice. All of those factors, I think by the end of the year, he wasn’t getting in foul trouble as much. He’s now coming into this year a little more experienced and I think things are slowing down for him a little bit.”

Robinson said he’s sliding his feet, not reaching and getting silly fouls — although he would not concede that he wouldn’t at least try to affect every shot he can. But he also thinks he can be something more than that.

“I feel way more comfortable,” Robinson said. “I got the microphone in my hand. I feel great. Year two coming up, and I’m excited.”

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