As Aaron Gordon drove along the baseline in the opening minute of the second quarter Tuesday night, Mitchell Robinson gave chase. Jumping on one side of the rim and swinging his right arm, Robinson came up empty as Gordon continued for a reverse layup attempt. Robinson threw out his left arm, trying to block the shot on that side, too.
He didn’t get the block on that drive, being assessed a foul, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. And that has become the common theme for the Knicks’ 7-1 rookie as he has made his way around the league by trying — and often succeeding — to block anything he can get near.
He became the first Knicks rookie since blocks were officially tracked in 1973-74 to block at least five shots in consecutive games, according to Elias Sports. It is not just protecting the rim, but also flying at shooters on the perimeter. Unlike too many nights this season, this time it was enough to spur a Knicks win as they defeated the Orlando Magic, 108-103, at Madison Square Garden.
For the Knicks it was their second straight win at the Garden after losing 18 straight and their third win in the last four games — which isn’t exactly good news for the Ping-Pong ball chase for the NBA Draft Lottery.
Robinson followed up a 15-point, 14-rebound, 5-block effort Sunday with a career-high 17 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks and three steals to lift the Knicks to a come-from-behind win. The Knicks got 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists off the bench from Henry Ellenson, who is on a 10-day contract.
Robinson is still much the player he was at the start of the season, a work in progress after spending his one season after high school working out to prepare for the NBA Draft. He was taken by the Knicks in the second round and immediately turned heads with his length and athleticism. Early in the season he had a nine-block night and while that is a rarity, he has been putting up numbers nearly every night.
Robinson was asked at practice Monday how many blocks he thought he could average per game once he starts playing bigger minutes and he said, “Probably around 6. I feel like I can do around six.”
What has gotten in the way most of the time is foul trouble, but Knicks coach David Fizdale — even if the figure would be an all-time NBA record — wasn’t doubting Robinson.
“I’m not putting a ceiling on him,” Fizdale said. “If he believes it I’m with him. He’s shown that he’s an elite shot blocker. Obviously I’m going to keep trying to grow him and build him up to where he’s playing more and more minutes. But the sky is the limit for the kid.”
With Enes Kanter gone and DeAndre Jordan sidelined with a sprained ankle again there are more minutes available for Robinson. And with that has come more opportunities. He hasn’t fouled out of a game since January 23 — the lesson he has been pushed more than any other this season. In the 14 games since then he has blocked 46 shots.
“It’s just, he wants to block everything,” Fizdale said. “And so when he’s, when smaller guys shot fake, he gets a little anxious. [San Antonio’s DeMar] DeRozan got him up the other night early in the game and got into his body and stuff like that. But if he just maintains discipline and is really patient with it and let them leave the ground first, that’s the next layer for him. But he’s already gotten better there.”
With four minutes to play he slammed down a lob to pull the Knicks even with the Magic at 100, the first time they’d tied the score since the Magic scored first at the start of the game. He then hit one of two from the line with 2:56 left to give the Knicks their first lead of the night. He then swatted a Jonathan Issac layup to preserve the lead.
The offensive production has been limited to a range of touching the rim on most of his attempts this season, but the Knicks have been working with him in practice and pregame on using his speed and athleticism on that end of the floor, too.
“At some point during the season I’m going to start putting him in different positions out of timeouts and things like that just to get his feet wet,” Fizdale said. “As we get into the summer, really start to evolve that next level of his offensive game.”