The Knicks’ first-round pick balled out at the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League—demonstrating the skills he displayed in bursts at Kentucky will translate at the next level.
Admit it, even you were surprised. To make sure we’re claro, the majority of Knicks fans never doubted Kevin Knox. When it became clear he was the guy at nine, the fanbase rallied behind him and collectively awaited his Summer League debut. Knox’s talent has always been undeniable, but the timeline for that talent to flourish is still shrouded in mystery. Throughout the pre-draft process, the common thread with Knox was that he would need time.
Then he showed out in Vegas. He literally jumped out to a strong start:
BIG KNICK ENERGY FROM KEVIN KNOX pic.twitter.com/4tfdMvRfFC
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) July 7, 2018
In four summer league games, he averaged 21.3 points, 6.5 boards, and 2.3 dimes on his way to first team All-Summer League honors. He became one of the guys you made sure to tune in for. The duo of Knox and Mitchell Robinson reignited excitement around the team. Most importantly, it proved the Baby ‘Bockers are a real thing. If what we saw in Vegas was not a mirage—the Knicks struck gold—it’s possible that Kristaps Porzingis may have found the running mate Carmelo or Ewing never had. Bookmakers took notice of Knox’s standout performance, adjusting the Knickerbocker’s odds to win the 2019 NBA Rookie of the Year award accordingly. Knowing which sports betting websites to choose before wagering on Rookie of the year is vital, as each one offers different sign-up bonuses and odds, as many noted Knox’s average odds have improved from +1600 on July 10th to +680 on July 23rd.
For those of us that followed Knox at Kentucky last year, we know Vegas was not a mirage. It was a callback to his greatest night as a Wildcat, his massacre of the Mountaineers in Morgantown. He carried Kentucky with 34 points (7-of-8 from three) to an upset win over seventh-ranked West Virginia.
The career high in points was not what stood out. Consistently, he led Kentucky in scoring throughout the season, but what did stand out was the removal of his passiveness. He was always John Calipari’s top guy, but there were nights where he did not act like it. Against West Virginia, there was no doubt. It was like when B-Rabbit found his voice at the end of 8 Mile. He substituted passiveness with aggression. He relentlessly attacked as if finally realizing that he can do whatever he damn-well pleases on a basketball court.
It was confirmed he had the strap by the third game of his college career, the only question was if he’d rely on it too much. There were spells where he showed some “Melo-itis” instead of getting to the rim. Against West Virginia, he refused to settle.
Unfortunately for Kentucky fans, that Kevin Knox did not come back out to play. Lucky for Knicks fans, that might be the only Knox we know. College was a steel cage match compared to the spacing he’ll enjoy in the league. With considerably more space to operate, Knox has been able to open up his bag of tricks.
He also started to bring the ball up and initiate the offense, a skill he did not flex often at Kentucky. Under Fizdale, this will be more of a staple, and the early results have been encouraging to say the least. During his 16-point third quarter against the Lakers he put on a similar display to the one we saw against West Virginia, only he had the ball in his hands considerably more often.
Ball handling was something Knox worked on leading up to the draft. It is an area of his game that, if sharpened, can unleash a devastating isolation facet that forwards long to possess. Knox’s father said his son patterns his game after Kevin Durant. Durant has always had the handle of a point guard, but in Golden State we have really seen how unstoppable a seven-foot guard could be.
Knox is 6-foot-9 with time to add a few more inches and bulk up, something he talked about working on heading into training camp. We have seen the transformation of Kristaps from age 19 to 23. He now looks like a stretched out Ivan Drago. Even Frank Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson have filled out in just one season. Patience is key. Once Knox takes his body to the next level, Fizdale will have himself a 7-foot-3 unicorn and a (possibly) seven-foot playmaker at his disposal who can do cool shit like this.
Knox understood that this was all “just the Summer League.” He was well aware the competition level at Vegas is nowhere near the class he will face during the season. In his final game against the Celtics, he got a taste of NBA-caliber defense. Semi Ojeleye, a 236-pound tank, played the role of the speed bump. Until Knox fills out he will have to find ways to score with finesse, but his game may expand sooner rather than later.
Adjustment will be the key theme of Knox’s rookie season. He has arrived more polished physically (and mentally) than any of us could have hoped. His maturity and awareness of his role within the team are wise beyond his years. When we talked about adding an 18-year-old it was under the assumption he’d need time. Knox still needs time to grow, but nearly as much as we once thought.