The much-improved New York Knicks (14-15) are in the hunt for a playoff spot, but their postseason pursuit just got a little bit harder after losing starting center Mitchell Robinson due to a hand injury. Backups Noel Nerlens and Taj Gibson will split playing time for the Knicks at center in place of Robinson.
Robinson, 22, underwent successful surgery to repair a fractured right hand and he’s expected to miss between four and six weeks while recovering from the injury.
Robinson averaged 8.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game this season, but the 7-footer was an integral part of the Knicks defense as their rim protector. He averaged 2.2 blocks per game in his first two NBA seasons. He only averaged 1.5 blocks this season because teams wised up and don’t challenge him like they did in his first two years in the league. Robinson averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game this season.
Robinson was having one of his best games of the season too, with 10 points and 14 rebounds against the Washington Wizards, before he suffered the injury.
The Knicks selected Robinson with an early second-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He was a backup in his first two seasons before earning Tom Thibodeau’s trust. Robinson started 27 games this season. The highly-efficient Robinson doesn’t shoot much, but when he does, he knocks down 70.8% of his shots.
Next Man Up: Nerlens Noel and Old Man Gibson
Noel, a former #6 overall pick out of Kentucky, averaged 7.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game over his seven-season career. He spent his first two seasons as a starter with the Philadelphia 76ers, but his career sputtered out as a reserve with the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder. Noel averaged 3 ppg this season off the bench, and up-ticked to 8 ppg and 5 rebounds as a starter.
“Any time you lose a player of Mitch’s caliber, we have to make sure we’re playing hard,” said Thibodeau. “You don’t replace a guy like that individually. We have to do it collectively, and everybody is going to have to step up.”
The Knicks re-added Taj Gibson after the season began as a veteran voice for the locker room, and to help groom the younger players like Obi Toppin and Kevin Knox. He played with the Knicks last season, but they waived him before training camp.
More than ever, the Knicks now need the 35-year-old center to log more minutes after Robinson went down. Over his career, Gibson averaged 9.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Gibson has logged more than 800 games in the NBA, including 440 games as a starter, mostly with the Chicago Bulls.
Now that Noel is getting more playing time due to the Mitchell Robinson injury, there are moments when Thibs utilizes a lineup that includes four ex-players from the Kentucky Wildcats. You can call that lineup the Kentucky Knicks or the New York Wildcats.
Prior to the Robinson injury, Julius Randle was the lone starter from Kentucky. The second unit included Noel, Kevin Knox, and Immanuel Quickley.
If the season were to end today, the Knicks would earn the #6 seed in the Eastern Conference despite having a sub-.500 record. The Knicks are still a long shot on the NBA futures board at +50000 odds to win the 2021 NBA Championship.