How Kevin Durant’s rookie season serves as a strong model for Kevin Knox

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Scott Perry and Steve Mills stayed true to their course when they made their lottery selection this past June, tabbing the ’99-born, 6’9, 215 pound high-potential forward Kevin Knox as the next piece in their developing championship puzzle.

This new iteration of the Knicks front office has quite smartly taken the long-term route, holding very tightly on to their draft picks as if they were their own children (or the children of every Knicks fan). With those picks, the Knicks have heavily tended to opt towards the more exciting and slightly riskier buzz words of “upside,” “future,” and “ceiling,” over ones like “safe,” “high floor,” and “NBA-ready.”

It’s a route that in exchange for a much higher potential reward down the road calls for two things — patience and time. Luckily, the Knicks have plenty of both. Thus, Kevin Knox comes aboard as yet another enticing long-term piece the team can afford to take time to develop.

When a route like Knox’s is chosen, in addition to the increased amount of time that tends to be required for a raw prospect like him to reach his ceiling, it also needs to be expected that there are going to be a lot of growing pains along the way that sometimes border on ugly to watch. The path from the clay mold of a teenage NBA prospect to superstardom is rarely straight and narrow, and often features long stretches of ineffectiveness on the statsheet and indecisiveness on the court.

With all of these factors in mind, the one rookie season that might serve as the best model of goals for Knox to follow might just be Kevin Durant’s.

I know, I know, this one seems like a low-hanging fruit. Any lanky teenager known for his scoring chops and outside shooting is going to be compared to KD.

While it’s preposterous to hold almost any prospect to the high standards of career production that Durant has set, his rookie campaign is actually a very good model for a score-first prospect like Knox.

The self-proclaimed “Easy Money Sniper” – and potential future Knick (wink, wink) – has fully lived up to that nickname and will go down as one of the greatest shooters in the history of the game. However, quality shooting was not an asset of his from the beginning.

Like Knox, though of course at a different level, Durant entered the NBA coming off one successful college season in which he flashed tantalizing ability as a shooter and scorer. But those things did not click for him right off the bat once he reached the professional ranks.

As a rookie SuperSonic in the 2007-08 season, Durant shot a horrid 28.8% from deep and a mediocre 45.5% from two-point range. He registered a free throw attempt rate (free throw attempts relative to field goal attempts) of .328, decent but below the standards he has now set for himself. Those three numbers, all career lows for him through the 2017-18 season, culminated in a poor eFG% (efficiency from the floor) of 45.1% and a subpar TS% (true shooting percentage – overall shooting efficiency) of 51.9%. Each of those remain career lows for him by an extremely sizable margin.

After a season like that, it’s easy to have doubts that the player will ever become a quality shooter, right? Those numbers are plainly below average. Even if you dig deeper, Durant struggled to put the ball in the hoop at an efficient rate from all over the floor. He connected on 61% of his shots within three feet and 36% of his shots from 4-16 feet – both of those numbers remain career lows.

Obviously, Durant has had no problem moving on from that campaign. Since that rookie season, he’s shot 50% from the field, 39% from deep, 54% from two-point range, and 88% from the line. Altogether, he’s compiled a 54.9% eFG percentage and 62.0% true shooting percentage since then. The only non-bigs with a more efficient TS% in that span (with at least 500 games played since 2008-09) are Kyle Korver and Stephen Curry.

How does this all relate back to Knox?

Knox is in an extremely similar boat. He is a raw teenage rookie who played only one season of college ball. His status as a top-ten selection was mostly based around his upside as a scorer, with his unique physical tools, potential as a shooter, transition ability, and creative driving skills among other things.

While all of those exciting pieces are there, like Durant, Knox clearly does not seem to be the type of rookie who will be a plus contributor for his team from the jump. On high volume usage in Summer League, Knox posted a poor TS% of just 48.1% and an eFG% of 41.6%. In his 56 NBA minutes, he’s posted a TS% of 42.2% and eFG% of 41.9%. The efficiency just doesn’t seem to be there yet – and that’s completely OK – which is the point in comparing Knox to another teenage volume scorer in Durant.

While Durant struggled to score at a quality level of efficiency, he did not let that stop him from pulling the trigger again and again. Durant launched 1,366 field goal attempts in his rookie season. In this century, the only rookies to shoot more have been Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James.

That right there is the most important factor for Knox this season. He needs to shoot the ball, shoot it again, and then after that, shoot it some more. After he does that, he should shoot the rock ten more times.

Keep. On. Firing.

Promisingly, this is something Knox has absolutely not had an issue with at all since his first steps on an NBA court.

In the Summer League, Knox was entrusted as the focal point of the Knicks offense, and he took a substantial 19.3 shots per game in 32.2 minutes per game. In his 3 regular season appearances for the Knicks prior to his injury, Knox shot a whopping 10.3 shots per game in only 18.7 minutes per game, which would equal 19.9 field goal attempts per 36 minutes.

If he held that gargantuan number throughout the entire season, it would set the record for most field goal attempts per 36 minutes by a rookie in the 21st century (minimum 500 minutes played), edging Joel Embiid’s 19.6 rate in 2016-17.

Quite a few eventual greats were not efficient scorers as rookies – but made sure to get their shots up. In addition to Durant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker, Dwyane Wade, and even the great unicorn Kristaps Porzingis, all had subpar shooting numbers from the floor as rookies, but they each put the ball up at rates that ranked among the very highest for rookies.

For a rookie with the freedom to develop without the pressure of needing to contribute to victory, whether the shots drop or not is of little importance. What really matters is getting the mental and physical reps in to nail down the little nuances of scoring efficiently at the professional level. The only way for a player to build confidence and feel out his strengths and weaknesses as a scorer in the NBA is to put as many looks at the hoop as possible on tape and in the muscle memory.

As all Knicks fans know and have fully accepted, this is not a team that is looking to compete for a playoff spot this year. It’s a season about evaluation and progress. Giving Knox a bright green light throughout the year to get his rookie bumps in is going to be a key part of this season.

Early returns on his shooting aggression are positive. Upon his return, Knox should look to continue his aggressive mentality as a scorer, and hopefully he gets more sizable playing time to rack up reps. As fans, we should hope for the best in terms of Knox’ percentages and efficiency, but we should be comfortable with whatever amount of production Knox puts forth so long as he is staying on the attack and take steps towards developing positive tendencies.

The buckets will come eventually. Like most eventual stars, Knox is just getting the misses out early.

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