Consider, for a moment, what we know about the Knicks’ plans for the upcoming draft.
Last month, during new head coach David Fizdale’s introductory press conference, Knicks President of Basketball Operations Steve Mills was blunt about what type of player the Knicks hope to find in the draft: “In an ideal world, we’d like to get a wing player.”
Then again, maybe Mills and GM Scott Perry are just interested in whatever player they feel is the most talented, if you listen to Perry:
GM Scott Perry doesn't want to narrow Knicks to drafting a wing (on ESPN Radio):— Mike Vorkunov (@MikeVorkunov) May 11, 2018
"We’re going to be very open… We’re in the talent acquisition mode so we’ve got to get the highest level of talent that we can onto our roster and we’ll figure out the positions when we get there.”
Luckily for the Knicks, there’s a good chance that the “best player available” at their spot could actually be a wing. The debate between Miles Bridges and Mikal Bridges (no relation, of Michigan State and Villanova, respectively) has been a hot one in recent weeks, as both players seem like they could fit the role of “players who are capable of contributing to winning teams either as starters or in important rotational roles” that Perry has said he’s looking for.
You could argue, however, that the player with the most potential star power in the Knicks’ range (or as a trade-back candidate) is Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox.
Standing 6-foot-9 with a seven-foot wingspan, Knox is the ideal size for a player in the “position-less” 2018 NBA. And while his 212-pound frame is on the slight side for a player that profiles as a combo forward in the NBA, that would represent a gain of about seven pounds from his measurements as a high school senior. Physically, he also bears a resemblance to a couple of very good recent draftees:
Kevin Knox has similar dimensions to rookie sensation Jayson Tatum and a young Paul George— DraftExpressContent (@DXContent) June 3, 2018
He is arguably the most talented combo forward in the 2018 #nbadraft in terms of sheer ability + upside as one of this class' youngest players >> https://t.co/msy1oqzAFd pic.twitter.com/16WNDHKHel
Tatum, in particular, stands out, since he plays roughly the same position that Knox profiles to play in the NBA — a small forward who can occasionally transition to the power forward spot in small-ball situations. While Knox isn’t as polished as 2017’s third overall pick, the physical similarities between the two, coupled with Tatum’s immense success this year, are enough to make you think that Knox’s frame won’t hold him back at the next level.
Given the Knicks’ experience with thin teenagers the last couple of years too... yeah, I’m not terribly worried. Much like Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina, Knox has a thin frame, but one that you could easily see another 15-20 pounds of muscle on in just a couple years’ time with a professional training staff. And considering Knox will be turning 19 just before the start of the NBA season (he’s an August baby), he’s one of the youngest players in this draft class, meaning that he may not even be done growing yet.
This past season, Knox averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.3 blocks and 0.8 steals per game for a Kentucky team that, by all accounts, was not one of John Calipari’s finest squads of the past decade (can you believe Cal’s only been at UK for 10 years?). But despite some very valid concerns about effort and basketball IQ, more often than not, Knox looked every bit the part of a lottery pick in an average year. Due to the depth up top of this class, Knox could potentially go anywhere in the 10 to 16 range this year.
I’m nothing if not an optimist, so when I found one of Knox’s best games in full on YouTube — a 21-point, five-rebound, four-assist comeback victory against Virginia Tech — I thought it would be a good game to see just how high the ceiling could be for Knox offensively.
First, his jumper. Knox shot 44.5 percent overall from the field this year, and 34.1 percent from 3 on 4.5 attempts per game. A lot of that had to do with his mercurial shooting — Knox would go through 2-3 game spurts where he couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean, followed by games where he seemingly couldn’t miss. All in all, though, his form looks solid:
On catch-and-shoots, Knox sets quickly and has a concise, up-and-down form. It looks repeatable, and certainly should translate to the NBA. Like anything, with more practice, Knox’s consistency should come around.
Supporting that observation is Knox’s free throw shooting, which, at 77.4 percent, is a high enough mark at the college level to suggest that he could be a good shooter in the NBA. Two examples of lottery wing players with drastically different free throw numbers from a year ago: Tatum shot a .474 FG%/.434 3P%/.826 FT% slash line in the NBA this season after a .452/.342/.849 mark in college. Fellow lottery pick Josh Jackson shot .417/.263/.634 his rookie season after shooting .513/.378/.566 in college. Knox’s slash line of .445/.341/.774 paints a good picture for his pro potential.
Also similar to Tatum, Knox sported a relatively high 24.6 percent usage at UK last season (Tatum’s mark was 26.2 percent). Once Tatum got to the NBA and was able to become more of a role player (he posted a usage of 19.5 percent in the league), his shooting percentages all went up, and he became one of the more electric rookies in a stacked class.
Quick sidebar: I’m not saying in any way that Knox will definitely be as good as Jayson Tatum. But that DX graphic really got me thinking, and there’s some very real similarities between their stats and style of play in college. Couple that with 5-star Kentucky players’ penchant for being better once they hit the NBA and... well, I’m intrigued. Moving on!
Although he didn’t go to it much (probably due to his lithe frame), Knox showed the potential for a post game at times. Check this play out:
As the announcer says right at the end there, that’s a pro move. Knox gets the ball, puts it on the floor quickly, turns, and elevates for the baby hook. If Knox could fill out and become a part-time power forward in the NBA, that would be an extremely valuable trick to have in the bag. As it stands right now, if he tried that shit on Anthony Davis, his shot would be in the third row. If he did it against Draymond Green, he’d be short a testicle (unfortunately, putting on weight doesn’t stop Draymond from kicking you in the nuts. Sorry, rook!).
Perhaps my favorite part of Knox’s game is the potential that he flashes around the rim, coupled with the fact that he has fantastic transition instincts.
I thought about making a little video of Knox’s transition exploits, but treat yourself to the highlights stylings of Frankie Vision, our top plays messiah in a post-DraftExpress-videos world:
(Seriously, drop FV a follow on YouTube. Guy’s the real MVP.)
Two things stand out to me: first, Knox is an absolute demon in transition. He has a great feel for when to break off and get into transition, and he utilizes his long frame well to glide like a gazelle to the hoop. The Knicks figure to once again be one of the youngest teams in the league next year, so getting out in transition should be a priority under new coach David Fizdale.
Secondly, Knox shows some great body control around the rim, if sometimes a reluctance to absorb contact. That reluctance is (likely) another byproduct of being so thin at this point in his career, but with some more bulk, coupled with Knox’s athleticism, he shows potential to be a special finisher at the next level.
Knox certainly isn’t without warts, because if he just embodied all of the things I’ve gushed about so far, he would be a top pick instead of in the 10th-pick-or-lower range.
Defense seems like something Knox will need to be taught. He occasionally flashes defensive potential with that wingspan and frame, but in general he doesn’t seem to have a great nose for the ball in passing lanes or around the rim as a shot blocker. A good teacher on that end will be tantamount to him finding success as a two-way player at the next level.
Knox’s handle also needs work. Nobody’s expecting him to become Ben Simmons out there, but if he wants to become more than just a spot-up shooter and cutter in the NBA, it’s something he will for sure need to work on. Putting the ball on the floor in the halfcourt is one of his weaker points of his game at the moment (which also links back to the aforementioned avoidance of contact around the rim).
All in all, however, Knox looks like a guy I’d be happy to have on the Knicks. Would I be happy to have him at the expense of someone like Mikal or Miles Bridges (or a falling player like Trae Young or Wendell Carter Jr.)? That, I can’t really say. But if the Knicks’ vaunted scouts determine that he’s “the guy,” I’d be inclined to believe them.