New York Knicks: Kevin Knox finding NBA Summer League stride

New York Knicks, Kevin Knox (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
New York Knicks, Kevin Knox (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images) /

New York Knicks rookie Kevin Knox has played well over his last five games, showcasing some of that promise that he showed in NBA Summer League.

With the ninth overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks selected Kentucky forward Kevin Knox. To the surprise of no one, that was a selection that was booed by the Knicks faithful in attendance.

It’s become customary for fans to just boo whoever is selected before even seeing them play. The first time Knox stepped on the court wearing a Knicks uniform, he began quieting some of his doubters.

Knox played very well in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. He was one of the top scorers in Summer League, averaging 21.3 points per game. He added 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game. The only true blemish was his shooting percentages, as Knox made only 35.1 percent of his shots from the field and 35.7 percent from the foul line.

Despite the poor shooting numbers, fans were excited to see Knox on the court when the games began to matter. He was garnering interest as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate. However, things quickly came crashing back down to Earth.

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Knox struggled throughout the preseason, averaging 8.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.2 blocks per game. Even with the struggles, he still opened the regular season as an integral part of the team’s rotation.

Knox scored in double figures his first two career NBA games. The third game of the season he suffered an ankle injury that derailed his progress. He missed seven games and was brought along very slowly after that.

Knox played just over 14 minutes combined in his first two games back. His minutes would increase after that, but his role was inconsistent. He came off the bench for four games before starting in three. After that, he was relegated back to the bench and his minutes fluctuated once again.

Head coach David Fizdale has taken an interesting approach to minute distribution this season. He has cut back on some of the young players’ minutes to see how they would respond. Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay and Damyean Dotson have all experienced it. All of them responded in a positive way, and Knox looks to be doing the same.

Over the last 10 games, Knox has really begun to turn a corner. He scored a career-high 26 points against the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 1, logging a career-high four assists as well. In his last five games, Knox has really gotten things together.

The last five games, the last four of which have come as a starter, are easily the best stretch of basketball that Knox has had thus far in his young career. He’s averaging 19.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game in that span, knocking down 41.7 percent of his 3-point attempts. This also includes a 26-point, 15-rebound effort against the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 9.

While those numbers are encouraging, Knox still has a lot of development to do. Physically, he needs to get stronger. He is too often pushed around defensively by opposing players. His defensive numbers aren’t great this season, and he needs to improve on that end of the court.

Adding strength would also help him offensively to finish around opponents and draw more fouls. His efficiency also needs to improve. His shot selection isn’t necessarily poor; only 35.1 percent of his shots come from more than three feet away from the rim out to the 3-point line.

That kind of shot distribution will get the analytic crowd happy, as Knox settles for very few long-2s. The Knicks will like that as well, as Knox’s shooting percentage at the rim and from the 3-point line are better than from any other distance on the court, according to Basketball-Reference.

Coach Fizdale has done an excellent job instilling confidence in his young players. Knox is responding to it, and hopefully he can continue stringing together strong performances.

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Knox should be a fixture of the starting lineup for the foreseeable future, especially with Lance Thomas still unable to get on the court. He will be given every opportunity to continue producing and developing, which is all Knicks fans can hope for at this point.