Did the clickbait title suck you in? I sure hope so, because I need those clicks to prove to the powers that be at SB Nation that my self-appointed title of “Best NBA Writer” has the numbers to back it up and I can start getting paid. #ClicksForScooterToots
OK, let’s get into the subject at hand before this devolves into something very self-serving. We need to talk about Kevin Knox. Yes, the “he’s only 19” meme is all fun and games, but it masks the fact that the rookie is posting historically bad numbers. Knox, like any young player, can obviously improve as his career progresses, and more than likely, he will. He doesn’t have anywhere else to go besides up, which does make “improvement” inevitable.
Let’s start with the basics. As we know with the Enes Kanter Experience, raw counting numbers are not the best measure for determining impact on the court. So instead, let’s take a look at some key offensive figures from Cleaning the Glass (percentiles in red/blue):
YIKES to some of these figures. Sixth percentile in effective field goal percentage and shooting percentage at the rim, and 82nd percentile in long-twos shot frequency? On top of the poor efficiency and shot profile, Knox is in the 79th percentile in usage rate and the sixth percentile in assist-to-usage ratio. He’s not only a low efficiency player, but also a high volume shooter who doesn’t pass. It’s the worst type of trifecta for a wing player.
The high-usage, low-efficiency scoring is something that is truly concerning. Of rookies who have played at least 300 minutes (37 total players) this season, Knox has the eighth-highest usage rate (22.4) while posting the sixth-worst true shooting percentage (46.4). When that rookie range becomes those qualified for the minutes-per-game leaderboard (25 total players), Knox has the seventh-highest usage rate and the second-worst true shooting percentage.
The rankings do not improve much when we branch this out into a historical context. Of rookies who qualified for the minutes per game leaderboard and have a usage rate over 20 (306 total players) in the 3-Point Era (1979-present), Knox has the 21st-worst true shooting percentage. For those who are optimistic, players like Allan Houston and OAKAAK legend Glen Rice posted very similar true shooting percentages as Knox — 46.5 and 46.6 percent, respectively. It would be amazing if Knox turned into either of those players, especially peak Glen Rice in Charlotte, yet the 19-year-old’s shooting figure is also close to draft busts like Terrence Williams (45.9 percent) and Adam Morrison (45 percent).
If you think the shooting figures are bad, strap it on for the passing numbers. You know that historical rookie sample I just cited in the paragraph above? Yeah, that one where Knox has the 21st-worst true shooting percentage for rookies. Well, Knox is currently posting the sixth-worst assist percentage (5.3 percent). The only rookies who have posted a worse assist percentage is another OAKAAK Legend and notable draft bust Derrick Williams, some guy named Rony Seikaly and Alec Kessler, Emeka Okafor, and Kevin Willis. Most of the names at the bottom of the list are big men and not wings, unless you’re Derrick Williams and Rudy Gay.
For a player who does have the ball in his hands quite a bit, the lack of shot creation for others is worrisome, especially when he’s not scoring well at different levels and on different types of shots. Let’s look at drives to the rim as an example, where Knox averages 4.8 per game. His field goal percentage is 39.3, which is the 11th worst of 130 players who average at least 4.8 drives per game. Not only is he not finishing effectively, Knox is posting the worst pass percentage (10.8) and assist percentage (3.0) out of drives of this sample. The poor shooting percentage is primarily due to Knox’s lack of strength to finish through contact and having no left hand. Strength and developing a left hand are something that, in theory, are easily correctable. The passing, on the other hand, is something that probably won’t ever come around. When you can’t make high school-level reads like this, it’s a legitimate cause for concern.
It’s plays like this with Knox that infuriate me. Dotson is wide open in the corner but Knox’s tunnel vision sets in. Dot’s body language afterwards says it all pic.twitter.com/FXg61vTMA5— Jeremy Cohen (@TheCohencidence) March 1, 2019
These legitimate causes for concern are not strictly related to Knox’s offense. The defense is equally appalling. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Knicks have a defensive rating of 117.3 points per 100 possessions (fifth percentile) when Knox is on the court. Knox’s on-off differential is +5.9, meaning the Knicks are roughly six points worse when Knox is on the court. That figure is in the seventh percentile of all wing players.
You might be thinking, “Drew, single-player on-off figures are noisy because there are so many variables that can affect the numbers.” While this is a fair assessment, the adjusted plus-minus figures that control for those factors also support the claim that Knox is a disaster on defense. 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). Quick tangent, for some reason PIPM via BBall Index rounds its figure to the nearest tenth and seven players share a figure of -1.8 in DPIPM. Knox may very well be ranked at 485 or have the worst -1.8 figure when the integer is expanded to the hundreth.
PIPM is more forgiving on Knox’s defense than RPM and RAPM, but even if you subscribe to that silver lining, this is very concerning. It’s one thing to be a negative on defense as a rookie in these metrics because, well, you’re young and need to adjust to the speed of the NBA. It’s a whole other thing to be filtering with the worst figures in the entire league and regularly being unaware on the floor like Knox is.
And it’s more than just “worst in the league” for this specific season for Kevin Knox. Since RPM has been available on ESPN (2013–14 season), Knox’s -7.37 RPM is the sixth-worst of all time. 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.
Let’s also bring BPM into the discussion, because it too isn’t forgiving of Knox. Of the 25-minutes-per-game qualified rookies, Knox has the worst BPM figure (-6.4) of the group. Only Antonio Blakeney and Jamal Crawford have worse BPM figures than Knox this season, and neither player has reached the 1,000 minute mark. Of all players who have played at least 1,600 minutes in a season, Knox’s -6.4 BPM is the second-worst all time during the 3-Point Era. Only John Amaechi posted a
nice worse -6.9 BPM in the 2000–01 season.
If you want to point to things such as “he’s young” or “he’s on team where he’s being asked too much” or “he’s in the 62nd percentile in pick-and-roll ball handling and transition points per possession” or “he has a nice floater already,” that’s fine. Some aspects of his game should theoretically improve as Knox gets stronger and gains more experience as a professional.
Even if Knox does improve, it does not change the fact that his impact on the court is, in many cases, the worst in history during specific ranges of NBA seasons. We aren’t talking about a flawed player on one side of the ball, either. Frank Ntilikina took a lot of crap from Knicks fans last year about his play — understandably, given how poor he still is on offense — but he at least had a 1.41 defensive RAPM that was second on the team behind Kristaps Porzingis and ranked 44th in the entire NBA. Knox is posting extremely poor offensive and defensive numbers.
This is concerning moving forward, because if the miracle scenario of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving coming to the Knicks materializes, that moves Knox off the ball, where he’s shown no signs of actually playing well. He doesn’t cut well and he’s only shooting 34.3 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Given his defensive issues on the perimeter, Knox doesn’t appear to project as a “3-and-D” wing and his more ideal position of playing the four will be occupied by Durant. Even if the Knicks don’t sign a big-name free agent, if they win the lottery and draft Zion Williamson, Knox again would be out of his ideal position, because Williamson is also a four.
Right now, the only thing both the Knicks organization and fans can do is hope that Knox is an outlier and can overcome the odds that are stacked against him.
Note: some of these stats may have slightly changed as they were gathered on March 6, 2019.