There was very little to cheer for at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks slogged through a 17-65 season with the fans well aware that most of the players were just placeholders for the salary-cap space the team hopes to use this summer to bring stars back to town.
But even in the most lopsided losses -- and there were many -- the one constant that drew the fans to ease up on the “Tank for Zion” chants was when Mitchell Robinson would rise to block a shot or to throw down a dunk off a lob from one of his nondescript teammates.
The 21-year-old second-round pick provided one bit of hope. That was evident Thursday afternoon as he sat at a table at the NBA Store in midtown Manhattan, signing autographs for a huge line of fans that snaked through the room meant to hold the crowd and then across the entire lower level of the store.
Its stock of Robinson jerseys sold out as fans plucked items for him to sign and posed for pictures with the 7-1 center.
“It’s going great,” Robinson said. “I don’t have no problem with it -- never did, never have. I enjoy people coming out to support me, support us. Everything has been great. I see a lot of people come up to us, still striving for us to do better. I appreciate them.”
He got home to Louisiana for a quick visit and a semblance of normal life after rising to prominence in a Knicks season that had little else to cheer about. It made Robinson not only a fan favorite, but a minor celebrity. While fans were seeking autographs, he was getting some of them on camera for a web show he’s been working on since the season ended.
But mostly he has been focused on getting better. Despite finishing second in the NBA in blocked shots per game (2.4), Robinson sees plenty of room for improvement. He did little offensively other than dunk, taking just a handful of shots outside of three feet, but expects to change that next season. He will play in the Las Vegas Summer League, and in addition to his work under the Knicks’ tutelage, he expects to work out in Florida, Dallas and Los Angeles, learning from other players.
“I’m going to take shots,” he said. “Work on my jump shot because I see when I go back to look at film, I see guys play off of me. When I get the ball at the free throw line, they’ll step way back. So I’m like, ‘OK, they think I can’t shoot.’ So I’ve got to work on that and just get better.”
As he sat among jerseys of stars around the league, the type of players the Knicks hope to land in free agency, he looked toward next season.
“Hopefully, we get it done,” Robinson said. “Hopefully, we get something done here and make the playoffs next season. I can’t speak for who they’re trying to get. I’m here to get better, but I enjoyed New York a lot.”