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Joakim Noah’s Final Act? Imparting Wisdom to Mitchell Robinson

The Knicks appear set on parting ways with Joakim Noah before training camp. Stretching him can help create max space next summer, but the veteran still serves a purpose on this young team—like mentoring second-round pick Mitchell Robinson.

Joakim Noah’s tenure as a New York Knick has been nondescript. And if recent reports are accurate, it’s about to be over.

Of 164 possible games Noah could have appeared in, he played 53. Other than stripteasing in Santa Monica traffic, Noah as a Knick is already being discussed in the past tense. Scott Perry is reportedly looking for a trade partner, but the unwillingness to attach an asset has left them like a Yeezy 500 reseller.

The stretch provision has been the standard solution for Noah, and now looks like a done deal. As long as they wait until September 1st—which it sounds like they will—they can spread his remaining $19.295 million over the next three seasons. This would create max space next summer, a story that has been gaining momentum for some time. The sense is that the front office likes their chances of attracting Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, or Jimmy Butler next summer.

It’s plausible but should be considered a last resort. Until then, the smart play is to keep Joakim around. His contract may still be an albatross this year, but next summer it has the appeal of an expiring contract. If Fizdale—who has left any and everything Noah up to the front office—has any use for Noah, why not take advantage during a rebuilding year?

That does not mean I am advocating for Noah to start getting his Steph on:

I do think he still brings value to the table. Noah has proven he still wants to get something out of his Knicks years. Not only does he look healthy for the first time in three years, he also reached out to congratulate Fizdale on his hiring.

With a ceiling as an end-of-the-bench energy guy or a superstar chemist, Noah’s greatest value is his wisdom. Before he was smoking fire California bud in exile, Joakim was a defensive star with the Bulls. He’s been through legit wars with the LeBron Heat teams. Fizdale mentioned as much in May, recalling his “Noah nightmares.”

The experience from those playoff battles, and to the plethora of things Noah has learned along the way, could be beneficial to the young guys. If you underestimate the value of a few old heads in a locker room, I suggest watching Steve Nash’s The Player’s Tribune mini-series, RookieVet.

The series follows the relationship of veteran Tyson Chandler and then rookie Devin Booker, highlighting the crucial veteran role of mentor. Chandler passes advice he received as a rookie to the young Suns, in what seems to be the final stage of a good career.

Like Chandler’s final glory day Suns, Noah’s team is building for a time where he will not be around. However, that doesn’t mean he can help school the future foundation before he leaves.

Mitchell Robinson, who did not seem to be hampered by lack of game experience in Summer League, strikes me as a willing apprentice. He averaged a double-double (13.0 points and 10.2 rebounds) in 24.7 minutes per game. His 4.0 blocks per game tied Greg Oden’s all-time Summer League record, per RealGM. Robinson also set the Summer League record for offensive rebounds per game with a whopping 6.2.

Robinson’s athleticism is his greatest weapon—it’s the rest of his game that needs to be sharpened. In between the highlight blocks were holes that must be filled before we start dreaming of the block parties he and KP can throw on Seventh Avenue.

Mitchell’s court awareness needs serious improvement. His offensive screens were not great. He can jump through the ceiling at the drop of a hat but has yet to grasp the concept of hands-up defense.

On offense, he sets the type of screen you’d see at 24 Hour Fitness.

Fran Fraschilla called Robinson silly putty during one telecast. Who better to help mold that silly putty than a veteran enforcer like Noah? Chi-Town Joakim was a wolverine as the anchor for Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls. There are few guys better suited for teaching team defense.

Just imagine Robinson locking shit down like Noah does here:

Noah could relate to Robinson on every level. Like Mitchell, when Noah came into the league, athleticism and agility were his biggest strengths. He swung that into becoming a defensive star by refining the simple things, like knowing where to be. It may be hard to match the energy Noah brought, but Robinson’s superior athleticism can make up for lost ground.

With proper mentoring, Robinson can grow into an anchor for a defense that already has Frank Ntilikina up top and Kristaps lurking down low. Imagine the havoc Kristaps can create on the offensive end if Robinson is regulating down low on defense.

Trips up to Westchester early in the season could be a solid option for Robinson with or without Noah on the roster. Their staff has earned our trust. That is a fine route, but I believe he’s not that far from getting minutes on the main roster. Let Noah take Robinson under his wing.

This final act could be the one thing Noah gives the Knicks. Through no fault of his own—he was exiled for fighting with Jeff Hornacek over playing time after all—Noah’s body was always damaged goods. No matter how the Knicks divvy it up, they eat shit on the deal. The sudden rush to max space next summer forces their hand too early.

The plan is to pay Noah his full salary for this season (the deadline to stretch a player is August 31st). If they have until next August to stretch his 2019–20 salary—possibly at a higher cap hit per year—why rush? A successful mentorship of Robinson gives Noah a sense of closure, and something to remember him for.

Other than stripteasing in Santa Monica.

Staff Writer, The Knicks Wall • Ahead of the Spread • Hardwood & Hollywood • Heat Check Podcast

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