Mitchell Robinson said he’s ready to start at center for the Knicks in the season opener Wednesday against the Celtics.
But that remains up in the air as head coach Tom Thibodeau has to make a key decision on his starting center.
Robinson played Friday for the first time in nearly seven months, logging 27 minutes off the bench in their preseason-ending win over the Wizards, and at times looking exhausted. Robinson collected nine rebounds — six on the offensive glass — but was 3-for-8 from the field.
“It wasn’t that bad, but it was bad,’’ Robinson said of his conditioning level.
Robinson said he needs to get his timing down again around the rim. He wasn’t the usual target of alley-oop lobs.
“I got to work on my finishing, get my touch back,’’ Robinson said. “That’s the main thing. Once I get my conditioning back — that’s the main thing — so I can play all day, I’ll be all right.
“I felt like tonight I rushed it instead of taking my time like I how it was before all this happened,’’ Robinson added.
A bulked-up Robinson, who broke his foot in late March and subsequently had surgery, flexed his muscles to the crowd after one hard dunk.
“I worked on my body all summer so I got to show it off,’’ Robinson said.
Thibodeau’s options to start at center include veteran Nerlens Noel, who missed all of training camp with a hamstring issue, and Taj Gibson, who started all four preseason games.
It has taken time for Thibodeau to warm up to Robinson. Sources suggest Robinson’s maturity level was an issue with Thibodeau. The Knicks coach, however, senses a shift.
“Just our conversations with him,’’ Thibodeau said. “We’ve spent a lot of time together. We talked a lot about games he played in last year, even in games he wasn’t in and what he saw. Just watching how he’s processing things, understanding his responsibility in schemes. There’s a lot of growth there. Just the way he practices and his concentration level, it’s much, much better.’’
Still, the Knicks’ collection of centers doesn’t feature a 3-point shooter. In their fourth-quarter comeback Friday, the Knicks used a small-ball lineup to get more offense — moving Julius Randle to center alongside emerging 2020 lottery pick Obi Toppin.
If the Knicks need more firepower, that’s an alignment Thibodeau is growing fond of. Both Randle and Toppin are capable 3-point shooters.
“Very positive,’’ Thibodeau said of the look. “And it’s good to know we have that as part of what we can do. That’s what I like about our team is the versatility. So we can give you a completely different look with Julius at the 5 and Obi at the 4. And obviously offensively, we’re a lot better.’’
After playing in the last couple of minutes of fourth-quarter garbage time in the first three games, rookie first-round pick Quentin Grimes got his big look Friday, playing 21 minutes. Thibodeau liked what he saw on both ends. Though Grimes was just 2-for-6 from 3, he buried a huge one from the corner with 1:38 left to cut the Knicks’ deficit to two. Thibodeau said Grimes gave him “really good minutes.’’
“I think we found something, particularly with Quentin in there,’’ Thibodeau said. “I think he gives us another wing defender that is really good.”
Swingman Wayne Selden may have won the battle for the 15th roster slot, as the Knicks are waiving Clemson’s Aamir Simms and Florida State’s MJ Walker. Both are slated for the Westchester Knicks.
Thibodeau, however, said the club still will monitor who becomes “available’’ via the waiver wire. Does that mean the Knicks might consider Theo Pinson, their 15th man last season and a locker-room magnet, if the Celtics waive him? Pinson is one of team president Leon Rose’s favorite former clients.
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