With an important year two approaching, it doesn’t appear that Kevin Knox is being set up for success by the New York front office.
He was the obvious pick at ninth, despite what some fans may have told you about Michael Porter Jr.’s long-term potential. (He has yet to play since the draft.)
A 19-year-old forward out of Kentucky, Knox is a Calipari-product with potential as a very capable stretch four.
Immediately he dominated his fellow rookies in the Las Vegas Summer League, climbing quickly in the preseason Rookie of the Year standings.
The hype was real. You can only imagine that after years of playing the role of league laughing stock the entire New York front office let out a sigh of relief.
They may have very well-drafted the steal of the 2018 class.
But just as quickly as Knox arrived, he left. Well, not entirely.
The 2018-2019 campaign was not kind to New York, or Knox for that matter. When he touched base with real NBA size and talent, the player we saw in Summer League was nowhere to be found.
In his place, we saw a young and inexperienced kid, who was struggling to score as he had so easily done in Summer League. Knox’s first two months in the league were not pretty.
Between October and November, the 19-year-old averaged 8.2 points behind a forgettable 34/37/58 shooting split. Then, things turned around once again.
Knox earned Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in December, after going on an absolute tear. He went for 20+ points in six of the 14 games, finishing the month averaging 17.1 points and six rebounds per game.
(It’s worth noting here that New York went 1-13 in this span.)
And that was the pinnacle of his rookie year. Being the best player on a team that won just one of 14 games.
Towards the end of the year, he grew more relaxed on the floor. Things started coming easier for him, and the shots started falling on a consistent basis. He went from a poor three-point shot to being one of New York’s most reliable along the wing.
Now all his progress, and career with the Knicks is hanging in the balance ahead of his sophomore season. A look at how the New York front office has failed to set him up for success, and what it’ll take to cement himself into the franchise’s future.
Shift of Focus
It’s not hard to imagine what it was like inside the Knicks’ locker room, for a team that went just 17-65. Things were undoubtedly frustrating at times for the 19-year old rookie.
And in typical New York fashion, the focus of the year couldn’t fully be devoted to the season being played out on the hardwood.
Even though the Knicks had assembled one of the more attractive young core’s around the league, New York’s front office remained flat out enamored with the star chase.
Fans were all but promised the club would acquire a big-name free agent come July. The likes of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and Kemba Walker were all at one point or another connected to the Knicks via rumors.
Instead, New York once again was forced to settle for a very-available band of NBA journeyman: Bobby Portis, Elfrid Payton, Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock, Marcus Morris and Julius Randle.
Here we have the classic “going back to your ex” chess play. Or maybe I should say checkers. After devoting one year in its entirety to a full-on rebuild around youth, it took nothing more than a chance at acquiring a star to turn back to their old ways.
Once that bottomed out, the New York front office reassured the Knicks fandom (not knowing that most of us didn’t really care) that winning now is still the priority.
As it has been for the last, hell, ten seasons. In which the Knicks have visited the playoffs just once. See where the ever-waning confidence comes from?
There’s no measure for the direct correlation between New York mania and level of play. But I don’t think anyone would dare tell me it’s not detrimental to young players.
Ahead of drafts, it’s an immediate concern: whether the younger guys are ready to play in Madison Square Garden. When the question that should be asked is vice-versa.
When will New York be ready to commit to playing youth at MSG?
Their “Plan B” wouldn’t be so easy to criticize if it wasn’t a nearly complete 180 degree turn from their message last season. In signing an older, and arguably more talented crew of nearly-veteran players, the Knicks have turned their back on youth.
RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson will likely play within the starting five, yes. But Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier will all see their minutes dwindle behind more known talents like Bullock, Randle, and Portis.
For a team that already has concerns (but continues to reassure they’re invested) in Knox, it’s hard to track the train of thought for some of these signings; more specifically that of Morris, who’s just coming off starting on a playoff contender.
You don’t sign guys like him to one-year/$15-million contracts and not play them in a starting role. Even if the plan is to trade him at the deadline for a future asset/young talent, you still have to play him to maintain value and interest.
Was New York so desperate for a household name (if Marcus Morris qualifies even) that they were willing to turn their back on the (albeit little) progress they made last season?
Look. There’s a certain responsibility the player has to shoulder in these settings. I’m willing to recognize that.
New York has grown into a franchise that is very easy to criticize, often without acknowledging the other party involved.
Knox has got to get better. Per Basketball-Reference, he posted an 8.7 PER (league average is 15), with a 93 offensive and 116 defensive rating. Woof.
Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report did a re-draft of the 2018 class back in April. He has the New York Knicks taking Michael Porter Jr ninth, with Knox sliding all the way to 13th, to the Los Angeles Clippers.
“At No. 9, the New York Knicks miss out on the class’ franchise players and choose to avoid the questions about Kevin Knox’s rough rookie year.”
Wasserman essentially is implying that it would benefit both New York and Knox if they drafted the kid who was set to miss the entire year and let their actual pick slide. Woof x2.
He’s got to get bigger. Knox is small for his 6-9 frame. He’ll never be able to hold his own within the post without adding size. Otherwise, it’ll just be this. Over and over. Night in and night out.
The shot selection has to improve, and he’s got to find a way to finish at the rim. Per Basketball-Reference, Knox took just 10 percent of his shots from 10-16 feet of the basket and saw 34 percent of them fall.
While 34 percent certainly isn’t ideal, he was shooting 27 percent from 16 feet out to the three-point line. Where he was shooting at a higher frequency (13 percent).
Even his three-point shot, which found its way by the end of the season, still needs to improve. 40 percent of his shots last season were taken from three-point range, but only twenty percent of them were taken from the corner.
Knox is all but knockdown in those situations, where he shot 37 percent. An uptick in the opportunities he sees and takes along the corner can only help. He’s got to have the green light.
Chalk it up to small sample size all you want. But it’s those tiny aspects that, if adjusted, would go a long way in his improvement.
Still, what Knox displayed in the summer league, that month of December, and end of his rookie season just looks so raw.
Refining those sloppy facets to his game requires a certain level of effort and dedication from the coaching and training staff. And of the team’s veterans and Knox himself.
You’re going to have a hard time convincing me (or any Knicks fan for that matter) that the kid is going to improve beyond that of Morris/Randle this year and reclaim a position in the starting five. It’s just unlikely.
Per Basketball-Reference, there have been six rookies since 2010 that posted 13 points over 25 minutes per game, with a 37 or lesser percent shooting average from the field: Kemba Walker, Ricky Rubio, Marcus Smart, Emmanuel Mudiay, Lonzo Ball, and New York’s very own Kevin Knox.
Other than Mudiay, and maybe Rubio, the other three names are all NBA-level starters. So it’s certainly not time to raise the white flag just yet. But entering a year that means very little to the Knicks long term success, Knox should be a starter.
Kevin Knox was tasked with being a primary scorer at just 19 years old. He wasn’t ready. And you could argue that the Knicks weren’t ready for him to be either.
Should October come and Knox already be displaying signs of improvement, I’ll feel a lot better about how New York has prioritized his development.
But until then, it just seems unlikely that this path is the best way to mold Knox into an NBA-caliber starting forward.
Am I surprised? No. Disappointed? Almost always.
Hopeful? Maybe. Just maybe.