The Knicks have voiced their desire for a wing player constantly throughout the draft process. Could Kevin Knox be the answer?
Playing at Kentucky means something to 18-year-old college freshmen. John Calipari talks up “his guys” incessantly, reminding the media and fans alike that we shouldn’t foresee too much from the Wildcats because of their inexperience. It can be nauseating at times for a coach to insist we temper our expectations for the immense talent that is strewn about his roster, but nevertheless, Calipari pushes onward.
Kevin Knox perfectly encapsulates the Calipari brand. At a ripe 18 years old, Knox still managed to lead Kentucky in scoring, notching nearly 16 points per game for one of the great college programs of the century. While it seemed likely since February that he would end up being drafted in the 13-16 range, his stock may be on the rise thanks to some favorable words from a few draft big-wigs:
I prefer Knox to both Mikal and Miles Bridges. Will bet on an 18-year-old 6'9 combo forward with a 9' standing reach and some shooting versatility. Needs to get tougher but impressive skill base. He's also over a year younger than Michael Porter Jr. https://t.co/QnrclCIJPk
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) June 12, 2018
Kevin Knox's (@KevKnox) workout was definitely one of the more impressive ones we've seen thus far. Not hard to see why his stock seems to be rising in the pre-draft process. He could very well end up in the top ten. Interview included. https://t.co/qVvjILwjLM
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 12, 2018
With Knox on the rise, this begs the questions: should the Knicks be interested in selecting Knox, even if the other, more acclaimed wing options are still on the board? Steve Mills and Scott Perry have not shied away from describing the type of players they would like to see on the roster—the qualities of a wing that many in this draft class possess. The swingman worked out with the Knicks on Saturday, leaving him as a clear signal on New York’s radar. Knox’s age, size, and shooting ability make him an enticing option at the back end of the lottery. However, his defense, inconsistent motor, and less-than-stellar passing chops paint a completely different picture.
A Dynamic Offensive Talent
For a player standing at 6’9″ with a standing reach of 9’0″, the part of Knox’s game that pops the most is his fluidity. That manifests itself in his jumper, which is silky smooth when he’s on:
Knox needs little time to fire that off, and even with the defender bearing down, he’s able to calmy nail the three. He scored in the 58th percentile in spot-up opportunities, per Synergy Sports, a decent figure that could show vast improvement if he’s put into the right spots in an NBA offense. Knox was decidedly average on catch and shoot looks, and finished just below the 50th percentile. However, for a 34 percent three-point shooter, the confidence that the ball is going to hit the bottom of the net sure feels higher than that percentage would indicate. From his timing, to his knack for getting in the right spot, to his overall shooting form, there are some clear positive indicators pointing toward Knox becoming a great option on the wing, and from beyond the arc once he reaches the NBA.
Having drive-and-kick guards to work within Knox’s perimeter game would do wonders for him early on, making him a clean fit in places like Charlotte and Philadelphia. I may be more bullish on Knox’s shooting than most, but I’m confident he’ll impress in this facet of his game sooner rather than later.
The frustrating part of watching Knox is that so much of him is hypothetical at this point. During the best game of his Kentucky career at West Virginia, he poured in 34 points on only 17 shots. 2018 Finals Kevin Durant is salivating at that efficiency. Every area of the floor was taken over by Knox, and he specifically thrived in transition, including this rim-rocker:
The athleticism on Knox is not always on display, but when it is, my god. This game was the strongest correlation between his basketball ability and a pure statistical output that we’ve seen in his young career. However, those hypothetical skills faded away quickly, as he scored just five points on six shots two games later. Those issues can be chalked up to Knox’s fluctuating drive.
The most pressing concern for the youngster has to be his motor. His effort level wanes noticeably, especially on the defensive end. Whether that is a product of the college game, an inherent tendency to be passive on the floor, or whatever it may be, his tendency to drift in and out of games this season was alarming. Kentucky had too many instances when it needed Knox to step up and be the leader, but he was nowhere to be found. The athleticism and frame to be an impact defender are already there. Knox must now hone the mental side of his skills to transform into something more spectacular on that end. If you squint, the two-way potential in his game can be seen on the horizon locked tightly away; now he just has to recover the key.
As a passer, Knox did not impress much during his single year in Lexington. He had a measly 0.6 assist-to-turnover ratio, and didn’t even manage to show next-level instincts that can’t always be quantified through numbers. That’s not to say he can’t play in an effective offense, but he won’t be asked to do much with the ball in his hands at such a young age.
Knox is raw. At 18 years old, expecting him not to be would just be plain lunacy. Much of his game has yet to come to fruition, which will leave a coaching staff with a project on their plate. If he can be motivated to give an elevated level of effort throughout games and tune up his shot selection just a bit, the praise that he’s been showered with could just be prophetic.
This Bridge, That Bridge, or the Knox?
Knox is yet another wing that will be a possibility for the Knicks at pick numero nueve. Along with Miles Bridges, Mikal Bridges, Lonnie Walker IV, Zhaire Smith, and Michael Porter Jr., there is no dearth of options at this position for New York. For all of their traits, though, the Kentucky product play style is in stark contrast to all of them. Knox has the smoothest game of the bunch, but can that translate to the NBA when teams get more physical with him? He has some untapped athletic upside that he could use to take his game to the next level, but could he ever be an effective player with the ball in his hands in the halfcourt? Each wing player in this range has their particular set of pros and cons, and each one is undoubtedly going to get compared to the other.
But what are we all here for, right? What about the Knicks?
The Knicks, above all else, need shooting on the wing. Acquiring a player in this draft that has the ability to knock down triples with ease should be of the utmost importance at this slot, something all of the aforementioned players can do, to a certain degree. I’m comfortable saying that Knox will end up being a better three-point shooter than Walker and Smith, but the Bridges step-brothers should be better than all three. I like the idea of Knox on the wing to help space the floor alongside Tim Hardaway Jr., helping Frank Ntilikina out with a drive-and-kick outlet on his flank. Knox is an intriguing option as a stretch four in the NBA as well thanks to his impressive size and factoring in his slower speed as a three.
Once Adam Silver steps up to the mic to announce the New York Knicks’ 2018 first-round draft pick, I’ll be solidly content if the Knicks add a young, exciting player that can shoot the basketball and play within an offense. Knox can do that. He is by no means my first choice, but similar to every other likely option at nine this side of Collin Sexton, I could easily talk myself into it.
Let the games begin.