It hasn’t been that well kept of a secret that New York Knicks center Enes Kanter is unhappy with his current role of coming off the bench behind rookie Mitchell Robinson.
New head coach David Fizdale made the move just five games into the 2018-19 season to relegate the 26-year-old to the bench. Kanter hasn’t started a game since Oct. 24.
The move hasn’t hurt Kanter’s numbers at all. In fact, he’s currently on pace for a career season with averages of 15.5 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. He’s even playing more minutes, 26.4 per game, than he did last year when he started 71 games in his first year with the Knicks.
But Fizdale has seen a ton of promise in Robinson, who didn’t even play a full season of college basketball before the Knicks took him 36th overall during this year’s draft. It prompted him to give Robinson the starting job even though he was expected to start the season in the G-League.
“One thing about [Robinson] that I’ve noticed is he picks stuff up quick,” Fizdale said earlier this month (h/t New York Post). “Man, he absorbs stuff fast and he applies it to the game pretty quickly. I’m looking at our team and I’m looking at our future, and we understand that to build the organization and the team that we want, we got to be a defensive-minded team, and Mitchell Robinson is a superior natural defender, so I just felt like let’s get this generated now.
“He’s going to be our foundation, our anchor of our defense for the future,” he continued. “Let’s get this guy going right now and really commit to the development of these guys and to what it’s going to take to get them where they need to be for us to be the team we’re going to be later.”
While the natural intangibles are there, it’s become clear that Robinson cannot defend physical big men down low. The latest example was on Sunday when he was bullied by Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who recorded 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists to lift Orlando to a 131-117 win.
His offensive game is also timid and non-existent. The 20-year-old is averaging just 4.9 points on just 3.4 field-goal attempts in just over 18 minutes per game.
That aspect of his repertoire was expected to lag, but thrusting him in a starting position is not doing the Knicks, who are on a five-game losing streak, any favors. Restoring Kanter in the starting lineup would at least give the Knicks an opportunity to start quickly on offense and then rotate Robinson in for defensive help because right now, it’s just not working.