MITCH IS BACK, AND BRINGING….
Mitchell Robinson’s return is still some time off. When he returns, he will join Isaiah Hartenstein to become a two-headed monster.
You may have heard that Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks’ starting center, will return to on-court shooting after the All-Star break.
According to Fred Katz, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau indicated last Tuesday, prior to New York’s victory over Memphis, that the team has been quite happy with how the big man has been progressing with his ankle injury. Robinson has been sidelined since mid-December due to major ankle surgery.
While there is no clear schedule for his comeback, Coach Thibs was able to outline the procedure when questioned about it.
“You do the rehab part, you’re in the pool, you’re on the [anti-gravity treadmill], you’re lifting, doing that sort of thing,” he told me. “Then they’ll clear him to play on the court with form shooting and the like.” Then they’ll move on to the running and jumping, and you’ll start with one-on-zero, then one-on-one, then two-on-two, so there’s a progression until you get to five-on-five and you’re cleared for practice.”
In essence, Coach Thibs emphasized that he will adhere to the recommended medical regimen until Robinson is cleared to return to the club. Until then, Robinson’s main focus has been to get back in shape. As a result, he has had limited shooting, swimming, and riding opportunities in order to eventually achieve this aim while also resuming normal activities.
While returning to shoot on-court isn’t the same as resuming actual games, it’s still good news for the Knicks, especially given they’ve been extremely short-handed recently. With big injuries to starters such as Julius Randle (shoulder) and OG Anunoby (right elbow surgery), as well as other injuries on the Knicks’ roster, the team is in serious need of effective defense.
Fortunately, we can credit Isaiah Hartenstein for stepping in and making do with much of Robinson’s absence. While Hartenstein is now suffering with a left Achilles ailment, he and Mitchell are the ideal power tandem at center when both are well.
So, once Robinson is cleared to play, what can Knicks fans expect the club to look like with two powerful centers on the roster?
A Look at Mitch Robinson’s Game.
With only 21 games played in the 2023-24 regular season, The Block Ness Monster has averaged 6.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks while shooting 59.2%.
One of the strongest aspects of Robinson’s outstanding defense is his ability to rush many attempted shots by his opponents. Robinson’s dominance and shot-contesting abilities provide a menace and induce terror in the opponent, shaking them and making them reconsider their surges to the basket. He is a great perimeter closer who covers a lot of ground. He intercepts and deflects a significant number of cross-court passes by remaining watchful. He imposes a high level of dexterity and excels at avoiding unnecessary fouls. Typically, he waits for the offense to make the initial move before confidently stepping in.
Robinson exudes a fierce competitiveness, never shying away from contact or second-chance points. With the arrival of OG Anunoby, the Knicks’ defense has reached new heights (and then taken a little step down with the loss of Quentin Grimes for Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks), Mitch has an opportunity to come in and resume his world-destroying ways.
How about Isaiah Hartenstein?
Hartenstein is very effective in pick-and-roll scenarios. After establishing a screen, he has a propensity of converting the pick into crucial points for the Knicks by going deep into the paint for a score or a dump-off. He’s tough as nails, unafraid to be rough in the post, and frequently ends up bleeding. He’s a solid shot-blocker with good timing, intuition, and stature, but he lacks Robinson’s athleticism and speed, so he can’t always match The Block Ness Monster’s ability to patrol the rim.
Offensively, his court vision is practically unrivaled among centers. He’s a consummate team player, supporting his teammates in tight spaces or when double-teamed. Aside from that, his rebounding ability is incredible. After securing a defensive rebound, he can start a fast-break scoring opportunity with his crafty passes, and he’s almost as effective at earning the Knicks second-chance points as Mitch is.
Similarities Between Robinson and Hartenstein
In terms of rebounding ability, the Knicks collect both offensive and defensive rebounds at significantly higher rates overall when Robinson or Hartenstein are on the court than when they are not. The Knicks have a rebounding rate of 53.1% (33.0% offensively and 73.9% defensively), which is currently listed as the league’s top two.
When Robinson is on the floor, the Knicks have collected 54.3% of potential rebounds (75.4% defensive and 35.7% offensive).
When Hartenstein is on the floor, the Knicks have collected 54.5% of potential rebounds (74.9% defensive and 34.2% offensive).
At the start of the season, Robinson and Hartenstein each averaged 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. After starting at least ten games, they were two of three players to average at least 1.3 thefts and 1.3 blocks per game.
Differences Between Robinson and Hartenstein
On offense, Robinson averages 16.0 front-court touches per game, while Hartenstein averages 24.1.
Robinson also has only 0.8 elbow touches per game, compared to Hartenstein’s 3.2.
Furthermore, Robinson averages only 1.1 potential assists each game, while Hartenstein averages 4.2 potential assists.
It is safe to assume that Hartenstein will remain the Knicks’ starting center while Mitch returns to the court and regains his fitness following his lengthy sabbatical. This isn’t the worst thing, because Robinson’s return to the Knicks squad will be considerably different from the one he departed.
Tom Thibodeau will ideally get the opportunity to analyze what both players can provide in the various combinations that are now open to him, as Mitch and iHart have both proven themselves to be high-level impact players and high-level defenders in very different ways.