When the double-overtime loss to the Hawks was over Sunday night, Dikembe Mutombo came walking through the corridors. With the 140-135 final score fresh in his mind, he joked that there no longer are any shot-blockers in the league.
He was reminded about the Knicks' Mitchell Robinson, who had blocked three shots in this game.
Mutombo turned and wagged his finger — this time in agreement, as opposed to his trademark motion toward shooters he had just denied — and noted, “Yeah, he’s good.”
Since coming into the league last season as a second-round pick without any college ball behind him, Robinson has been good at that part of the game — finishing second in the NBA in blocked shots per game as a rookie, including a stretch of 29 consecutive games with at least two blocks.
But he is hoping — and the Knicks probably are hoping just as much — that he can expand his game. Performances like Sunday provide a hint of what could come. He scored 15 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked three shots and added three steals.
“Mitchell Robinson is a beast,” teammate Wayne Ellington said. “He really is. He’s all over the floor. He does so many things, so many intangibles. You see what he does on the stat sheet, but he does so many other things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”
What he does do on the stat sheet is pretty impressive. He leads the NBA in field-goal percentage (.728) and is fifth in total blocked shots (93) and sixth in blocks per game (1.9).
But there is plenty of room for growth. His range offensively remains within an arm’s reach of the rim, although he spends much of his pregame and practice time working on his perimeter shooting, all the way to beyond the three-point line. And defensively, he still is raw despite the shot-blocking, often moving out of position in his efforts to block or alter shots.
He’s heard some of the critiques and was intent Sunday on quieting the critics.
“Yeah, I mean, someone told me my defense was a little off,” he said. “So I had to show them my defense, had to step it up. I’m going to continue to grow on it, get better at it. Hopefully it can bring us some more wins.”
When the trade deadline passed last week, Robinson was regarded around the league as one of the few untouchable pieces on the Knicks' roster — despite the notion among some analytical observers that a center who can’t shoot from the outside is a relic of older times.
While he wasn’t ready to play Sunday, Clint Capela was just acquired by the Hawks in a trade that left the Rockets opting to play small ball without him. Robinson has been compared to Capela from the time he was drafted, but he wasn’t setting that as a high bar for himself.
“I’m going to be straight up with you,” Robinson said. “I don’t really watch him like that. I know he is a great player. I played against him last year when he was with the Rockets. He’s all right, but I wouldn’t say I watched him.
“We do the same thing. We pretty much do the same thing. It’s just that my defense is better.”