BY TOMMY BEER
Mitchell Robinson's Star Is On The Rise, Both On And Off The Court
As Frank Sinatra famously explained: If you can make it New York, you can make it anywhere. And there’s an important corollary related to that lyric: If you make it in New York, you can cash in quickly and handsomely.
At just 13-52, the Knicks have sole possession of the NBA’s worst record this season. Remarkably, this is the fifth straight season they have lost at least 50 games, which is a franchise record. Even die-hard fans have a tough time tuning in to watch a last-place team play out the final string of meaningless games on the schedule. However, based on the reaction of Knicks twitter on a nightly basis, plenty of New Yorkers remain interested in watching their beloved ballclub due primarily to the team’s collection of promising rookies. In particular, second-round steal Mitchell Robinson has developed into a fan favorite, and for good reason.
Heading into the 2018 draft, there was little doubt about the immense talent Robinson brought to the table. Based solely on size and athleticism, he was destined for the first round. In Rivals.com final ranking of the high school Class of 2017, Robinson ranked ninth overall, just behind Collin Sexton and Wendell Carter, and one spot in front of Kevin Knox.
However, after choosing not to play college ball last season, and to train individually instead, Robinson slipped into the second round. GM Scott Perry happily scooped him up with the 36th overall pick.
It was assumed that the 20-year old Robinson, raw and rusty after spending a year without playing a single second of organized basketball, would shuffle back and forth between the G League and the big club as a rookie. Yet, he surprisingly made it clear he was ready to contribute right away.
Now, five months into his debut campaign, there’s no doubt that Robinson belongs in the league. In fact, he is posting historically impressive numbers for a first-year pro. Over the Knicks last six games, Mitchell is averaging 12.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.8 blocks in just 25 minutes, while shooting a scorching 73.7% from the floor and 76.2% from the free-throw stripe. He leads all rookies in boards and blocks during this current stretch. He has swatted at least one shot in 22 straight games. The only other rookies with at least one block in more than 20 consecutive contests before turning 21 are Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O'Neal. In addition, Robinson has an excellent chance to become the first rookie and just the third player ever (joining DeAndre Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain) to shoot over 70% from the field over an entire season.
As far as advanced analytics are concerned, Robinson’s production is equally remarkable. His current Box Plus/Minus this season sits at 6.6. According to Basketball-Reference, that’s the best BPM by any player under the age of 21 since LeBron James’ sophomore season in 2004-05. The only rookie in NBA history to ever post a BPM higher than 6.7 was a guy named Michael Jordan in 1984-85.
As expected, Knicks fans aren’t the only ones taking notice of the soft-spoken kid from Louisiana. Robinson’s eyebrow-raising production has drawn the attention of top corporations both locally and across the country.
Last month, Nike added Robinson to its elite cadre of NBA clientele, inking the Knicks rookie to a contract. Sneaker and apparel companies typically target guards and wings, and top draft picks, as they tend to sell more merchandise. It’s relatively uncommon for a basketball behemoth such as Nike to sign a center that was recently selected in the second round.
However, Robinson’s exciting brand of ball, brimming with breathtaking blocks and jaw-dropping alley-oops, appeals to consumers. Of course, playing in the media capital of the world, and for a team with a rabid fanbase, certainly doesn't hurt.
Robinson has also recently signed endorsement contracts with RX Water and Mercedes-Benz of Paramus, and is a brand ambassador for Cambria Suites. Robinson’s agent, Mayar Zokaei of Dynasty Sports, affirmed his client's strong play has helped generate interest.
“The primary catalyst for landing endorsement deals is the client’s production on the court, and Mitchell has performed not only as a bona fide Rookie of the Year candidate, but his stellar play is on par with those in consideration for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year honor.”
Zokaei added: “Of course, having a willing partner in the client is essential, and Mitchell has no reservations about promoting his relationships with his strategic partners. Our agency has done our job in positioning Mitchell to leverage his exciting on-court performance to secure some unprecedented deals in the shoe and apparel sector, and the luxury automotive space, as well as a fast-rising player like RX Water in the lucrative bottled beverage industry and the new Choice Hotels luxury extension, Cambria Suites.”
There are 17 games remaining in the 2018-19 season and Robinson is hoping to put an exclamation point on his already impressive rookie campaign. While Knicks fans count down the days until the draft lottery and the all-important 2019 offseason, Robinson gives them (and his endorsement partners) something to get excited about on gamedays. Unsurprisingly, his agent is supremely confident that the kid is only getting started.
“I feel as though I represent the best player from the 2018 NBA Draft Class, and I let that belief dictate the pursuit of endorsement deals for Mitchell,” said Zokaei. “It’s becoming more and more obvious that brands out there are realizing the same thing.”