Is Kevin Knox good enough to lure Kevin Durant?

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Want to hear a weird fantasy of mine? Ok here goes. Kevin Durant comes home from another boring blowout win, and some bickering with Draymond Green, and then puts on his pajamas and some highlights from around the league and what does he see? A kid who doesn’t hide that he grew up idolizing Durant putting on a show at MSG. And Durant thinks to himself, “Hey this kids pretty good. I bet it would be so fun to be his teammate.” And that kid is Kevin Knox. 1

We may not get to see much of a healthy Kristaps Porziņģis this year, so we really want one of our “puppies,” as Coach David Fizdale says, to show some legit potential as an added selling point to attract the biggest fish. Otherwise it could be another year of waiting, or worse, settling for a sub-par but expensive consolation prize.2

Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball didn’t need to be world-beaters last year for the Lakers. They just needed to show enough potential to give LeBron James the hope that he could build something with that young core one day. Can something similar happen this year for the Knicks? Because to acquire KD without showcasing a healthy Porzingis, it may have to.

I know Knox hasn’t played much, just 120 total minutes, but it’s time for the first of hopefully several way-to-early video breakdowns of his game. We need one or two guys on this team to really step up and show that the future in New York is bright and Knox might just be the best bet. Maybe his coach showing some confidence in him will help.

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Finding an Expert

I didn’t fully trust my own eye for talent, so I enlisted a little help from an expert, The Stepien’s wonder-kid, Jackson Hoy, is a must follow on Twitter. I was blown away by Jackson’s writing and analysis this past spring and it changed the way I think about certain b-ball elements so it was super exciting to get his perspective. He had Knox 18th overall last June on his Big Board.

So for this piece, I asked Jackson if his opinion has evolved after Knox’s  Summer League breakout, or early NBA career. Here is what he told me:

“I really haven’t had a chance to see Knox much in preseason or regular season, but I do think he has looked more quick-twitch athletically since his time at Kentucky. He’s moving better on defense and having an easier time getting past guys off the dribble. His shot mechanics were always there at UK so I wasn’t particularly worried about his shot translating, especially with how much he shot off pindowns. So, the way he has been able to move in NBA space has definitely been a positive and has allowed him to look more like a big wing than a small-4.

I still want to see him continue to develop higher-level decision-making and court awareness on both ends, as he was never much of a passer at Kentucky and was notoriously bad at racking up blocks and steals. Beyond that, his defensive attentiveness was lacking on tape, and even in Summer League we saw him drive into crowded lanes rather than passing to open teammates. So the court awareness is probably the biggest thing for him to work on going forward.”

So with his thoughts in mind, let’s go make up our own. Get your your popcorn and get into your favorite Knicks onesie pajamas KD probably wears. It’s time to watch film.3


Runners

At UK, Knox was 25/61 on runners for 40.1%, per Synergy

He has already attempted eight runners so far this season and made three, pretty close to his college percentile. Below is a nice one:

As you get to know Knox as a player, you’ll also begin to notice Knox sometimes tries these “in between” shots that Synergy Sports still classifies as a runner but they have a slightly indecisive feel to them. Above, he rejects the screen but then … am I taking a jump shot? Am I taking floater? Am I taking a jump hook?

Here’s another:

Then below, he sometimes takes a clear floater, not an in-betweener, so that’s good. It’s makeable. But he probably shouldn’t have taken it at all. Look:

Remember Jackson’s input: court awareness, ball handling and passing are things we want to see Knox improve upon. To entice Durant, we’re looking for sets of skills to snowball, so that one day they avalanche. For example, if he were just a little more confident with his dribble, he might take one more into the teeth of the D, suck up the help then make it easier to spot Mario Hezonja open there in the right corner pocket. Did you spot Mario? Watch it again. He might have attacked contact too. The open 3’s for teammates and free throws help avoid efficiency pitfalls like ESPN’s Kevin Pelton cautions against here:

Now I hear a couple of you resisting. “Doofus! He’s played in 7 games, don’t restrict him already!” And you know what? You’re very persuasive so I’m going to I agree with you. But let’s compromise. I suggest he keep working on his handle and attacking and drawing contact while also intentionally seeking shots for teammates or “sharing the game” as Coach David Fizdale would tell him. We’ll check back in down the road on his runner efficiency. For now, it’s great that he has the touch to confidently take them as they’ll make him less predictable to cover.


Finishing

Finishing has been something Knox had a bit of trouble with going back to Kentucky. The raw numbers in school turned out OK relative to some other prospects:

At the Rim:

Kevin Knox: 66/97, 68%
Miles Bridges: 74/115 64.3%
Mikal Bridges: 101/145, 69.65%

… but the film often told a different story. 4

Per Synergy, Knox currently ranks in just the 2nd percentile in terms of finishing around the rim so far, and while that number is likely to regress in a good way, it’s also indicative of something college fans of Knox already knew: he has a bit of trouble with this.

Here, see what you think:

You’ll begin to notice there is less explosiveness off of a single leg jump. That one was way too easy for Jarrett Allen and his 7’4.5 wingspan to time.

