Summer-League Stud Kevin Knox Could Really Be a Star for New York Knicks

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJuly 12, 2018

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 10:  Kevin Knox #20 of the New York Knicks looks to drive against Josh Hart #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2018 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center on July 10, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Lakers defeated the Knicks 109-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)
Sam Wasson/Getty Images

The Kevin Knox buzz in Las Vegas is building by the day.

There is still a side to the NBA scouting community that downplays every wow moment and stat by noting that it's just summer league. But at 18 years old, the draft's No. 9 pick by the New York Knicks leads all rookies in scoring, and he's tied with Los Angeles Lakers sophomore Josh Hart, 23, among players who've played at least three games.

If you look at the members of the 2017-18 All-Rookie team, Kyle Kuzma, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum ranked in the top three in scoring from their class during summer league. Knox's start isn't a guaranteed indicator of high-level NBA success, but it's no doubt an encouraging sign. His age, tools and eye-test results appear to show an improved player who's thriving in a more suitable role compared to the one he occupied at Kentucky.

So far, the highlight of Knox's July came in the third quarter against the Lakers on Tuesday, when he erupted for 16 points en route to totaling 29. Now averaging 23.3 points through three matchups, Knox has found a way to fight through cold spells and still produce each game.

He's been far from perfect in terms of efficiency (38.6 percent FG), however, and Knicks coaches will have clear weaknesses to address with Knox in the film room.


What could make Knox special

Listed at 6'9", 212 pounds, Knox possesses a mismatch mix of size, athleticism and perimeter skills. He's been tough for bigs to keep from getting to the basket, and he hasn't had any trouble getting his shot off cleanly from outside.

On his first career field goal, Knox picked up a steal at his own foul line and then blew by three defenders while handling the ball.

It was a tribute to his ball control and agility, not typical strengths of a player his size.

Knox has shown on multiple occasions that he's a terrific two-foot jumper, which allows him to create more body control and power on finishes. Below, he takes off before the dotted circle, keeping both hands on the rock while rising and still throwing down over a helpless shot-blocker who wasn't close to making a play.

His first step is uniquely quick for a player who'll often spend time at power forward, where he's going to have an advantage against heavier-footed bigs.

Inside the arc, most of Knox's points have been off transition, straight-line drives or free throws. He's taken at least six foul shots each game, unafraid to initiate contact. He uses his first step to blow by, but Knox also does a nice job of putting defenders in a difficult position to avoid making contact with their body.

He's also shown he can dribble over a screen and knock down a pull-up jumper in space. At Kentucky, Knox shot 45.1 percent on dribble jump shots.

Behind the arc, he has a fluid stroke and high release. As long as his feet are set and he has enough room to cleanly shoot, he appears confident in his ability to make the shot from deep. He demonstrates rhythm stepping into catch-and-shoot jumpers and hesitation pull-ups.

Against the Lakers, we saw his ability to catch fire, as he drilled four threes in under three minutes. It highlighted his potential to take over games, like he did during a 34-point outburst to lead Kentucky over West Virginia in January.

Knox wound up pouring in five threes on the Lakers, as well as two against the Utah Jazz and one in his debut against the Atlanta Hawks. Inconsistency is to be expected this early in his career, especially if he's given a green light like the one he has in Las Vegas. The makes right now are more important than the misses, except for the ones he forces, which are more about needing to improve shot selection than shot-making.

Defensively, when Knox is engaged, he can slide his feet, contain and challenge wings away from the basket. Physically, there is solid two-way potential for coach David Fizdale to unlock. The key will be helping him build awareness and discipline on and off the ball.


Where Knox needs work

Knox struggled to go left at Kentucky, having made one of seven drives to the basket going left out of spot-ups and zero lefty drives out of isolation. His feel and finishing are weaker from the left side, even though he can still get to the basket going either direction.

After two blown opportunities going left early against the Lakers, he passed up an open lane left, instead opting for a contested three-pointer off the dribble.

To his credit, he bounced back later in the game for two stronger, successful lefty drives. But he's shown a clear preference for going right, a detail that opponents will quickly pick up on.

Knox could use work on his in-between game when he doesn't have space to take his time, gather and shoot. He's struggled both executing and making the right decisions while trying to score off one foot when he can't get right to the rim. Knox has had a tendency to plow through the lane into a crowd without a plan.

On a promising note, he made 25 of 61 runners in college, ranking in the 70th percentile. For the Knicks, he's worked more frequently with the ball, which can explain why his floaters have been tougher to convert. They're coming off more dribbles while having to beat a set defender in front of him. At Kentucky, his runner attempts came mostly working off the ball, where he'd only need one dribble without having a defender attached at the hip since he'd lose him curling around a screen or driving past a closeout.

Even when he's gotten all the way to the cup, he's had trouble converting, having missed 15 of 20 attempts at the rim in the half court. Though it's a positive to see him not shy away from contact, he's leaning too heavily on trying to draw fouls, as opposed to adjusting or taking a different angle.

Nonchalance can be an issue for Knox as well. He coughed the ball up seven times to the Lakers, stepping out of bounds on three separate occasions. These types of lazy passes won't fly during the season with Fizdale.


Knox's updated projection

Just as it wasn't a big deal when Donovan Mitchell shot 39.6 percent in summer league last year, Knox's field-goal mark isn't a red flag. His early inefficiency just highlights the areas he needs to sharpen, like shot selection, finishing in traffic and three-point-shooting consistency. He's also the Knicks' current go-to player, taking the majority of shots and drawing the most attention.

The positives outweigh the negatives, particularly for a teenager atop the rookie scoring ranks.

Given Knox's style of play for an athlete with his physical profile, he also seems like the textbook modern-day forward and a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis upon his return from ACL surgery.

In the meantime, there won't be any reason for Fizdale to take it slow with Knox. He's bound to emerge as an everyday starter, giving him the chance to play through mistakes, put up numbers and build his comfort and confidence before turning 20 years old.

It's unreasonable to think Knox will overtake Deandre Ayton as the Rookie of the Year favorite, but long-term, signs indicate the Knicks have landed another cornerstone and potential second star.


Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports


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