Kevin Knox
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Knicks are doing Kevin Knox no favors by keeping him on the edges of their rotation and a bold move is in order.

Danny Small

NEW YORK, NY—Kevin Knox is having a rough year and that might be the understatement of the year. One year ago, he was a prized rookie who was given a long leash and allowed to play through his mistakes. Fast forward to now and Knox is one of the biggest head-scratchers for the New York Knicks.

His numbers in almost every major statistical category are down. Knox was drafted to be a go-to scorer who could finish at the rim and knock down outside shots with regularity. Unfortunately, he’s struggling to find his offensive flow, only averaging 7.0 points on .367/.325/.651 shooting splits.

Don’t look to his shot profile for any comfort. Knox, 20, is only shooting 32.6% on catch-and-shoot threes and 31.2% on threes where he is considered “open” per NBA.com. It’s not groundbreaking analysis to say knocking down open catch-and-shoot threes is a vital skill to have in today’s NBA. Knox doesn’t have it yet.

And despite his length and athleticism, his defense has not taken any noticeable leap. In fact, he looks like he’s regressing on that end. The Knicks are looking for him to start using his length for more deflections.

“Our key points there are just his overall aggressiveness on everything,” interim head coach Mike Miller said last month. “… And then on the defensive side having a real presence on the ball and using physicality, using his length, getting three to five deflections a game, that type of activity defensively.”

Three to five deflections per game has not happened for Knox and to be honest, that’s a ton of deflections. Per NBA.com, Only 16 players in the NBA average 3.0 or more deflections per game and with the exception of Gary Payton II, every player on that list plays more than 24 minutes per game. Knox averages 18.6 minutes per game.

That begs the question: Why isn’t Knox playing more? There’s an opportunity for more minutes in the rotation with the departure of Marcus Morris. Sr., but there’s no guarantee the second-year forward can scoop up those extra minutes.

He only played 16 minutes in Thursday’s win over the Orlando Magic. Based on that, there was little indication that Knox’s role in the rotation would be expanding. However, Miller says that Knox will have the “opportunity” to take some of the minutes Morris is leaving behind.

“I think there’s going to be opportunity, obviously, for those minutes,” Miller said after beating Orlando. “Kevin has played well. We were very, very pleased with the road trip he had. We felt like he was really good and really efficient and we need him to continue to build and continue to grow. There will be — obviously there’s more minutes so he’ll have opportunities to expand.”

Despite his praise of Knox, Miller won’t commit to playing him big minutes, though. If Thursday was any preview for the rest of the season, the guys who are playing well will play the most. That’s understandable so long as the Knicks keep winning.

If that’s the case, is it better to let Knox continue to spend most of his time on the bench as the 10th or 11th guy on the roster? Miller seems to believe that Kenny Wooten—a Knicks two-way player—is best served playing major minutes with the Westchester Knicks. Why wouldn’t this same logic apply to Knox?

“At this point, I think the most important thing for his development is playing those 30 minutes a game that he’s playing,” Miller said of Wooten. “And we’ve seen the growth in him getting to play those minutes. And right now, the quality minutes are the most important thing for him. Getting spot minutes isn’t going to push his development the way it would consistently every night and being in all these game situations and coverages and learning. Because he has grown.”

It’s unlikely to see Knox hop on the G League shuttle because the Knicks—and the NBA at large—don’t send lottery picks down to work through issues. There’s a stigma attached to a G League demotion for lottery picks.

But again, what’s best for Knox’s overall development: playing spot minutes as the 10th man in the rotation or playing 30 minutes where he will be a featured part of the offense?

New York doesn’t have a track record of success when it comes to developing talent. The Toronto Raptors, on the other hand, are an organization that has developed guys like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet into bonafide stars. Both guys spent some time in the G League before blossoming into championship-winning players.

“I am a firm believer that they need to be playing,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said in Madison Square Garden last month. “They gotta play. How do you get any better if you’re not playing? I’m a big, big, big believer that if they’re not getting the minutes with the big club, they’ve gotta go down and play as many minutes as they can get down there.”

It’s worth noting that Nurse wasn’t talking about the Knicks or Knox specifically. His response was to a more general question about player development.

But everyone agrees that Knox needs to be playing to help spur on his development. Are 18 minutes per game enough for him or should the Knicks make the bold move to send him to Westchester?

One legitimate concern is that a demotion would crush the young player’s confidence. Although Knox’s NBA career has been a constant rollercoaster, he maintains an even keel through it all.

“I knew I was gonna struggle,” Knox told reporters after a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers during March of his rookie season. “I knew I was gonna have some times where I played really well, sometimes I played bad. I just gotta be able to stay up, keep working hard. I’m never going to get down on myself.”

If Knox still has this mindset nearly one year later, a G League demotion wouldn’t destroy his spirits. It might be the best way to build him up and foster his long-term growth. He’s not a bust. After all, he’s not even old enough to legally purchase an alcoholic drink yet. Knox just needs some time, patience, and major minutes at either level.

Danny Small is on Twitter @dwsmall8.

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