Schmeelk: 2 Years In, Kevin Knox Still Lacks NBA-Level Skills

75756A5E-120A-4932-810C-2FD980DB785E
By WFAN Sports Radio 101.9 FM/66AM New York

Kevin Knox has finished his first two seasons in the NBA (if this season is indeed over), and so far he has not been close to even an average NBA player on either end of the floor.

An inefficient, high-volume rookie season led to an even less efficient second year in which he had much less offensive responsibility. There were small improvement in other areas, but none that are significant enough to pave a clear path forward.

Through two years, there is not a single skill that you can point to that Knox is even average at compared to the rest of the league. His best skill coming out of college was supposed to be his shooting, but that has regressed as he tried to implement an odd, ultrahigh-arcing shot into his repertoire in his second season.

Knox’s .359/.327/.653 shooting numbers were all down from his rookie season despite nearly three fewer shots per 36 minutes. His free-throw attempts per 36 minutes dropped, too. Oddly, Knox shot 2 percentage points better on above-the-break 3s (35% vs. 33%), but he became anemic from the corners, dropping from a respectable 37.5% as a rookie to 25.5% in his second year.

The Knicks’ Kevin Knox dribbles past Bradley Beal of the Wizards on March 10, 2020, in Washington.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

If Knox has any hopes of turning himself into a playable NBA player, he must get his jump shot to at least league average starting next season. He does not have any other skills that are likely to become good enough to make up for a lack of perimeter shooting. Ditching his high-arcing shot might be a good place to start since no one else in the NBA has shot consistently well with that approach, spare Dirk Nowitzki and Nikola Jokic.

Knox did show improvements in some aspects of his game even though they are still nowhere near where they need to be. Knox’s percentage of shots that came at the rim dropped by 2.5 percentage points, but his shooting percentage at the rim increased by 6.5 percentage points (from 50% to 56.5%), according to Basketball-Reference.com.

With limited lateral quickness, Knox struggles getting to the rim on his own and needs a screen if he has the ball in his hand. He is at his best when he receives the pass on the move with momentum already going toward the rim. It’s the same concept that explains why his athleticism pops a lot better in transition. He needs a long runway for his takeoffs.

Knox also protected the ball better, but this is probably explained by his reduced usage rate from 22.3% to 17.8%. He went from a 1.4-to-1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio in his rookie year to a 1.9-to-1.4 ratio in 2019-20. As the season continued, Knox saw the floor better and delivered some nice passes off the dribble that turned into easy baskets for his teammates. He is nowhere near a playmaker, but it is an improvement from where he was as a rookie – rock bottom.

Defensively is where Knox probably improved the most. He still struggled on the ball against quicker players and getting over screens, but his help defense was better, as evidenced by the fact he had four more blocked shots despite playing a thousand fewer minutes. The improvement shows most in his advanced numbers, where the team actually played better defensively when he was on the floor by four points per 100 possessions.

There was improvement in his rotations, which can probably be attributed to interim head coach Mike Miller’s simplified schemes that made his responsibilities much more consistent and easier to execute. The other factor affecting his on/off numbers is that he played mostly against reserves and shared the floor with the team’s best two defenders: Frank Ntilikina and Mitchell Robinson. Despite those mitigating factors, Knox did take strides defensively and went from being one of the worst defenders in the league to just a below-average one.

Knox needs to continue to improve on the other aspects of his game that he showed progress in during his second season. He won’t turn 21 until August and was considered raw when he was drafted out of Kentucky. His body could still be adjusting to continued growth, which can often throw off mechanics and his jump shot.

Knox also needs to continue to grow stronger and improve his rebounding so he can play power forward more frequently. His athleticism would play up much better against larger and slower players, rather than playing at a quickness/speed disadvantage every game against more athletic wings. He has athleticism more suited to guard power forwards, and if he continues to improve his team defense, he can be neutral on that end of the floor.

His shooting stroke has potential, and If Knox can become consistent from deep, his athleticism is good enough to attack close-outs and cut to the basket off the ball. He is never going to be a primary scoring option or playmaker with the ball in his hand, but he can be a floor spreader and finisher as a stretch four if everything breaks right.

Will it? Smart money right now says no given he has so far to go with no NBA-level skills he can lean on, like Frank Ntilikina has with his defense. But the Knicks have no choice but to ride it out. He has no trade value (maybe a mid-second round pick), and there’s at least a small chance he makes a huge jump in his development.

With the Knicks still likely to be a bit of a project moving forward, they have the luxury of being patient. Knox has two more years left on his rookie contract to prove to the Knicks that they didn’t make a mistake by drafting him, and he deserves to be a part of the future.

Follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk. Check out “The Bank Shot,” his Knicks podcast on WFAN.com, RADIO.COM, Apple Podcasts and other popular podcast platforms.