The Knicks Lost (Again) But One Thing is Now Overwhelmingly True
It’s time to start Mitchell Robinson.
That’s the main takeaway from the Knicks’ 115-106 loss to the 76ers on Thursday night, and nothing else comes particularly close.
The Knicks surprised everyone and started the game with a Julius Randle and Bobby Portis frontcourt after Taj Gibson fell victim to back spasms before the game, and they promptly fell into a 19-9 hole in the first quarter before inserting Robinson into the game.
After Robinson entered? A tidy 12-4 run that put the Knicks right back in the thick of things, with Robinson denying the Sixers all over the court on defense and providing some of his usual rim-running on offense.
Surprisingly (which is weird to say, given Robinson often looks like the Knicks’ best player), Robinson started the second half for Portis, and the Knicks continued looking respectable for all of the minutes he played to end the game, including closing things out with the starters.
"Obviously we could've went with Mitch [to start], but we really like how he's playing, he's in such a good rhythm as he's coming off the bench," Knicks head coach Mike Miller said. "Then we flipped it in the second half and started him, and I think he was a big part of keying that run again."
Might the starters now, finally, be where Mitch resides? Hopefully, because then an argument can actually be made that the Knicks are prioritizing their young players over the stable of veterans on one-plus-one year contracts to end the season. Even if it’s just Robinson and Barrett in the starting lineup, that’s the Knicks’ two most promising young players starting (and, based on Mike Miller’s usual sub patterns, finishing) games for the Knicks.
Miller said after the game that Robinson is "in a stretch where this is as good as I've seen him play, and as effective as I've seen him play," so why not take advantage of that right from the beginning of the game?
One of Robinson's biggest ailments, fouling, has also been a non-issue in his last three contests. Robinson has had three, one and two fouls in his last three games, and averaged over 29 minutes per contest. He's reaching a level of poise and discipline on the court that hasn't been seen since the close of last season, and Miller would do well to harness that and give arguably his best player a spot starting games.
Most beneficial to the Knicks could be a chance to not fall into the early holes that have plagued them in recent weeks. Once Gibson is healthy again, he can be a steadying presence coming off the bench to spell Robinson instead of the other way around, keeping the tide in the Knicks' favor instead of being the one tasked with establishing the flow.
No matter how one slices it, there's not really any excuse to keep Robinson coming off the bench at this point. The team isn't winning games with him coming off the bench, and they look closer to winning them when he gets big minutes. Let him establish a tone to start the game and see what happens.