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Knicks center Mitchell Robinson still raw, but growth impresses

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson dunks against the Atlanta

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson dunks against the Atlanta Hawks during the first half at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke


When Carmelo Anthony made his appearance at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, it was all about him — his past, his first game back in New York since his one-year exile from the NBA and even his future as he wondered aloud about the possibility of having his jersey retired.

But the star of the game that night wasn’t Anthony. Instead, it was the Knicks’ still raw second-year center, Mitchell Robinson. And even Anthony noticed that.

“That’s what he does,” Anthony said after Robinson matched his career high with 22 points and became the third player in Knicks history to convert all 11 of his shots from the field. “The way he protects the rim. The way he runs the court. I honestly think that he’s getting better and better and better. I don’t really think he understands how good he is, or how good he can be, his ceiling. The way he plays is perfect for what the Knicks do.”

“I think we’ve seen him grow over the last year and a half,” Knicks interim coach Mike Miller said. “I think we all believe there’s a lot more there. It’s going to continue to evolve for him. You’ll see his development where he does more and more.”

Just what Robinson will be remains a mystery. Right now he is a shot-blocking force defensively. He set a Knicks rookie record for blocked shots last season, becoming the first rookie in NBA history to average at least 2.40 blocks and shoot 60 percent from the field. But he is prone to foul trouble on defense, and the reason he is shooting a league-leading 70.2% this season is that he understands the extent of his range — basically as far as he can move from the rim and still dunk.

While Robinson is content to serve as the finisher to an assortment of lobs from teammates, he spends every pregame and post-practice session working on a series of outside shots. But in games, he doesn’t even look to shoot when he gets a pass away from the rim.

“Yeah, it’s got to come to me,” he said. “I’m not going to rush into it. If I get myself going and I feel it, then I might. Usually, I just like to continue to do what I do.”

Growing up 

The Knicks hope to see continued growth this season from Frank Ntilikina. The 21-year-old point guard has emerged as a steady part of the rotation, and on some nights, he has begun to show flashes that he can be something more.

In the Knicks’ win over the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night, Ntilikina handed out 10 assists without a turnover and scored nine points, including a late-game driving dunk that brought his teammates and the fans at Madison Square Garden to their feet.

“Definitely it was a good moment, good action,” Ntilikina said. “And I felt like the game was kind of like over at that time, so it’s not a celebration, but just we’re happy to get the win.”

His teammates celebrated the dunk after mocking him for missing one earlier this season. “Finally, it’s here,” he said.

Ntilikina has worked to become more of a leader in this, his third season. The biggest part of that has been finally performing on the floor and earning the trust of his teammates.

“I’m trying to. It is a big emphasis that I’m trying to get better at, leading my team and teammates,” he said. “I’ve got good guys who help me doing that like Elfrid Payton]. He’s been great at doing it, trying to help me get better at it.”

Carmelo’s biggest fan

Marcus Morris spoke in Portland about his excitement at seeing Carmelo Anthony back in the NBA, noting that he grew up fashioning his game after Anthony’s. When the two met in New York on Wednesday, they exchanged jerseys after the game, posing for pictures on the court. Anthony had a season-high 26 points in his return to New York, but the Knicks and Morris got the win.

“It was long overdue,” Morris said. “I told him that. I’ve been wanting his jersey. But just for me, as a competitor, I just never really asked for it because I’ve been trying to beat him every year. That’s a Hall of Famer right there, a guy I watched growing up. Big fan. It’s crazy because all my friends are fans of Melo. Growing up, he was the guy we watched. It’s exciting to see him. I’m very happy for him. He did good. As long as they [didn’t] win, that was cool.”

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