By: Matt Brooks
Welcome to the third and final part of our roster preview, where we at OmniFan have been evaluating the exciting, young talent on the Knicks. If you missed parts I and II, go check those out here and here.
For our final portion of the preview, we will be going over two young players who can potentially bring a Top-5 Defense to New York.
Man. The Knicks really outdid themselves in this year’s draft.
Drafted in the Second Round of the 2018 Draft, Mitchell Robinson was selected with the 39th pick after skipping college (due to eligibility issues). As a result, Robinson had not played a game of organized basketball for 14 months prior to his Summer League debut. Simply put, he was as raw as they come.
Robinson is an immensely tall player, standing at 7'1" with a solid 7'4" wingspan. He’s fairly skinny for his size, weighing in at 223 pounds, but his slender figure allows him to fly up the court while sprinting from baseline to baseline.
I’m not the first to break this story, as Knicks fans across New York will gladly offer this nugget of information up: Mitchell Robinson is already the all-time leader in blocks per game (...in Summer League).
I try not to overreact to Summer League statistics. So when I say that Robinson has the potential to be one of the better shot-blockers in the league, it isn’t because of the sheer numbers (4.0 BPG) that he was putting up. I’m making this statement because of the type of blocks that Robinson showed he was capable of.
Robinson is, frankly, really freaking tall and knows how to use his length. He’s excellent at using his verticality to deter shots at the rim without fouling (2.75 PF over 5 games) similar to a Roy Hibbert. What sets him apart from Hibbert is that his quick feet allow him to pin layups against the backboard, even after being well out of position.
His four total blocks on three-pointers were absolutely eye-popping. Take a look at this highlight:
This block by Mitchell Robinson is nuts. Look at the amount of ground he covers after defending the pick-and-roll. pic.twitter.com/LLMLj2wPrl— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) July 11, 2018
How many big men in the league could make that type of a block? Four? Five? That’s Anthony Davis level stuff! In three quick steps, Robinson was able to wipe out a seemingly open Lakers’ three-pointer. This type of upside allows Robinson to fit nicely into a switching defense. His ability to step-up to shooters makes him the perfect switching big-man, similar to a Tristan Thompson or a Clint Capela. The difference between Robinson and those players? Robinson is a whole 3 inches taller than the both of them.
In the short-term, Robinson needs to put on some weight. He’s going to get pushed around a lot in the regular season by larger big men, similar to the way that Tony Bradley manhandled him in the Summer League game against the Utah Jazz. Adding some muscle will also reduce the likelihood of injury, which is essential given his 7-foot frame. In terms of player comparisons, Marcus Camby is a name that has been thrown around the office.. and I really like it! At worst, he’ll be a rich man’s Willie-Cauley Stein which, by the way, is a good player!
Looking at the bigger picture, the frontline of Porzingis and Robinson will make scoring in the paint nearly impossible for the opposing team. However, what’s even more crazy is that unlike other 7’0” shot-blockers (such as a DeAndre Jordan or Rudy Gobert), both Porzingis and Robinson are incredibly light on their feet and are very capable of defending smaller players on the perimeter. Defense in today’s league is predicated upon switching between versatile wing players. The Knicks can adopt this strategy while adding their own spice, replacing two of those 6'8" wing players with not only one, but two Unicorn big men. If things develop the way I hope they do, the Knicks have the potential to deploy a switching defense like no other. Get excited Knicks fans, the future is now.
My colleague, Dylan, published a fantastic article on Frank’s ceiling as well as some excellent analysis on his fundamentals, so go ahead and check that out here.
To quickly give my thoughts on Frank: I think he’s a great young prospect, but I worry that he will never amount to being a star player. I also have serious doubts that he lasts as the Knicks’ long-term answer at Point Guard.
With that said, Ntilikina was quite impressive in his first NBA season, showcasing some lockdown defense from the guard position. He already looks like an All-NBA caliber defender, which is insane given his age. His offense, on the other hand, is… rough at best. He’s a good passer, but is still a poor ball-handler and shows little comfort with shooting the ball (1–5 from three in Summer League). If he is able to improve his shooting even to a league average percentage, he could really see his career take off — similar to a Patrick Beverley.Even if his shot never sorts itself out, Frank Ntilikina will always be a valuable asset on a good team. Guys like Tony Allen, or most recently, Marcus Smart, have been able to carve out careers acting as the glue guy for elite defenses. These types of players dive for loose balls, cover up for their teammates’ mistakes, and most importantly, give their team some hard-nosed character. Frank’s ability to guard the best player on the opposing team (regardless of position) gives the Knicks flexibility when hunting for their point guard of the future. Whether this player comes through the draft, free agency, or even internally, the team can focus on what this player brings to the table on offense rather than on defense. Suddenly, those Kyrie Irving rumors don’t sound so crazy.