Myles Turner, Nikola Vucevic, and Nikola Jokic have shot a combined 19 of 35 from deep against the New York Knicks this season. The Knicks’ defense, especially Mitchell Robinson’s, has been vulnerable to pick and pop bigs to start the season.
As Tom Thibodeau hinted at another lineup shakeup three games after Kemba Walker was yanked out of the rotation, it’s increasingly likely it will involve Robinson. But Thibodeau isn’t pinning down the blame on Robinson for their defensive deficiencies against stretch bigs.
“The interesting thing is there were stretches that I thought he moved really well. I think the conditioning aspect is still something that he’s working on. There have been some really good moments and some moments that haven’t been as good as we would like, but that could be said for our whole team,” Thibodeau said.
Per Cleaning the Glass, the Knicks starting lineup since Alec Burks replaced Kemba Walker has an efficiency differential (the difference between points scored per possession and points allowed per possession) of -10.5, a marked improvement from -15.9 when Walker was still a starter. But when Noel replaced Robinson in that group, the Knicks had a +13.1 efficiency differential.
Projected to be eased into the rotation after his prolonged absence from a broken foot injury, Robinson admirably stepped into the starting lineup immediately to start the season as Noel battled an assortment of injuries.
With Noel healthy again, it appears Thibodeau will revert to his original plan.
“I’m getting tired real quick,” Robinson said after Tuesday’s shootaround in San Antonio. “I run for about six or seven minutes, and then boom — I’m gassed. So it’s something I need to work on really bad.”
Thibodeau said he’s still mulling about lineup change and still figuring out his recalibrated team. He’s hopeful it will work out like last year when they started slow and peaked in the second half of the season.
“[I’m] Just thinking about everything,” Thibodeau said. “Like I said, we just want to go step by step, practice well, and have a good shootaround. Be ready to play. We got to get going.”
Robinson, though, sounded like he’s resigned to the fact that he’s coming off the bench in the foreseeable future after multiple Knicks beat reporters on hand in San Antonio have noted that Noel was wearing starters’ practice kit during Tuesday’s shootaround.
“Well, for me, it’s not really different [coming off the bench]. Either way, you could play,” he said. “Let’s see how it goes. I just have to continue to work.”
While Noel played splendidly during the Knicks’ late push last season to snatch the fourth seed in the East, Thibodeau noted that Robinson was playing great before he got hurt.
“The fact of the matter is he was out so long,” Thibodeau said. “Basically, he got cleared right before we started training camp, and even then, he couldn’t do the entire practice. So, it’s been a work in progress.”
Robinson ramped up his conditioning activity during the summer by doing pool and bike exercises and spending more time in the gym. But without the benefit of physical contact scrimmage during the training camp, he ballooned to 280 lbs. with unwanted muscle. Robinson said he’s shed 15 lbs since the summer and now weighs 265 lbs.
“You can go to a pool, you could be on a bike, you can do all that stuff, but it’s not the same as body on body. There’s a physicality to it. It’s a lot different,” Thibodeau said. “He’s doing a lot of extra [physical conditioning activities] right now, which is good. He’ll get there.”
Robinson is frustrated with his lack of stamina. It will take time before he can get back to peak conditioning. A backup role should ease the pressure as he works his way back.
“I wish I could jump right into it and be who I was before the injury,” Robinson said. “Basically, I’m just gonna work and get back to my old self.”
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