In the NBA Draft, late-lottery teams typically face tough decisions. The late lottery is usually home to teams with some – albeit not a whole lot – of talent. Ideally, teams in the late lottery are up-and-coming, allowing them to either draft based on need or take a chance on someone they can bring along slowly.
In 2018, the New York Knicks had the ninth pick in the draft. Due mostly to a talented draft class, there were still a few strong prospects in play when it was the Knicks turn to make a selection.
Prior to the 2018 draft, the Knicks had been closely linked to Mikal Bridges. There were also rumors about their interest in Miles Bridges. Michael Porter Jr. was looked at as a long shot to drop to ninth, but he, too, was available when the Knicks made their selection.
Ultimately, the Knicks went with a less established forward from Kentucky – Kevin Knox II. The Kentucky product initially looked the part, impressing in his first Summer League. Knox averaged 21.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. He was even named to the All-NBA Summer League First Team.
His first season was similarly impressive. As a 19-year-old role, Knox averaged 12.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 28.8 minutes per game, scoring 20 or more points 11 times – including a career-high 31 points against the Philadelphia 76ers in January 2019. He shot 37% from the field – which definitely requires improvement – and 34.3% on three-point attempts.
But everything can’t be summed up by stats. Knox demonstrated a strong foundation. He proved to be a fluid athlete, even against NBA-level competition, and the form on his jump shot was clearly a strength.
Knox also had his work cut out for him – but initially, the areas of game requiring work seemed easy enough to improve—namely, strength, shooting and shot selection. Knox’s biggest need – from this writer’s perspective, anyway – was that he avoided contact at the rim, opting to rely on off balance floaters far too often. But that’s an easy fix involving strengthening and repetition.
Knox’s second go-round in Summer League was as impressive as his first. He averaged 16.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2 assists per game. He demonstrated a more complete game throughout Summer League play, and he looked more comfortable picking his spots, all the while helping to accommodate the new rookie, RJ Barrett.
But confidence is a fickly beast, especially for NBA players, and Knox’s confidence quickly took a hit in his Sophomore season. And it had little to do with him or his game.
Coaching is paramount to player confidence. A select few guys really know they belong, but most young players are only as good as their opportunities. In his rookie season, Knox had a player-advocate for a coach in David Fizdale. In the 21 games that Fizdale was still the Knicks’ coach in 2019-20, the Knicks struggled and Knox slumped a bit – averaging just 7.9 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 20.2 minutes per game on 37.1% shooting and 35.9% on three-point attempts.
After Fizdale was let go, the Knicks promoted Mike Miller to interim head coach. Miller dealt with all of the same pressures as Fizdale, but he also had to struggle with the idea that his NBA future would be based squarely on the final 44 games of the season, a fact that likely motivated him to lean on his more proven players – Knox was not a part of that group.
Knox averaged only 5.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 16.9 minutes per game under Miller, shooting 35.3% from the field and 30.6% on three-point attempts.
Knox has had a tough go-of-it as a professional so far. He’s had three coaches in three seasons. Coach Tom Thibodeau is by far the best of the bunch, and he’s had an incredibly positive effect on many of the younger Knicks – but Knox is simply not in his rotation. Once again, it’s not his fault; he’s plays the same position as All-Star Julius Randle, who is Thibodeau’s most beloved workhorse.
Knox is receiving just 11.6 minutes per game in 2020-21, in which he’s posting 4.1 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.5 assists. His shooting is improved – 39.9% from the field and 39.1% on three-point attempts – but he’s too far down the bench for it to matter. He’s scored in double-figured just three times this season, and he’s received 25 DNP-CDs through 63 games.
New York is a tough place to play, especially for kids who aren’t brimming with confidence. Somehow Knox is still only 21-years-old, so he could very realistically make his mark yet – after all, most teams would trip over themselves to grab a young 6’7” shooter with a good first step. But it’s unlikely to happen in the Big Apple — which is unfortunate because he has all of the tools.
But switching gears, imagine if the Knicks had taken any of the other guys they were linked to prior to the 2018 NBA Draft? Porter Jr. Mikal Bridges. Miles Bridges. All three have made their mark on the league, and all three would add tangible skills that would benefit the Knicks. It’s hard to imagine any of those three failing to develop into what they’ve become.
This past Monday, Mikal Bridges came to the Garden and gave them an up-close look at what they passed up. Bridges scored 21 points on three-for-six shooting from three-point range in a eight-point Phoenix victory. That game snapped a nine-game win streak for the Knicks.
Examining past drafts picks is an exercise in futility. Players develop partially because of their teammates, coaches and training staffs. You can’t just grab a player’s stats three years into his career and drop him on a roster that developed partially due to the ramifications of the picks they made since.
But it’s pretty clear that any of the other three prospects to whom the Knicks were linked would have produced more for a team currently in need of offensive fire power.
As for Knox, his inability to secure a consistent role under Thibodeau and the crowding at his position mean it’s it’s unlikely that a role materializes for him in the near future. A fresh start elsewhere is probably best. It’s not his fault. It’s just the way it is.