Derrick Rose #25 of the Detroit Pistons tries to drive...

Derrick Rose #25 of the Detroit Pistons tries to drive around Mitchell Robinson #23 of the Knicks during the second half at Little Caesars Arena on Dec. 11, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. Credit: TNS/Gregory Shamus

Filled with potential, Mitchell Robinson has barely touched the ceiling that some scouts and executives around the NBA project for him. As he heads into his third season, he seems to be in a perfect place to take a step forward, handed a coach who is here for the long haul and who stresses defense and accountability.

And maybe it is the lesson of accountability that has placed Robinson on the bench to start the first two games of the preseason. In the starting lineup instead is Nerlens Noel, who was signed to a low-cost, low-risk contract two weeks ago.

For the rebuilding Knicks, who lost to the Pistons, 99-91, in Detroit on Sunday night, Robinson is pointed to as a building block. But under new coach Tom Thibodeau, even in a season set with low expectations, Robinson and the other young Knicks are learning that they will have to earn anything they get.

Robinson started only six games last season as the Knicks went through two head coaches. The starting role went to Taj Gibson to help Robinson avoid quick foul trouble.

Robinson said he doesn’t see the role as a slight this season and will be content either starting or coming off the bench.

"It is what it is," said Robinson, who had eight points on 4-for-6 shooting and five rebounds but committed five fouls in just under 20 minutes. "I’m going to go out there and play hard. I really don’t mind starting or don’t mind not starting. I don’t have hurt feelings. I’m just going to go out there and just be the best me.

"As long as I can go out there and help my teammates, I really don’t care if I start or not. It’s early. It is what it is. I’m not going to sit down and pout about it. I’m not going to make a problem or whatever. As long as I get to play my minutes, I’m fine with that."

The complaints that didn’t come from Robinson came mostly from Knicks fans on social media who decried the thought of enduring a losing season with short-term veterans taking minutes from the young core of the team. But in his career, Thibodeau has demonstrated the ability to teach young players well.

"I’m very pleased with how he’s working and progressing," he said of Robinson. "We’re just trying to figure what groups work best together. There’s a lot of similarities between Nerlens and Mitchell. Both are terrific, elite shot-blockers, rim protectors, and they’re great finishers, put a lot of pressure on the rim."

What may be most important for Robinson is showing progress. He is in the third year of his contract (and on his sixth agent). He has one more season on his rookie deal, but the Knicks will have to decide how much money to commit to him.

"However it comes is just how it comes,’’ he said. "I really [am not] thinking of it like that. I just go out there and play."

Notes & quotes: RJ Barrett had 25 points for the Knicks. Rookie Obi Toppin shot 1-for-9 . . . The Knicks went with the same starting lineup for the second game in a row — Noel, Barrett, Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton and Alec Burks. Austin Rivers (groin injury) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (illness) were unavailable.


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