Can Tom Thibodeau Help Mitchell Robinson Grow?

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When the Knicks drafted Mitchell Robinson in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft, it was because of his raw talent, athleticism, and incredible blocking ability.
And, through his first two seasons at The Garden, the 22-year-old center has been the Knicks’ most electrifying player and has fans drooling over his upside.

His incredible efficiency in 2019-20 allowed him to surpass NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain, setting the NBA record for field goal percentage in a single season with a mark of .741.

Don’t expect that kind of percentage to be repeated next season. Robinson took 92.4 percent of his shots at the rim, and for the Knicks to improve as a team and for Robinson to add more weapons to his arsenal, he’s going to need to expand his role and his range.

With Tom Thibodeau taking over the Knicks’ bench, Robinson will be asked to be more than a rim-runner and paint beast. Robinson is yet to attempt a three-pointer in the NBA, and while no one is expecting him to add the range of Nikola Jokic, Kristaps Porzingis, or Brook Lopez, Robinson would benefit from adding more variety to his game.

Having coached Joakim Noah and Karl-Anthony Towns, Thibodeau will need Robinson to become a multi-faceted offensive big man. A key will be developing Robinson’s touch, passing ability, and dribbling. Right now, Robinson rarely puts the ball on the floor. Imagine how difficult it will be for opponents to contain him if he’s able to add dribble moves and jumper?

He showed off some flashy handles and sank some threes earlier this summer on Instagram. That and his frequency for shooting beyond the arc during his high school years at Chalmette means there’s potential to be untapped.

Yet, the biggest thing holding Robinson back is foul trouble. Robinson averaged 3.2 personal fouls per game while averaging 23.1 minutes per game during the 2019-20 season; so, per 36 minutes, Robinson would have committed 4.9 fouls per game. That’s a little too close to comfort, and partially explains why he only started seven games.

His fouls per 36 minutes fell by 0.8 in year two, compared to his rookie season average of 5.7, but the Knicks need him to help his own cause (and theirs) by continuing to cut down on the whistles. Rasheed Wallace and Paul Millsap are among the examples of All-Stars who were able to trim down their fouling as they added experience following their early years.

Robinson brings the block party, his 119 blocks ranked sixth overall in 2019-20. If he can stay away from foul trouble and stay on the court, he could vie for the league lead in 2020-21. He excels at tracking the ball in the air and pulling down boards – averaging seven rebounds in 23.1 minutes of action, and 10.9 across a 36-minute average.

A more well-rounded, better-disciplined Robinson is a scary thought for opponents. With hard work and the guiding hand of Thibodeau, Robinson can establish himself as one of the NBA’s most dominant big men.

Follow Sean Hartnett on Twitter: @HartnettHockey

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