In his rookie sea­son with Knicks, Knox’s de­vel­op­ment grad­ual

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - By Kelly White­side

In a rookie sea­son that has re­sem­bled a seis­mo­graph, New York Knicks for­ward Kevin Knox needed a per­for­mance like Sun­day’s against the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers. He scored 19 points with an ar­ray of shots, slash­ing to the bas­ket, hit­ting a step-back 3-pointer while guarded by LeBron James and fin­ish­ing with fi­nesse on a driv­ing, left-handed layup.

“Hello, Kevin Knox. It was good to see him play well,” Knicks coach David Fiz­dale said. “He’s had his bumps. We know it’s there, it’s in there. It’s just a mat­ter of the ball go­ing in and him get­ting his con­fi­dence up. But I re­ally thought he came with a mind­set that he was go­ing to get out of this rut. The way he was at­tack­ing, the force he was play­ing with.”

Knox shot 8 of 14 from the field and 3 of 5 from 3-point range in the Knicks’ 124-123 vic­tory over the Lak­ers, their 14th win in a dis­mal sea­son.

“I’d been strug­gling a lit­tle bit, but the whole team and coach­ing staff had con­fi­dence in me,” Knox said. “I came to work ev­ery sin­gle day, got up ex­tra shots. I knew I was go­ing to come out of the streak, so I just wanted to make sure I kept shoot­ing.”

Last year the Knicks se­lected Knox, a fresh­man from Ken­tucky, in the first round of the draft, ninth over­all. Af­ter an an­kle sprain side­lined him at the start of the sea­son, Knox’s play took off in De­cem­ber, when he av­er­aged 17.1 points and was named the Eastern Con­fer­ence rookie of the month.

Knox, 19, hit the rookie wall be­gin­ning in mid-Jan­uary, with a 20-game stretch in which he shot 31.8 per­cent from the field and 27.7 from be­yond the 3-point arc. The slump started soon af­ter he scored 31 points, his high­est to­tal in the NBA, dur­ing a game against the Philadel­phia 76ers.

Shortly be­fore that, Knox had said that he was still learn­ing how to ad­just to the de­mands of the long NBA sched­ule and its 48-minute games, com­pared with 40 min­utes in col­lege and AAU ball.

“It’s to­tally dif­fer­ent,” he said in late De­cem­ber. “Eight min­utes doesn’t seem like a lot, but it re­ally is. That’s a whole quar­ter al­most. Eight min­utes is a long time in bas­ket­ball.”

To im­prove his fit­ness, Knox did ex­tra sprints af­ter prac­tice and spent more time on the tread­mill, run­ning spurts of 15 min­utes with the last two as fast as he could.

At var­i­ous points in the sea­son, Fiz­dale has brought in for­mer Knicks greats like Bernard King, Pa­trick Ew­ing, Bill Bradley and Walt Fra­zier to speak to his young, strug­gling team. (The coach, who was a Mi­ami Heat as­sis­tant coach when James played for them, also made a point of in­tro­duc­ing Knox to the Lak­ers star af­ter Sun­day’s game.)

King, who was with the Knicks for five sea­sons in the mid-1980s, and was known for his seem­ingly un­stop­pable base­line turn­around jump shot, has fo­cused on men­tor­ing Knox.

In be­tween their meet­ings early in the sea­son, Knox stud­ied on­line video high­lights from King’s ca­reer.

“He helps my game, ev­ery time I talk to him,” Knox said. “He’s kind of like me, a wing that gets to the bas­ket, loves tran­si­tion. He kind of re­minds me of my­self.”

Per­haps the other way around. Knox said he had sought out his own tu­tors as well, con­nect­ing with Chris Bosh, Grant Hill, Jalen Rose, Carmelo An­thony and for­mer Ken­tucky play­ers for bits of ad­vice dur­ing the try­ing mo­ments.

Af­ter Mon­day night’s 128-92 loss in Toronto, the Knicks had 11 games left in the sea­son, all of them mean­ing­less, ex­cept for their ef­fect on the draft. The three teams with the low­est win to­tals will each have a 14 per­cent of land­ing the No. 1 se­lec­tion in June, which pre­sum­ably will be Duke fresh­man Zion Wil­liamson.

The Knicks, who have the worst record in the league (14-57), are ex­pected to lose their way into one of those slots, even af­ter that up­lift­ing win against the Lak­ers, which ended when the Knicks’ Mario He­zonja blocked a shot by James in the wan­ing sec­onds.

“We had a lot of ups and downs this sea­son,” Knox said af­ter­ward. “It was big-time win, the first sweep of the sea­son. It’s just a great way to win in the Gar­den, in the last 10 sec­onds, against one of the best play­ers to ever play the game and we get a de­fen­sive stop with the crowd stand­ing up yelling.”

Knox is sixth in the league among rook­ies in min­utes played per game, at 28, de­spite shoot­ing a sub­par 36.4 per­cent from the field and strug­gling with weak­side de­fense. He is av­er­ag­ing 12.3 points with 4.3 re­bounds.

Getty Im­ages

Kevin Knox is av­er­ag­ing 12.3 points per game in his rookie sea­son with the strug­gling Knicks.

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