(Image by: Tomek Kordylewksi)
By Nick Faggio
Following a modest rookie season for Kevin Knox when he averaged 12.8 points, 1.1 assists, and 4.8 rebounds, many thought in a few years he could become a key component of New York’s long, long-awaited rebuild. A sophomore stint full of disappointment saw a dramatic decrease in almost every statistical category for Knox. The most alarming of the bunch, his PPG cut in half from 12.8 to 6.4.
At first glance, Knox’s numbers taking a cliff dive does not completely fall on his own shoulders. Instead, it could be traced back to a reoccurring place for such faults, the Knicks’ front office and specifically, their ability to develop young talent.
A franchise with little chance of making the postseason should play their young guys as much as possible to help them evolve, right? Not in New York, that would be too easy. Knicks gonna Knick, and the Knicks knicked again. Despite being on a terrible team, Knox’s minutes per game dipped drastically from a solid 28.8 minutes as a rookie, to 17.9 as a sophomore.
Whether it was the influx of forwards on 1-year deals that have no foreseeable future with the team or head-scratching decisions from coach David Fizdale, Knox’s minutes were reduced significantly. So, the front office’ is the cause for Knox’s collapse, right?
Not exactly. Knox’s severe lack of production stems from his poor defense; it is hard to put into words just how often Knox can be a defensive liability. So Drew Steele from SB Nation and KVSC Sports put it into numbers.
Steele went deep on just how historically bad Knox is on defense; just look at these stats Steele accumulated.
“Knox is 491st of 494 players in defensive RPM (-3.94), 504th of 508 players in defensive RAPM (-1.75), and 485th out of 511 players in defensive PIPM (-1.8)…), Knox’s -7.37 RPM is the sixth-worst of all time.”– Drew Steele
It gets worse…
“Of players who averaged more than 20 minutes per game, Knox has the worst RPM of all time. Over that same time frame for RAPM, Knox’s -3.45 RAPM is the 31st-worst of that sample. Of players who have played more than 1,600 minutes (Knox has played 1,602 minutes so far this season), Knox has the 10th-worst RAPM of that sample.”– Steele
Some of his defensive shortcomings are simply frustrating. In this clip below, Knox is in position to protect the rim after a weak side rotation. Instead of going up strong and tall, Knox lets his arms flail and picks up an avoidable foul.
Despite Mitchell Robinson calling for help on the roller, Knox has a defensive lapse. The reaction needed to be a help defender is not there, leading to another foul.
There are times when Knox lacks the proper defensive body positioning. During a switch onto Spencer Dinwiddie, he should be up the balls of his feet, ready to reaction to a drive. Or, if he thinks he will get burnt (which he does) then Knox should be giving space or positioning his body to encourage a drive towards the middle, where the help should be.
Luckily for Knox, being just 20-years-old gives him time to complete a revamp of his defensive skills.. A lengthy, athletic 6’7 forward with a 6’11 wingspan, he already has the built-in tools to accelerate on the defensive end. For Knox, he has to commit to the grind of remodeling his defense for success.
He still has the physical profile to be an impact defender. His length is impressive and at times his agility/footwork suggests he can hang with quicker guards, just like what this block against Austin Rivers displays.
What’s more, Knox can demonstrate his instincts from time to time. Here, he perfectly plays defense between two open players at the same time, and picks off a pass after reading the ball handler.
Once Knox addresses his defensive liabilities, it will open up his gym time to address his offensive problems. A 65% free throw shooter – a mark that has decreased since his time at Kentucky – he also shoots an abysmal 50% in the paint and 32% from behind the arc. These numbers do not reflect his scouting report and collegiate skill set.
Knox is surrounded by a young core of RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, who also need time to grow. If Knox can wiggle his way into the plan for that duo’s development, he could finally be a key element of New York’s quest to be an average team and not a bust candidate. Yet, it starts on the defensive end; a place where Knox can still become a net positive player. Unlocking the minutes required to smoothen out and offensive game starts with being trustable on defense.