In his rookie season with Knicks, Knox’s development gradual
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.
Kevin Knox is averaging 12.3 points per game in his rookie season with the struggling Knicks.