Nerlens Noel, Taj Gibson confident in filling Mitchell Robinson's shoes for Knicks
While some of the big names have been shuttling around the league through trades and buyouts, the Knicks have yet to add a single player to their roster, even as Mitchell Robinson went down with a fractured foot that almost certainly will end his season.
The Knicks announced that Robinson had successful surgery Monday to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. The injury is similar to one that sidelined Kevin Durant when he was with Oklahoma City and for years derailed the career of Brook Lopez. It’s not uncommon for big men in the NBA, but it’s a difficult area to heal for Robinson, a 7-foot, 240-pound center.
The trade deadline has passed and the buyout market has emptied out with LaMarcus Aldridge heading to the Nets, Gorgui Dieng to the Spurs and Andre Drummond to the Lakers. So as the Knicks head through the final 26 games of the season, for now the team is trusting Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson to handle the duties in the middle.
"We’re always looking at who’s available," Tom Thibodeau said. "We’ve been through this when Mitchell was out earlier and so we feel good about what Nerlens does as a starter and also what Taj does. So we’d probably need a little insurance there. But we have guys. Julius [Randle] can play there. So we do have versatility there as well."
"I feel like we have it covered, but that’s not my department," Noel said. "That’s [the front office’s choice]. We’re definitely comfortable with what we have. If Coach, management wants to add another piece, that’s all up to them. I definitely feel we’re comfortable with what we have.
"We have depth in Kevin [Knox] and Obi [Toppin] staying available at the four, five spots and that helps as well, so I like the versatility we have."
The Knicks went 9-6 in the 15 games Robinson missed with a fractured right hand — an injury from which he returned three games before this latest injury.
"First off, with losing Mitch, it’s just like tough," Gibson said. "You know what I’m saying? We work out together and you understand the things that he puts into the game. And to lose that, he got hurt, we don’t even know how long he’s going to be out for now. I’m still trying to register that.
"I’m going to let the guys upstairs handle what they have to handle. But right now just trying to keep the team together, keep the emotions down, knowing that we just lost a big part of our team to a real tough injury. So my mind is just trying to stay focused, keeping guys locked into the game."
"I think we just keep the same mentality, 1 through 15," Noel said. "We’ve been dealing with some guys being down throughout the season. So same mentality. Got to be ready, stay ready no matter who our opponent is. One through 15 have to stay ready. Next-man-up mentality. I’ve been in this position before, obviously, before the All-Star break. So I’m ready to man the paint and do what I have to do to help this team down the stretch."
Gibson provides veteran leadership and Noel has managed to approximate the production of Robinson. Though not as tall or long as Robinson, he has averaged more blocked shots (2.0 per game) than Robinson (1.5) this season, although Robinson has averaged more points and rebounds.
"Nerlens does everything we ask him to do," Gibson said. "He’s young. He loves playing defense . . . He has a lot to his game that he hasn’t scratched the surface of. He’s a talented young player. He protects the rim all the time. He doesn’t back down from anybody trying to dunk the ball. He goes up for the block and mostly all the time he blocks it. He’s doing a great job, really proud of him. He’s got to keep going, keep building.
"We’re just going to circle the wagons. That’s the team motto. Just circle the wagons, bring everybody closer, put more pressure on the guys who are still playing and try to scratch out more wins and be aggressive like we have been the whole year."