By Patrick Spauster
It’s not hard to hush a middling crowd at a preseason NBA game. But Monday in DC, Knicks rookie Mitchell Robinson caught everyone’s attention. Robinson and Markieff Morris produced a collective gasp from the crowd with a chippy exchange with three minutes left in the second quarter. Robinson didn’t back down when the 8-year veteran got in his face. A few seconds later, Robinson baited Morris to continue his chirping, and the Wizards forward was ejected. Robinson lifted his arms innocently and smirked.
Not even 24 minutes into his first NBA action, Robinson showed some of the color that makes him such an exciting prospect for this Knicks season. Beyond his deft trash talk, Robinson showed that he’s got game, and he doesn’t care much what you, or Morris, think of him.
It wasn’t the first time Robinson showed his spunk. Robinson was a star in Louisiana high school. He earned a spot on the McDonalds All-American Team, was considered one of the best prospects, and had numerous college offers on the table. He committed to play for Texas A&M before the assistant coach who recruited him left for Western Kentucky. Mitchell followed his coach, but after a few summer practices at WKU, he suddenly cleaned out his dorm room and went to Costa Rica. He wouldn’t play college ball again. All this to say, Mitchell Robinson is used to being the odd one out.
After the prolonged will-he-or-won’t-he saga with a number of colleges, Robinson opted not to play college ball. Instead, he spent the year working on on his own preparing for the NBA draft – the first player of his caliber to skip the one-and-done year. As a result, he fell in the draft, and the Knicks snatched him up with their early second round pick. Robinson’s falling draft stock didn’t seem to bother him. At his introduction with the Knicks, he ignored questions on the details of his college fiasco, stating plainly, “I felt like I should just focus on basketball to get me where I want to be.” Now he’s got something to prove.
Robinson was on fire in summer league. He scored 13 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, and blocked four shots in 25 minutes a game. On Monday, his tussle with Markieff Morris was just one example of his feistiness. He scored 6 points, hauled in 7 boards, and blocked a shot in 16 minutes against better competition. He nabbed two big offensive boards and finished two athletic lobs above the rim. Robinson’s fearlessness has gotten him into some foul trouble (luckily you can’t foul out in summer league). Monday, he picked up three personal fouls in just 16 minutes of play. Don’t expect that to deter him in the future.
He has all the tools to be a difference maker for the Knicks. At an agile 7’1’’ with a 7’3.5’’ wingspan, the Knicks might see him as a Capela-esque defensive presence and offensive finisher if he can channel his fire into true development. Many suggested Robinson would spend time in the G-league this season. But I don’t think he’s is listening to those people.
Robinson wants you to know he’s done being the odd one out, and he won’t back down from a challenge. He’s ready to show he can hang in the NBA right now. And he’s got a pretty big chip on his shoulder.