Can Knicks' Controversial Lottery Pick Kevin Knox Shed 'Low Energy' Concerns?

Yaron Weitzman@YaronWeitzmanFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2018

Kentucky's Kevin Knox, right, poses with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after he was picked ninth overall by the New York Knicks during the NBA basketball draft in New York, Thursday, June 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
Kevin Hagen/Associated Press

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK — It was January, and the New York Knicks were in Memphis to take on the tanking Grizzlies. This was before Kristaps Porzingis' ACL tear. Before the season had been lost.

Steve Mills, the Knicks' president of basketball operations, and Scott Perry, the general manager, had accompanied the team on the road. Both were sitting in the stands that night, and both watched as the Knicks fell behind by 18 points in the third quarter before losing a nail-biter. What stood out to them, though, was how much bouncier the Grizzlies were.

JaMychal Green, a springy but no-name forward, was soaring over the Knicks' ground-bound big men for offensive rebounds. Deyonta Davis, a 6'11" second-round pick, was wreaking havoc with his speed and bounce.

While watching the game that night, Mills and Perry turned to each other and came to an agreement: "We need to get more athletic."

Five months later, they've done just that. In selecting Kentucky forward Kevin Knox ninth overall in the 2018 NBA draft, they've added another building block to what is becoming an intriguing young core.

"He's a very good athlete now, and he can even get better athletically," Perry told reporters afterward at the Knicks' training facility in Tarrytown, New York. "The game is going to that openness now, with pace, where length and size does mater."

Perry, according to a league source, was a fan of Miles Bridges. And the team weighed other options, even meeting with Mo Bamba on Wednesday, according to another league source. But in the end, Perry and Mills felt Knox, whose agent Aaron Turner said he wanted to be a Knick, was the best fit for the team they are trying to build.

By Wednesday night, about 24 hours before the start of the draft, the Knicks had settled on their choice. Even Michael Porter Jr., once viewed as one of the top players in this class, tumbling down the first round because of health concerns couldn't sway Perry or Mills. And you can understand the reasoning: The Knicks weren't looking to hit a home run. That's what free agency is for next year, when the Knicks will have close to max space. Here, Perry and Mills were just looking to find a player who could fit alongside Porzingis and whoever they add next summer (Kyrie Irving perhaps?). 

As for Knicks fans in attendance chanting Porter's name and booing the selection, Knox said, "They booed [Kristaps] Porzingis, and look where he is now."

The Knicks, who are coming off a disappointing 29-53 season, grew enamored with Knox following his impressive workout against Michigan State star Miles Bridges earlier this month. Afterward, he met with Knicks head coach David Fizdale. The two discussed the ways Fizdale would use Knox if he indeed fell to New York.

"He said he could use me pretty much everywhere on the court," Knox said.

Knox, who will turn 19 in August, is a 6'9" forward with a 7-foot wingspan and feet quick enough to hold his own while treading water on the perimeter. He averaged 15.6 points and 5.4 rebounds in just over 32 minutes per game while drilling a decent 34.1 percent of his deep looks.

"He can shoot a little bit even though he didn't shoot that well in college," a rival scout said before the draft. "He's got a little of that driving ability. He's really talented, and he's going to grow into his body. But he's a project."

The question, according to the scout, is his "low energy level." Knox's basketball trainer, Anthony Wells, acknowledged in an interview before the draft that Knox occasionally "looks tired" and that the next area he needs to work on is "building his motor up." But, Wells added: "If that's your weakness, you're in great shape. That's the easiest thing to fix. It's not like he has a broken jumper."

Wells, who admitted that he wasn't the most objective, observed and said he believed Knox to be one of the five best players in the draft. "He's a freak of nature. His length, his height, his ability to set up the offense and run pick-and-roll. The arch on his shot is great. There aren't six guys better than him in this draft."

It's that upside that had both scouts and the Knicks enamored.

"I think his length, obviously, and the ability to switch onto various positions. He's going to grow in that area," Perry said.

Gaining versatility, and embracing the NBA trend of positionless basketball, has been an emphasis for the Knicks since hiring Fizdale. With the addition of Knox to a young core of Porzingis (7'3") and Frank Ntilikina (now 6'7" with a seven-foot-plus wingspan), you can see that plan coming to fruition. That's three players under the age of 23 who are big, long and mobile.

Take that young core, plus the lottery pick that's likely coming next season, plus the cap room to sign a max player, and suddenly things around Madison Square Garden start appearing brighter than they've been in some time.

            

Yaron Weitzman covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow Yaron on Twitter @YaronWeitzman, listen to his Knicks-themed podcast here and sign up for his newsletter here.

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