This play above feels indicative of an issue for him. He is fairly quick and capable of gathering the ball from a huge distance from the cup. That’s great. But it seems to me like he burns a bit of his energy and power in getting to the hoop and can run out of steam when it comes time to get up, seek contact, and finish over the help. That’s just my humble opinion but see what you think, here’s another:

It’s certainly not an easy layup. And it doesn’t seem like one he can’t make. But it does appear again that he sort of expends his burst. Maybe this will come with power training and as his lower body and core continues to get stronger. 5

One more for you where an NBA level big who isn’t exactly Joel Embiid or Rudy Gobert, but simply understands the concept of verticality, gives Knox lots of trouble. One of his coaches will probably note that he had the wrap around bounce pass to Noah Vonleh here. It’s not a concept that is foreign to him. You can see him do it below at UK, he drives, feels the help, decelerates then drops the dime.

In the next video, you can watch his three best finishes of the year, in my opinion. Notice they’re all off two-foot jumps. The first one, after a really nice sequence he shows Michael Jordan-style probing jab steps, then a cross-over earns a trip to the stripe and gets the Garden crowd going.

In his most recent game, the route vs. Orlando, Mike Breen noted a few positives. Aside from Mitchell Robinson’s block-fest, he observed Knox seeking contact. He wound up shooting 10 free throws, having not even shot 3 in any previous game. Here, (yes it was garbage time from the moment he entered the contest but still) he even takes on the ludicrous length of Mo Bamba and gets to the line.

Finding ways to get to the rim for these types of two-legged bursts while drawing fouls is one way to increase his efficiency until he continues to fill out a little more.

And of course, we got this this one-handed master-blaster.

If Durant saw more plays like that, he might tweet something like this about Knox:

(You may not think that’s a good thing, but having poop with you to Durant, is apparently very good!)

Finding creative ways to take shorter strides, or an extra dribble, and get to a two-legged jump would help as he gets stronger. Maybe like this move by his teammate, Allonzo Trier:


Pull Ups

Here the film and the stats contradict a little bit. He’s only 2/9 so far on pull-ups per Synergy, with a grade of “poor,” but they don’t look bad to me. For example, a player like Robert Covington is an elite defender and a very good catch-and-shoot player, but not good off the dribble. And when you watch him play, you can almost feel Covington’s lack of comfort firing off the bounce. Not so with Knox. While he may never be as good off the bounce as catch-and-shoots, his shot looks comfortable and mechanically sound enough to be a weapon for him over time. See if you agree.

His favorite thing to do has been to take one or two dribbles off a screen-roll for an 18′ pull up like so:

And another couple below:

I’m leaving you the full possessions so you can get a complete feel for the shots he’s taking. He’s been a little early, not always letting Vonleh get set on the pick and the second clip probably isn’t a great shot but the mechanics are sound.


3’s

Shooting in the 70th percentile in the half court is very good. Three-point shooting is the best thing about his game so far. An overwhelming positive. His release point is so high. Here’s a little Devin Booker patented “sorry tall person, I didn’t notice you were in my face” for ya:

That was the recently injured, Caris LaVert, and his 6’10 wingspan. No problem. Impervious, as Clyde Frazier would say.

Vince Carter the legendary leaper can’t reach this shot anymore. This jumper works. This one below is even more impressive.

And above, notice he sells the cut before accepting the back-screen from Baker. This looks easier than it is. He has to retreat and get behind the three-point line but not step out, a mistake he’s made a few times this year. Big feet. Maybe still growing. Enes Kanter draws the whole defense and has to avoid lots of arms to get this through. It’s still a tough catch and shoot play, and man, Knox has some poop with him, as KD might say.

You may have seen the reports that while Knox was rehabbing his ankle, he tinkered on his mechanics with his dad, a former NFL wide receiver, and now unfortunately Knox shoots exactly like one throws a football! Devastating. Just kidding, but if they were looking for something, here on both of these two pretty releases, he drops his shooting arm a hair early and back pedals a bit; likely why he misses short.

Again from the top, see all that backwards momentum he has? Had he just stayed put or leaned into this one, he probably makes it. Short by a couple inches.

Actually though, by my count he’s been almost twice as likely to miss long so far rather than short. Something to keep an eye on.


Moving Forward

Knox feels like a player to me, who, like perhaps Otto Porter, has the potential to make a dramatic impact on a game before he looks like a star. I don’t mean to imply he’s like Otto, or that’s his floor or ceiling. I mean that Porter is someone who is not a prolific scorer, highlight machine, or freak athlete. But unlike Porter’s teammates, he offers the Wizards a complete Swiss army knife skill-set. He offers a combination of interior + post defense, cross-position switching. He became someone who could play both the ball-handler and the roll-man in a pick and roll, could both grab-and-go or a fill the lane in transition, and of course, knock down jump shots and 3’s. Unlike some of the higher-floor, lower ceiling players that were drafted in and after his range, Knox at least has the potential to do all this and more. It’s possible he could become really really good before your casual fan even notices.

We want to see progress in the areas Jackson mentioned: court-awareness, aggressive contact seeking, ball handling and passing. He has been attacking the offensive glass lately, maybe it’ll translate to defensive rebounds soon, too.

Remember my fantasy? This is New York, I need to dream much much bigger. Fantasizing about Kevin Durant watching Kevin Knox play isn’t exactly dreaming big. The real scenario we should all spend more time daydreaming about is Kevin Durant, Kevin Knox and ME all on the Knicks, and we’re all tall and rich and best friends, and we hang out all the time!

I kid, but the truth is, Kevin Durant or other stars will absolutely be keeping an eye on our young players like Knox. Let’s check back in soon on their progress, hopefully with some highlights that knock KD’s socks off.