To say that it’s been an inconsistent season for Knicks rookie Kevin Knox would be an understatement.
The forward put up 21.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists in three NBA Summer League games, flashing his potential as a building block for a franchise seeking to get back to relevance.
Knox also went 8-for-21 from behind the arc, a 38-percent clip. That 3-point performance created the possibility of a dynamic perimeter threat for New York alongside Kristaps Porzingis.
But with two games remaining in the 2018-19 season, Knox’s year has been defined by inconsistent play and a shuffling roster.
He appeared in 73 games and made 55 starts, both good signs for the rookie’s development, but when we break the season down into segments, you see two completely different players.
|Kevin Knox Season Splits||Minutes||Points||FG %||3-Point %||Assists||Rebounds|
|First 16 Games||18.0||7.5||32.5||32.7||0.4||2.8|
|December – Porzingis Trade (27 games)||32.9||15.1||38.7||34.7||1.2||5.1|
|After Trade – March 15 (19 games)||29.0||11.9||33.8||33.3||1.3||4.5|
|Last 11 Games (through April 8)||33.5||16.5||42.8||37.5||1.5||4.7|
“Him being young was a factor,” Knicks Head Coach David Fizdale responded when asked to reflect on Knox’s year.
“I knew coming into the season there was gonna be ups and downs,” said Knox himself. “A lot of players go through a lot of lulls during the season.”
With Porzingis expected to be out for the season, the Knicks were not looking to compete. Still, Knox’s early struggles highlighted the adjustment period he would need.
However, it finally appeared that Knox was turning a corner at the start of December. His numbers showcased some serious growth — until the Knicks overhauled their roster and traded Porzingis.
Which is why New York’s deadline move involving Porzingis couldn’t have come at a worse time for Knox’s development. All of a sudden, the playmakers around him disappeared and the Knicks started trotting out a lineup with younger players.
Some were looking to buy-in to the team, while others were playing for their next contract. That doesn’t help your rookie forward grow into a well-rounded player.
That’s why it’s no surprise that the next 19 games were a struggle.
Knox’s field goal percentage reverted back to his early season mark. His scoring and rebounding numbers went down. Perhaps the only saving grace for the Knicks was Knox’s perimeter scoring — that percentage has stayed relatively consistent before getting a boost in the season’s final stretch.
And in these last 11 games, Knox has looked like a potential franchise player.
His scoring is up, likely due to his increased efficiency from the floor. His assist rate is up slightly as well and his rebounding numbers have, well, rebounded.
“He’s starting to put it together,” observed Fizdale. “Next year, we expect him to be a guy that’s helping us win games, putting us in a position to be a team that’s competing for the playoffs and hopefully further.”
The advanced “winning” metrics for Knox are worrying, though.
Here are his rankings in Basketball-Reference.com‘s box plus/minus statistics and win shares among qualified players.
It’s not encouraging.
|Kevin Knox Advanced Metrics Rankings||OBPM||DBPM||BPM||Win Shares||VORP|
|2018-19 Season (through April 8)||184th (of 185)||175th (of 185)||185th (last)||527th (of 528)||528th (last)|
There are some obvious caveats.
The Knicks only have 16 wins, so Knox’s win shares metric isn’t going to look great regardless of how he played. His box plus-minus numbers, which takes a box score estimate of how many points a player contributed per 100 possessions above a league-average player on an average team, are also slightly skewed because of this.
Since the Knicks are a well-below average team, any league-average player is naturally going to out-rate New York’s roster.
The concerning metric is VORP, which measures the box score estimate per 100 team possessions that a player contributed over a replacement-level player. For Knox to be dead last among qualified players in this metric — even with his late season surge — is rough.
So which Knox will the Knicks get in Year 2?
We’ll have a solid idea early, as the forward is expected to play in the Summer League again, something both Knox and Fizdale confirmed to Stadium on Tuesday.
The coach wants his young player to focus on the defensive side of the floor, an area where Knox can take a major leap in 2019-20.
“We’re gonna drill the hell out of it over the summer,” Fizdale remarked when asked about Knox’s defense. “Defensive concepts, weak-side concepts, on-ball concepts. A lot of his offensive drills will be stacked with a defensive drill.”
“Summer League is a good place to start, show what you’ve been working on,” Knox added. “I have the tools and the size to be a good defender, [I] just got to put it all together.”
If anyone can coach defense, it’s Fizdale.
He took the Memphis Grizzlies from 19th in defensive rating to 7th in one offseason. Memphis then slipped to 26th in defensive rating the season after, mainly because Fizdale was fired after 19 games. If he can get Knox to defend at even slightly below league-average levels, the Knicks can take a major jump on that side of the floor.
There are already some positives in Knox’s offensive game.
His 3-point shooting has stayed relatively consistent and his field goal percentage is climbing after he adjusted to a new roster. As his efficiency continues to grow, Knox’s point totals will also go up.
His rebounding numbers are also positive. Only 23 rookies in league history have put up at least 12.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game while shooting at least 37 percent from the floor and 34 percent from deep. There are a lot of good names on that list.
The other good news for Knox is New York’s offseason is bound to provide more talent — and fireworks.
The Knicks cleared space for two max contract players in the Porzingis trade, with many around the league believing the team will sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. New York also has a high lottery pick, potentially giving the franchise another cornerstone player. And then there’s the development of young guys already on the roster like Dennis Smith Jr., Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier.
Behind a deeper roster and a quality offseason program, Knox should improve his game in 2019.
But can the Knox of the last 11 games show up for a full season?
“The great players, they play at a really consistent level pretty much the whole year,” said Knox.
“That’s what I’m trying to get to.”