This All-Star Weekend, a pair of young Knicks are showcasing their talents in the national spotlight.
Rookie Kevin Knox participated in the Rising Stars Challenge and newly-acquired Dennis Smith Jr. will be competing in the Slam Dunk Contest Saturday night. Though worthy of their inclusions, they may not be the best this developing New York core has to offer. A case can be made that their best prospect is watching from home: Mitchell Robinson.
The second-round pick has been on a tear since early in the month, averaging a near double-double and three blocks in 22 minutes a night.
To say Robinson's impacted "winning" wouldn't be quite fitting for this team, but the Knicks have outscored teams by 6.3 points per 100 possessions in the 132 minutes he's played over these last six games. He's shooting 72.5 percent from the field during this stretch and doing it in highlight fashion -- catching lobs out of the sky and snatching offensive rebounds over opponents' heads.
But he was already doing those things earlier this season. What's especially shined now been his recent improvements -- he's shooting 68.4 percent from the free throw line in February after shooting 44.7 percent the months prior.
His 4.3 fouls per-36 minutes were at 7.6 in November and steadily declined to an average center's number.
These are the developments you hope your 7'1" 240-pound 20-year-old big man makes in his second or third year. Robinson is already making strides and he was never as raw as advertised.
If anything it's mechanical. In his first appearances at Las Vegas Summer League, it was clear he knew what role he had to play and the reads to make it work. He's a rim-running defensive anchor and tries to dive on every on-ball pick, scours the paint for rebounds, and understands the basic defensive tenants of a modern-day rim protector down pat.
Perhaps it's the impact of Knicks' acquisition DeAndre Jordan -- a tenured and regarded veteran of the same build. Robinson has taken to learning under Jordan, and since the two started sharing a locker room the rookie has begun rounding out his game.
Giving Robinson this mentor might have been the best move David Fizdale has made to boost his youth movement and it's already paying dividends. If Robinson continues to learn how to use his freakish body and better read NBA offenses, he can easily become better than Jordan was in his prime.
Look no further than what he can already do. Against the Detroit Pistons, Luke Kennard ran a pick-and-roll with Andre Drummond against a Mario Hezonja-Robinson combo. Robinson communicated with his man, who fell behind Kennard driving to his left. Robinson tracked the handler while keeping his back close to Drummond, which baited Kennard into the paint before Robinson jumped out and smothered his pass/shot attempt, catching and keeping the ball inbounds by his toes.
Robinson can use his ridiculous 7'4" wingspan in creative ways like this (he's done the hang back-to-surprise jump out move a few times) because he's already got an impressive defensive mind and he can get to damn near any ball. He blocked a Luka Doncic step-back three, a James Harden step-back three and a Dwyane Wade fadeaway. What's a switch to the man blocking 30-footers?
On the offensive end, he's an automatic threat on every pick-and-roll. Don't put a body between him and the rim and so long as that ball is loft within the parking lot of the arena, Robinson is putting it down. He's also used his length to try and tab rebounds out of his vicinity towards himself.
Robinson may not be getting All-Star Weekend treatment yet, but he'll have plenty of that to come. At the rate he's going, he might be panning out as the Knicks' best prospect, another Tyson Chandler they can mold from the very beginning of his career. His true ceiling is anybody's guess, but as we know from his play, there's little that's out of his grasp.