Perimeter Defending Bigs?! The case of how Mitchell Robinson stands out!

Copy-of-Pausability-vs.-Definitiveness

Since Dirk Nowitzki’s entry into the NBA Seven-footers have been more frequently drain threes.

There has to be someone to guard these bigs! They have to be quick in switching defenses, stand their own posts at the perimeter, every once in awhile take on the step-back triples, play the PNR dimes or take on the devistating rim attacks. (Some bigs tick all the above check marks – guess whom stands out!) Well, you guessed correctly its those lean, slanky guys led by Mitchell Robinson, a steal in last years NBA Draft.

If you’ve been independently watching the league this past season it’s a rarity to see a rookie that skipped college, plays off the bench and was a 2nd round draft pick by the worst team in the league (yes, my New York Knicks – I had a hand in having this young man scouted). His name; Mitchell Robinson and he’ll prove everyone that he’s the next generation of big men that will sweep the league. “Mitch” and a few other U25 bigs are literally redefining the center position in terms of defense and consequently on offense too.

When looking at what the league has in terms of big overall; Embiid, Jokic, Vicevic, Turner, Nurkic, Gobert, Jarrett Allen, KAT and Steven Adams these are some of the elite level guys that are considered as specialists.

The above to me are already the crème of the crop and they already have proven that the league status quo is aimed at what they offer in terms of positionless bigs or versatility. To me they are the tip of the iceberg of what will define what will come in to the league this summer in the 2019 NBA Draft class and years to come.

THE PRECOCIOUS MITCHELL ROBINSON

Physically speaing a 7 foot 1 guy with a 7 foot 4 wingspan from Western Kentucky, if it would be any other big, its not easy to wheeled such a body type so well. Already the #2 in the regular season this year in the league for blocks aside from averaging only 19 minutes per game. The true gem in this kid’s game came this year as he was so good in not just swating balls but keeping them in bounds it created extra possessions and allowed the Knicks to utilize much needed transitions to work with. Back in late October during a loss to the Pacers Robinson blocked Darren Collison going for a layup, kept the ball in the game and secured the rebound allowing fellow Knicks’ Vonleh to drain a cool three point shot before the Pacers were able to get back on defense themselves.

Another instance from the regular season I recall clearly was the unforeseen win they had against the Bucks (136-134) back on the 1st of December. Robinson flat out denied Giannis, during the final seconds of the game which was followed by a later on forced loose ball and than a jump ball by another Knicks to secure the W.

Robinson has an uncanny effect and looks very comfortable at contesting shots how ever long they seem. In part I put it to the wingspan he has but overall its also the confidence he has while placing the effort.

Can you imagine that out of the overall shot attempts he contests 30% are three point shots. When you look at say a Gobert (13%) or a Turner (18%) there is a wide margin even Lopez (17.6%) and the agile big man Jarrett Allen (11%) don’t quite match up to Robinson.

In terms of positioning, Robinson usually takes his place a step behind the arc or at the top of the key, in a way it luls ball handlers to think they have a chance for an open shot. Good thing about Robinson is his lateral quickness and positioning for his size are unexpectedly nice to see. The only down turn is that due to his growing experience he still is a bit foul prone like a lot of his rookie class but with time and more foot work he’ll grow to be more efficient.

If the ball-handler drives instead, Robinson drops back and, quite gracefully, closes off the lane by nudging them toward the block and out of the paint. He squashes the open layup, forcing a floater, jumper or additional pass.

A great help defender, he also keeps an eye on the ball, not just his man.

During the Knicks’ 108-103 victory over the Orlando Magic on Feb. 26, Robinson switched from Khem Birch to Aaron Gordon on the perimeter, then blocked Gordon’s three-point attempt. While Gordon faded away right into the crowd’s lap, Robinson slid back to the paint and provided help on Birch. When Gordon returned to the court, regained the ball back and started to drive, Robinson blocked him a second time: same player, same possession, different location. Plus, Robinson kept the ball in play. (Side note: Against the Orlando Magic on Nov. 11, Mitchell set a Knicks rookie record with nine blocks in one game.)

During this rookie season, Robinson has already foiled the efforts of both NBA legends and up-and-comers: stuffing or swatting away James Harden’s longballs (without fouling), Luca Doncic’s nasty stepback, Tony Parker’s driving layup, Dwyane Wade’s mid-range fadeaway, Deandre Ayton’s hook shot and Joel Embiid’s dunk attempts.

He may be the lone bright spot in yet another sorry Knicks season, yet Robinson isn’t the only youngster perfectly protecting the perimeter.

THE REST:

Let’s be clear, first: Nobody is doing what Robinson is doing. Nobody. No other center in the league is blocking three-pointers regularly, or, really at all.

There are a few, however, who are beginning to spend more time making opponents’ lives difficult out behind the arc. They’re contesting threes more often than a traditional big man without neglecting their bread-and-butter duties as rim protectors. They’re disrupting both the long ball and the pick-and-roll.

Here are top under-25 bigs to watch who spend a significant amount of their game locking down the perimeter and holding shooters under 40 percent beyond the arc and under 60 percent in the paint:

Montrezl Harrell:

December 8, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell (5) moves the ball against Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The L.A. Clippers’ undersized-but-springy bulldog center-forward is 6’8″, 25, and ruins everyone’s day at the rim. He is racking up 1.4 blocks per game and holding shooters to just 54.2percent within six feet of the hoop. Nevertheless, 24.0percent of his contested shots are on three balls, where he’s equally effective: He holds opponents to 31.5 percent, or 3.3 percentage points below their average.

Kevon Looney:

Golden State Warriors’ 6’9″ center-forward Kevon Looney is 23 and contests more shots than any center in his age group (per 36 minutes). A chunky 28.7 percent of his defended field goal attempts are three balls, and he limits those to just a 31.8 percent makes, or 3.6 below their average. He’s just as frustrating at the rim: stifling shooters to just 58.8 percent.

Bam Adebayo:

The Miami Heat’s 6’10” center-forward Bam Adebayo is 21 and developing into a versatile, sticky-fingered threat. He picks plenty of guards’ pockets as well as smacking away drives at the hoop. About one-quarter (26.0 percent) of his contested shots are beyond the arc. Within six feet of the hoop, he mashes shooting averages down to 55 percent.

Clint Capela:

The Houston Rockets’ young center possesses excellent length and athleticism. He is one of James Harden’s few supports when healthy. Fully 24.7 percent of Capelan’s contested shots are threes, where he holds shooters to 33.6 percent; 1.3 percentage points below their average. Within six feet of the bucket, he squashes them down to just 59.0 percent, 3.4 under average.


The Portland Trail-Blazers’ Zach Collins and San Antonio Spurs’ Jakob Poeltl are also showing potential here, though they’re not quite as effective yet. But teams looking to shut down the ever-popular “longballs-and-layups” parade might find something brand new in Mitchell Robinson and his ilk:

An answer.

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