Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Knox On Wood, Rookie Making A Splash

Rookie of the year? Future of the Knicks? Superstar in the making? Knicks fans are in love with Kevin Knox after the show he’s put on in the summer league. But were Knicks fans in love with this pick from the beginning? Hell nah!

Take it back about a month to draft night and the Knicks were sitting pretty with the 9th pick as they had a golden opportunity on their hands. The prospectus of Michael Porter Jr. to the Knicks had NYK fans gleaming.

Porter, the small forward out of Missouri was squarely in the race for no. 1 overall pick to begin the 2017-2018 season. Two minutes into his first game of the season a devastating back injury knocked him out of the season for all but 3 games. This subsequently had Porter’s draft stock slip.

Knicks fans were ecstatic, however. Porter continued slipping in the draft. Pick after pick, Knicks fans saw MPJ’s name not being called. And as each pick went along, their excitement grew. The Knicks selection finally came up and Porter’s name was still sitting on the draft board.

It seemed like a match made in heaven. The Knicks would get another star to pair with Kristaps Porzingis to bring back fame to one of the most glamorous franchises in the country. It was like a perfect script. Porter and Porzingis. The Knicks are back!

Except, that’s not what happened. The New York Knicks went another direction. With the 9th overall pick, they picked the stud small forward out of Kentucky. Knicks fans heard Kevin Knox’s name called, and shortly after the ensuing boos began. Knicks fans were fed up with the organization. The Knicks had a potential superstar on the table and decided to pass for a much shakier prospect.

Well, it turns out they knew what they were doing.

 

A Kentucky Wildcat

Knox was the no. 10 prospect on the ESPN top 100. So yeah, he had some high expectations in college. Knox was a great player going into a great program. But Kentucky wasn’t just a great program, it was a hub that has gushed out elite NBA talent year after year. The Wildcats have produced players like Devin Booker, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, John Wall, Anthony Davis, and many more.

Since taking over in 2009, Kentucky coach John Calipari has quickly established himself as one of the best coaches in college basketball. What Calipari has done better than any other coach in college basketball, is get his players NBA ready.

Calipari focuses on teaching his players the skills that will help them succeed at the next level rather than relying on the skills that they will get away with in college, but not in the NBA. This in effect has polished all the prospects coming out of Kentucky and put them on the path to success. Knox however, was a little different.

Calipari’s teams are always young. They’re filled with your typical one-and-dones. Although they are young, they’ve always had a few veterans on the team to keep the youth in check. As everyone knows, experience outweighs talent when March comes about.

This Kentucky team was a whole new level of young. This is a roster that housed 0 seniors and only 2 juniors. Those 2 juniors were completely out of the rotation all season long. The Wildcats housed a rotation full of only freshman and sophomores. Calipari opted to start 5 freshmen for the majority of the season.

Despite the youth, this was a Kentucky team with a myriad of talent. After Knox, this roster includes a plethora of players in the 2017 ESPN top 100 including P.J. Washington (no. 12), Nick Richards (no. 17), Jarred Vanderbilt (no. 19), Quadre Green (no. 24), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (no. 35), and five-star SG Hamidou Diallo. This was a roster that also included 2016 ESPN top 100 prospects Wenyen Gabriel (no. 14) and Sacha Killeya-Jones (no. 24).

It’s obvious to see that this Kentucky team had no dearth of talent, but at the same time, they severely lacked in experience. The only players in the rotation that were not freshmen were Gabriel and Killeya-Jones who were equally inexperienced as sophomores.

Kevin Knox was the 2nd best player on this young Kentucky squad. At 6’9” 212 lbs Knox has fantastic size for the small forward position. His 7’0” wingspan only benefited him further, especially on the defensive side where his long arms pestered teams in Kentucky’s 2-3 zone.

Knox ended the season with a team-leading 15.6 PPG to go along with a solid 44.5 FG%. In college, Knox was not your typical dominant scorer who would go one-on-one every single play. Knox is the definition of a small forward. While we’re used to seeing guys like LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard be uber ball dominant, playing more as a point forward, but traditional wings are a little different.

Knox moves extremely well without the ball, he runs off ball screens very well. Knox has some ability to be handed the ball and take on opponents straight up. He was excellent in the mid-range game last year. Knox’s three-point stroke was inconsistent in college, but he still showcased range on his shot all year long. His 34.1 3PT% won’t inspire confidence in anyone, but watch the game tape and you can see Knox was a very solid shooter in college.

It wasn’t all good for Knox however, there were a lot of drawbacks on his game that had scouts concerned. The biggest aspect was Knox’s inability to use his size properly. Despite the large height and wingspan, Knox rarely drove to the basket. Knox was one of the bigger guys on the court but played like the smallest guy on the court. He lacked aggression, he rarely drove straight to the rim and fought through contact. This ticked off Calipari especially because he knew Knox had the pristine ability as a driver.

Knox did not use his size to shine as a rebounder. Despite standing at 6’9” he averaged only 5.4 RPG. While this is not a terrible mark, Knox had a immense advantage over smaller players in college, which he rarely took advantage of.

Knox had an up-and-down season, to say the least, but the talent was always there. So why couldn’t he put it together?

Youth.

For all of Knox’s struggles, the biggest was his inconsistency. He often went into shooting slumps and/or lacked effort for periods at a time. You see this a lot in college. The teams that know how to get through it are the ones that are filled with juniors, seniors, and veteran experience.

