Tom Thibodeau describes New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson as an incredible athlete. 

When Joakim Noah accepted his Defensive Player of the Year award in 2014, he deflected the credit to Tom Thibodeau.

“Thibs,” Noah said, in the middle of his acceptance speech, “we’ve definitely had our hard times, our ups and downs, but without your system, this wouldn’t be possible.”

Thibodeau was proud of Noah because he was recognized for his contributions to winning. Thibodeau pushed Noah so hard that once they had an exchange wherein, Noah told his former coach that he would hate him if they were not winning games.

That’s Thibodeau for you.  He will never baby you.

Thibodeau is a defensive savant.

One of the absolute truths that he will never compromise is that defense contributes to winning.

“Winning is the most important thing. That’s why you’re here,” Thibodeau said during Friday’s Zoom call with New York reporters.

So when Thibodeau was asked about his new rim-running center, Mitchell Robinson, his eyes lit up with a spark and began to speak glowingly about him.

“What he did last year was put a lot of pressure on the rim. He’s an incredible athlete,” Thibodeau said. “But we don’t want to put a ceiling on him. We want to continue to work on all aspects of his game and develop.”

In his first two seasons in the league, Robinson showed the defensive chops that Thibodeau saw in Noah in Chicago.

The season before Thibodeau arrived in Chicago, Noah averaged 10.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, and 0.5 steals in 30.1 minutes.  He enjoyed the best stretch of his NBA career under Thibodeau, winning the Defensive Player of the Year and became a two-time All-Star and two-time member of the All-Defensive First Team.

Meanwhile, Robinson will enter his first year under Thibodeau with better defensive numbers than Noah had in the same stage of their careers in lesser playing time. Robinson posted 9.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, and 0.9 steals in just 23.1 minutes this season.

With Robinson set to become the anchor of Thibodeau’s defensive schemes, the sky’s the limit for the Knicks’ third-year center. And Thibodeau couldn’t wait to whip him into a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. 

Robinson excused himself from attending the team workouts due to personal reasons, but he was present during the individual workouts.

“He spent some time here (in New York) earlier in the summer and we’re hopeful that, you know, we can get him back in and get to work with him so he can build on those skills,” Thibodeau said. “Obviously, he’s a very important part of this team.”

Robinson enjoys the trust of his new coach.  And not only that.  He will have the big man’s whisperer Kenny Payne on his ears all season long.

This article first appeared on Empire Sports Media and was syndicated with permission.

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