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Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson apparently frustrated with role

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Mitchell Robinson dunks for the Knicks
New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson (23) dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Friday, Dec. 16, 2022, in Chicago.
AP Photo/Paul Beaty

The Knicks won their second game in a row on Tuesday night, capping off their West Coast road trip with a 123-107 victory over the Portland Trailblazers, even with Jalen Brunson sidelined by a sore foot. It seemed that a rough stretch of the season ended on a high note for New York, but, apparently, not everybody felt the same way. 

Late at night,  starting center Mitchell Robinson took to Snapchat to express his displeasure with his role on the team in two since-deleted messages

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The first read: “Tired asf of just being out there for cardio fam like I want to play basketball to really just wasting my time and energy.” He followed that up 18 minutes later with a message that said, “disappearing for a while.”

While the messages being deleted could be a sign that the 24-year-old center was only momentarily frustrated after the game or that his teammates reached out to address the situation, the possibility of any strife or displeasure couldn’t come at a worse time as the Knicks fight for playoff position with just 11 games to go in the season. 

So why was Robinson potentially upset to begin with?

Despite the Knicks winning, their starting center played just 21 minutes, recording no points, four rebounds, one block, and one steal. The night before, in a win over the Lakers, Robinson played 24 minutes, scoring four points with five rebounds, one block, and one steal. In both games he lost minutes to his backup, Isaiah Hartenstein, and clearly feels as if his role on this team is diminishing to a level he’s unhappy about.

The most problematic part is that Robinson’s diminished role is actually what fits best on the team. 

For starters, Robinson isn’t on the Knicks to be an offensive force, and he likely doesn’t have the skill set to be one if they needed him to since his offensive game depends almost entirely on being set up by his teammates. 

Robinson takes 84.6% of his shots off of zero dribbles, which indicates that he’s not scoring off of his own moves to the basket but rather is relying on alley-oops or passes into the post. In fact, when you sort by just two-point field goals, meaning removing all catch-and-shoot three-point opportunities, Robinson has the highest percentage of no dribble field goal attempts in the entire NBA. Only Boston’s Robert Williams III would rank higher at 93.1%, but he has appeared in only 28 games this season. 

In addition to scoring off of no dribbles more than any player in the NBA, Mitchell Robinson also leads the league in the percentage of points coming off of putbacks at 43.2%. The next highest number from a regular member of a rotation is Steven Adams, who scores 31.9% of his points off of putbacks. 

What’s more, Robinson has attempted only one shot all season from more than five feet away from the basket, so there has been little in his performance on the court to suggest that Robinson has the tools to be more of a focal point for the offense. 

Mitchell Robinson Knicks
Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, front right, shoots under pressure from New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson (23) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, March 11, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

However, even if he did, the Knicks have too many high-usage players to create enough opportunities for their starting center. 

Julius Randle leads the team with a 29.9% usage rate with Brunson coming in just behind him at 27.3%. That barely leaves enough opportunities for former third overall pick and current third option, R.J. Barrett, who has a 26.2% usage rate. That’s high for a third option. 

For comparison’s sake, Malcolm Brogdon ranks third on the Celtics with a 21.2% usage rate, Tyrese Maxey is third on the 76ers with a 24% rate, and Jimmy Butler is third on the Heat with a 23.9% usage rate. All of which is to say that Barrett is one of the highest-usage third options in the Eastern Conference, which leaves fewer opportunities for the rest of the Knicks’ starting lineup. 

However, even when starters are out of the game, New York has a few high-usage options off of the bench, like Obi Toppin, who has an 18.3% usage rate in limited minutes, and Immanuel Quickley who has a 19.0% usage rate since joining the rotation and, understandably, ups that mark when he’s in the starting rotation, as he’s been for the last four games, posting a 20.3% rate.

Robinson actually ranks 10th on the Knicks since their rotation change on December 4th with just a 9.6% usage rate. That’s lower than Obi Toppin, Miles McBride, Josh Hart, and Hartenstein as well. 

So while Robinson may be upset by his lack of role in the Knicks’ offense, it’s not a situation that is likely to change. 

He is a limited offensive player who can really only score off of offensive rebounds or passes from teammates and is always sharing the court with a collection of high-usage players which will limit shot attempts. In order for the Knicks to reach their peak as a team, they don’t need Robinson to score more; they need him to rebound and play elite defense in the paint. 

That’s the exact role that Hartenstein has played so well in the last two games, which is why he has seen an uptick in minutes. 

While Robinson had four points, nine rebounds, two blocks, and two steals in 45 combined minutes for a plus/minus of -19, Hartenstein had 0 points, 22 rebounds, six assists, three steals, and two blocks in 51 minutes for a plus/minus of +39. The Knicks also won both games after losing three in a row. 

As the Knicks saw with their rivals across the river in Brooklyn, keeping everybody happy during an NBA season is a near-impossible task. However, with the team in the midst of one of their best seasons in over 20 years, they need to ensure that all the players are bought into their roles for the final stretch of the season. As a team that succeeds based on depth and collective performance rather than the nightly heroic efforts of a superstar player, the Knicks can’t function without all the pieces working together. 

Right now, Mitchell Robinson appears to be the key to deciding how efficient this machine will be come playoff time. 

For more Knicks coverage, visit amNY Sports

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