Kentucky did not have that. When Knox went into a slump, he did not have anyone on the team to help him play through it and get back to his normal state. When teams start taking bad shots or panicking in clutch times there needs to be some leadership on the team to get them back on track. Kentucky had nobody to take that role. A coach can only say/do so much, leadership amongst players is irreplaceable.

While Knox struggled at times, you can really attribute a lot of that toward the lack of experience and leadership on this team. Knox has always had the size and talent to succeed, but often let his head get in the way. After all, Knox is still 18 years old and was the second youngest player in the draft in the 2018 NBA draft.

The New York Knicks did their homework. They knew what they were getting. Despite all the red flags, on June 21st, 2018, the New York Knicks selected Kevin Knox with the 9th overall pick.

 

The Lights Shine Bright for Kevin Knox

You’ve seen the highlights. You’ve read the stat lines. You’ve been consumed by the hype. Kevin Knox is the future. Or so you’ve been told.

After a couple weeks in the Las Vegas Summer League, Knox certainly looks the part.

Knox has not been running the same style of offense he was at Kentucky. The Knicks aren’t drawing up plays for Knox and letting him get into spots for easy baskets. The Knicks have simply been letting Knox operate 1 on 1 and score by himself. He’s responded with flying colors.

Knox has boasted averages of 21.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 2.3 APG in 32.3 MPG over 4 summer league games. Simply put, Knox has dominated on the court.

Knox has been aggressive and scoring the ball at the rim with ease. Calipari must be pulling his hair out screaming, “why didn’t he do that for me!” Once again going back to the youth, Knox did not have someone to push that aggressiveness out of him and to mentor him to play to his full potential. Now, in the NBA, Knox is surrounded by vets full of experience.

Knox struggled with efficiency in Vegas with only 35.0 FG%. It’s important to note almost all of Knox’s FGA were created by himself (a role he’s still adjusting to). The Knicks have been force feeding Knox the ball and letting him learn through the pain. During the regular NBA season, Knox will be playing alongside other stars and will be getting easier shots while playing through the offense. A role he is sure to thrive in.

Another huge development for Knox in the summer league is his jump shot. Lots of people have questioned his jump shot when entering the league citing his 34.1 3PT%. Knox’s jump shot was never bad, but an inconsistent year led to a bad percentage. Knox has been raining 3s in the summer league, hitting big shot after big shot. He’s proving all the doubters wrong on his jumper.

Knox has shown more aggression rebounding the ball noted by his 6.5 RPG. One of the more interesting things is Knox’s passing. While the 2.3 APG mark doesn’t jump off the screen, I’ve seen Knox make very solid passes to open teammates. Knox has made simple, but smart passes to teammates when he gets double teamed and/or teammates are open. This is, even more, promising for the future.

Knox has been playing excellent defense in the summer league. He has been all of his 6’9” frame and his 7’0” wingspan to great use on that side of the court. Knox has shown flashes of elite defense at Kentucky when his head is fully in it and has shown the same prowess in Vegas.

This is going to be a very interesting situation. Knox will look to become a cornerstone piece next to Kristaps Porzingis. The two should be able to coexist beautifully as both players can play without the ball very well and should be able to dominate in the pick and roll together. The size and length from both of these players will be tantalizing for opposing teams.

Rookie of The Year is a prestigious award, but the winner isn’t necessarily the best player from that draft class. After Knox’s wild summer league, many have him penciled in as the favorite to win ROY. But let’s take a moment to remember this is just the summer league. Cheick Diallo just dropped 28 points and 13 rebounds in the summer league. I bet you’ve never heard of Cheick Diallo.

Kevin Knox excelling in the summer league is a fantastic sign for his development. He is showcasing strengths that almost no one knew he had. Despite that, we should not overreact to his summer league performance and assume he will do the same in the NBA. At least not immediately.

It’s most definitely not out of the question for Knox to win ROY. However, it’s important to keep in mind Knox’s body is still quite slender and he is only 18 years old.

After a fantastic summer league expectations will be high for Knox his rookie year. Players that win ROY are not only immensely talented (as Knox is), but also land in the right situation. While Knox is not in a bad situation per se, he may not even be starting when opening night comes around.

Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. have solidified the 2 and 3 positions for now. Obviously, if Knox continues to impress he will gain traction in his race to become a starter. Coach David Fizdale has already stated on numerous occasions that he sees Knox as the future and would prefer to start him, so the door is very much open for the young man.

The lights shine bright in New York. MSG is one of the most famous stadiums in sports and the Knicks have a rich history of success. Kevin Knox will look to bring the spotlight back to New York.

At 18 years old Knox is extremely young. This, however, is a serious positive for his development. Starting from a younger age, Knox will get more years to develop into the superstar he has the potential to be.

Kevin Knox has the prototypical size for the SF position. At 6’9” he towers over most small forwards which give him an immense advantage. At Kentucky, Knox seemed lost, he never used his large frame correctly. In the summer league, Knox has been using his size to perfection, absorbing contact and attacking the basket at will.

Knox has shown off his athleticism in Vegas. Using his long strides and speed he has been able to score in transition as well as carve up the half court. He’s been using his great lateral quickness and 7’0” wingspan to play fantastic defense.

Knox has already shown off serious promise that most people didn’t expect from the young man. To be clear, Kevin Knox is the real deal. He was in a bad situation surrounded by youth and a lack of leadership. Now he will step into a fantastic situation surrounded by vets and young talent as he looks to supplant his legacy. Knox already has a plethora of talent but seems to have only scratched the surface of his potential. Whether it’s this year, next year, or in 5 years, Kevin Knox is the league’s next superstar.

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