With new guards Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker in the fold, the New York Knicks are primed for another playoff run next season, but will hope to reverse their poor fate from last year.
A lot of that will depend on Mitchell Robinson, the team’s starting center, who missed 41 games last season, and that includes the entire postseason.
The 23-year old averaged 8.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 1.1 steals over his 31 appearances for the team.
Robinson’s one of the best defenders in the NBA, and seemingly in a tier of his own when it comes to his potential ceiling.
He addressed his future in the league on Wednesday, in response to a impressive film breakdown of his abilities on defense, from Twitter user @APachecoNBA:
Few players are capable of some of the pure feats of athleticism Robinson accomplishes on a night to night basis. He’s a top shot blocking talent.
It’s not wrong to think that if healthy, he would have contended for the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2020.
Now he seems primed for a run at the award in 2021, as he looks to retake his place as starting center of the New York Knicks in a contract year.
Noel or Robinson?
In both instances that Mitchell Robinson went down last season, Nerlens Noel stepped up in a big way, filling his shoes in the starting five.
Over 41 appearances as the starting center, he averaged 5.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game.
That performance earned the 27-year old a surprisingly lucrative three-year deal to return to the New York Knicks next season.
Noel signed a three-year, $32-million deal to continue on in the blue and orange within the opening days of free agency.
But did he do so to play backup to Robinson, after everything he accomplished last season?
Noel was the only player in the entire NBA to average multiple blocks and at least one steal per game for the 2020-2021 season.
It’s likely he views himself as a starter, and the chance to take the spot from Robinson played into his free agency decision.
There are far worse problems to have than two capable starters on the same roster, under contract.
But that’s another thing that contributed to Noel’s return—Mitchell Robinson’s contract situation and uncertain future.
Robinson to Hit Free Agency in 2022
After a season where Mitchell Robinson played just 31 games, he and the New York Knicks unsurprisingly haven’t struck terms on an extension.
Both sides know what he’s capable of when healthy, but it’s that “when” factor that’s likely holding things at a standstill.
New York exercised his $1.8-million team option for 2021-2022 back in July, which means he’ll now enter unrestricted, not restricted, free agency in 2022.
The Knicks front office has operated very strategically since the moment President of Basketball Operations, Leon Rose signed his contract.
Trust that Nerlens Noel’s new contract, and Mitchell Robinson’s pending free agency, aren’t mutually exclusive.
As are a many things in the NBA, these two narratives are firmly tied, and will continue to be, throughout 2021 and 2022.