HOUSTON — Ever since the Knicks drafted Mitchell Robinson in the second round in 2018, he's been attached to comparisons to Clint Capela.
They're similar in size, their strengths are comparable, their styles identical in some ways.
The Knicks can only hope that Robinson continues to develop into the type of player Capela has become.
With Capela now with the Atlanta Hawks after the Rockets traded him ahead of the NBA trade deadline earlier this month, Robinson didn't get a chance to go up against him on Monday night when the Knicks played the Rockets.
But Houston's decision to part ways with the center signaled a significant change, and the Rockets have thrived with small-ball lineups ever since.
The decision to trade Capela surprised Robinson.
"I don’t know why they would do it but they did it," Robinson said after the Knicks' shootaround Monday morning at Toyota Center.
The deal also reflected the NBA trend of moving away from traditional centers to more modern big men who can stretch the floor with their shooting — which so far hasn't been part of Robinson's game.
"(Houston) just doesn’t have bigs," Robinson said. "Everyone else has one. That’s just how they like to play with all the guards.
Robinson, the former 36th overall pick, has worked on his outside shot in practices but has yet to unveil it during a game.
He said he will at some point. For now, his production comes at the rim.
In the meantime, traditional center or not, Robinson has had a clear impact on the Knicks on both ends of the floor.
He's shooting 73.1 percent from the field and is blocking 1.9 shots per game, both of which are among the league leaders.
"I think Mitch is an elite roller," Knicks interim head coach Mike Miller said. "He has established himself offensively. He’s an elite level because of the things he can do, not only his physical abilities, but he really executes the fundamentals of setting those screens and rolling out, getting to areas. So Capela is a good roller as well, so I can see where people would make comparisons. They have some similarities and some differences in there. But I think you look at guys that are really good rollers and they’re put into a category."
And some of what Robinson brings doesn't show up in a box score.
"He’s very important," Miller said. "One thing, too, that we look at and I’ve people, even commentators on NBA games talk about, he’s a high energy guy. That’s a skill. He can play at high energy now. He’s matured and grown more, extended those minutes where he is impacting the game at a high level."
Robinson had played 52 games this season entering Monday, including seven starts. Veteran center Taj Gibson has been the starting center for most of the season.
But Robinson is part of the Knicks' future.
At 21 years old, and as a player who didn't play college basketball, he's one of the team's most promising pieces, though he still has room to grow.
Robinson has continued to add strength — he said Monday he is now at 250 pounds after starting the season at 240.
That additional strength is important — traditional center or not.
"It will help a lot," Robinson said. "My post defense is better than it was."