SACRAMENTO — Nearly the entire Knicks roster is locked in place, with multiple-year contracts limiting the team’s efforts to rebuild — a state of the franchise that was evident at the trade deadline when the Knicks put nearly the entire roster on the block and found no takers.
But the one player whom they have control over for only 17 more games after Monday night’s contest against the Kings, Mitchell Robinson, has been growing into a key piece.
Robinson will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and he dismisses any talk of his future with a wave of the hand and an admonition to talk to his agent.
"When that time comes, I’m pretty sure you’ll be the first to know," he said. "We’ll see how that goes."
Robinson garnered interest at the trade deadline last month, but with the chance to sign him in the summer, teams hesitated.
Robinson has rounded into form and begun to put up consistent impressive numbers. He played only 1:40 in Monday night's game, leaving because of a non-COVID-19 illness, but in the previous 22 games, he averaged 10.0 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in just under 27 minutes per game and hit 76% of his shots from the field. He’s averaging 4.8 offensive rebounds per game in that span, many of which he has turned into dunks.
While the Knicks have struggled to find their way, Robinson excelled Friday in Phoenix, outplaying former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton and finishing with 17 points, 8-for-8 shooting from the field, 15 rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots. He followed it up with 12 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots in Sunday’s win over the Clippers.
"He’s great. He’s been great since I’ve been here," RJ Barrett said. "He’s so athletic. He’s really figuring stuff out. It’s amazing to see him playing out there . . . It’s freakish to see. It’s crazy seeing a 7-footer doing that. He stole the ball, put it between his legs and passed it to me. It’s amazing and I’m happy to see the things he can do."
"Mitch is playing really well, really well," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I want him to continue on that path. His effort to the board — his execution is much, much improved in terms of what we can do with him in terms of dribble-handoff and pick-and-roll and that sort of thing. He’s growing day by day."
The effort has been the most notable change. It’s not that he didn’t work before, but his athleticism and ability to defend all the way to the three-point line while protecting the rim has made him a force on the defensive end. And doing it against the likes of Ayton might be an indicator of the jump in status.
"It’s getting to that point," Robinson said of being able to play against the league’s best big men. "I’ve just got to play hard, match their intensity and figure it out from there. Effort is the big part of it, but also with today’s media — I don’t want to be on nobody’s crossover mix tape. I don’t want to be famous in the wrong reason. I can’t do that. So I’m going to go out and not lock my feet and just try to move the best way I can.
I don’t want to be on anybody’s And 1 mixtape, no. I’m not because my family watches me play basketball. I don’t got time for that. They ain’t making fun of me at my house."
"He’s had so many new coaches at the beginning of his career," Barrett said. "With Thibs being in here, being able to just grow in a period of time is just good for him, whether it’s getting lobs or whenever somebody gets in the paint and misses a layup, he’s there cleaning it up. Blocks shots, he’s doing everything out there. Sometimes he switches and guards point guards. He’s very active, playing very well."