Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson has a block percentage that reaches rare heights

Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson has a block percentage that reaches rare heights
Robinson, the rookie New York Knicks centre, absorbed contact under the basket from Orlando’s Melvin Frazier and flopped to the court, hoping for a foul that was never called. Instead, the Magic passed the ball around a few times, finding a wide-open Jerian Grant in the corner, 22 feet from a supine Robinson.

Mitchell Robinson of the New York Knicks blocks a shot against the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 8 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.  (Chris Schwegler / NBAE/Getty Images)

In three seconds that defied reasonable expectation, Robinson got to his feet, raced toward the corner and leapt into the air. He fully extended his lanky seven-foot-one frame and swatted the three-point attempt out of mid-air so matter-of-factly that Grant pulled his hands toward his body, looking almost sorry that he had attempted the shot.

The Knicks had not forgotten that November block when the Magic came back to Madison Square Garden last Tuesday. The team posted a video of the play on Twitter, wondering if history would repeat. The post proved prophetic, as Robinson led the way in a 108-103 victory for the Knicks with 17 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks and three steals in 33 minutes off the bench. Four of the blocks came in just 40 seconds in the second quarter.

“The kid is making history right now,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said of Robinson after the win. “He’s putting himself in groups with historic names. Every single day, he continues to grow and get better.”

Last Thursday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Robinson managed to add to his highlight reel, this time with a shot an opponent didn’t take.

It was early in the second quarter, and Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova got the ball with a clean look at the basket from three-point range. As he prepared to shoot, he noticed Robinson a few feet in front of him, with the rookie lowering his shoulder slightly as he prepared to leap. Dellavedova immediately thought better of trying his luck and passed the ball instead. A few seconds later on the same possession, Robinson got his block anyway, swatting away a layup attempt from Marquese Chriss.

A rare prep-to-pro NBA player as a result of his complicated withdrawal from Western Kentucky University, Robinson has been limited to 18.6 minutes a game as he works to refine his game, but he was still third in the NBA at 2.3 blocks a game heading into Sunday’s date with the Los Angeles Clippers. When rated by block percentage, which estimates the percentage of an opponents’ shots a player blocks in his time on the floor, Robinson is nothing short of stunning, at 10.4 per cent.

Basketball Reference has tracked block percentage back to the 1973-74 season, and the top four seasons among players with 100 or more blocks belong to Manute Bol, the seven-foot-seven shot-blocking savant. Number five on the list belongs to Robinson.

Sample size obviously needs to be considered, but Robinson stands a chance of being the only qualified player beyond Bol and Alonzo Mourning to finish a season with a block percentage higher than 10. Rim protection luminaries such as the Toronto Raptors’ Serge Ibaka (9.8), Mark Eaton (9.2) and Dikembe Mutombo (8.8) all fell short of that mark in their best seasons.

Robinson, who has quickly become a fan favourite, believes he is just getting started. He was asked recently how many shots he could block per game if the team let him play 30 minutes a night. “Probably around six,” he said. “I feel like I can get like six.”

The NBA season record for blocks per game is 5.6, set by Eaton in 1984-85, yet Robinson’s boast does not seem all that far-fetched, largely because of his unusual ability to block shots along the perimeter as well as under the basket.

“His potential is crazy,” Knicks guard Emmanuel Mudiay told reporters before Thursday’s game. “He’s probably the best shot-blocker I ever played with in my life. In my opinion, he’s the best shot-blocker in the league.”

Fizdale has said that Robinson’s confidence and execution have improved since the team acquired DeAndre Jordan to serve as his mentor. The numbers back that up, as Robinson (through Saturday) averaged 11 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.2 blocks since Jordan’s arrival Jan. 31, while still averaging only 23.1 minutes a night. He has also continued to pester outside shooters, with eight of his 35 blocks in February coming on three-point attempts.

Fizdale was asked recently if Robinson compared to any other players he had coached. The coach, who has worked with excellent rim protectors such as current Raptors centre Marc Gasol, Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Andersen, spoke about his rookie like a proud father.

“No,” he said. “He’s a different guy, and he’s got so much more room to grow. I’m going to keep my foot way up his butt to make sure he does.”

That could be terrible news for anyone looking to get a shot off against the Knicks in the coming years. They might find there is no place to hide.
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