The Knicks’ team play has been up and down to start this year, but Mitchell Robinson’s stock is only going up and up.

The Knicks’ season is off to a precarious start. Not the best in the league, nor the worst, with an 8-6 record they are in the middle of a congested Eastern Conference. However, the advanced metrics are a bit friendly to the Knickerbockers: Cleaning the Glass has them ranked as the 6th-best defense per 100 possessions and 10th-ranked offense.

It’s hard to talk about the Knicks’ success this season without immediately bringing up one name: Mitchell Robinson. Yes, RJ Barrett’s star may finally be rising, and yes, Jalen Brunson is still awesome, but it is Mitch who is taking a leap. More importantly. it is Mitchell Robinson who is unlocking a new identity for the Knicks.

In last year’s playoffs, the Knicks were able to take advantage of the lights being too bright for Cleveland. They did this by imposing their will on the all-star Cavs frontcourt, and Mitchell Robinson was the one who allowed that to be possible.

Robinson took his momentum from last postseason and ran with it. He has been an absolute force this year on both sides of the ball. While he doesn’t have the most impressive box score numbers, anybody who watches the games will certainly see the impact that Mitchell Robinson is having on this team.

The most obvious impact is the generational performance that Robinson is putting up this year on the offensive glass. With Mitch averaging 11.6 rebounds per game, the Knicks have leaped into the top five in second-chance points, while being first in the league in opponents’ second-chance points.

However, it is not just offensive and defensive rebounding that is allowing Mitch to take this leap in the first month of his sixth year. The Knicks’ big man is putting together an extremely legitimate case for an All-Defense type of season if he keeps up, if not a Defensive Player of the Year finalist.

Even though his block numbers are at the lowest of his career at just over one block a game, the advanced metrics make it clear that both individually and for the team, this is the best season of Mitch’s career at a young 25 years old.

Mitch’s steals per game are up with 1.4 a game, landing him in the top 25 in the NBA and making him the first big man represented on the list. That number puts him in the 89th percentile of all big men in the NBA; combine that with the 100th percentile and 94th percentile respectively with rebounding percentages, and Robinson is putting up an otherworldly analytical defensive season.

The biggest change from his younger years, outside of the decreased block percentages is the foul percentage. This is obviously something that plagued Mitch when he was younger, being in the 6th and 18th percentiles his first two years on committing fouls per play. While that was a fatal flaw early in his career, he has been in the middle of the road between the 50-60th percentiles over the last three years. This year, however, that number has sky rocketed to the 88th percentile with only 2.5% of fouls per team play.

So what has led to that? Well, discipline is the easy answer, but not the only one. While Mitch has been block-happy his whole career, he is less jumpy at fakes now and is doing a better job of controlling his body to contest without going all out. This helps keep his foul numbers down and also keeps him in the right position to impact all shots at the rim.

He has never been in better shape in his career, which has allowed him to play nearly 30 minutes a night. He has been the anchor of a top-tier defense due to his rebounding, his rim protection, but also his switchability.

While Mitch has always been an athletic specimen, there is a shiftiness he has added to his defensive repertoire without giving up any strength or physicality. His ability to stay on the perimeter has never been better, and that has changed the dynamics of the Knicks’ defense.

Robinson allows for the defense to have versatility in how they scheme around him. He is an elite drop coverage big with his rim protection, but switchable enough to guard on the perimeter on the pick and roll. What this allows for is Thibs to make matchup-specific decisions with who is on the court with him and what he asks Mitch to do.

Not only does Mitch get to work within the confines of the defense, but he gives maximum effort on both sides of the ball. He can make up for the limitations some of his teammates may have defensively. Robinson consistently talks about how rebounding is just effort, but that motor is what makes him such an important part of this team.

The Knicks’ identity this year is mucking it up, and beating up their opponents. While they are only 20th in offensive efficiency, they are 9th in the league in defensive efficiency, first in the league in rebounding rate, and second in the league in turnover ratio. All of these things are tied to what Mitchell Robinson is bringing to the table this year.

The Knicks were never going to be the highest-scoring team in the league, but Mitchell Robinson is helping them maximize their possessions on offense and minimize their opponents’ chances on defense. Mitch is at the core of their identity on both sides of the ball and deserves all of the credit in the world for the leap he is making this year.

If Robinson can keep up his hot start to the year with his other worldly offensive rebounding numbers, elite defensive field goal percentage, and rebound rate, do not be surprised if he is on an All-Defense Team at the end of the year. He is +6000 right now to win Defensive Player of the Year but look for those odds to change if the Knicks’ defense remains around the best in the league all year.

This is the leap that we should have been hoping for Mitchell Robinson to take for years. It was never about the empty-gym three-point shots or Instagram videos, but an elite defensive anchor and rebounding machine that is becoming the heart of the team. He has made himself a truly invaluable role player and the kind of piece that winning teams need.

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