Let’s pretend the Knicks most recent loss to Milwaukee didn’t happen for a second.1
Instead, I want to take a step back and look at what happened in the previous 14 games, which wraps around an important point in time for when Kevin Knox started scoring the basketball in bunches.
The ninth overall pick, who was notoriously booed by a select group of fans who wanted the team to select Michael Porter Jr. on draft night, is looking much more like he did in Summer League, except, this time, the competition is real.
The Kentucky product averaged 20.3 points and 6.6 rebounds on 43.3 percent shooting over the 7 games leading up to Christmas. Pretty impressive stuff.
However, there is another way to look at Knox’s recent stretch beyond counting back the number of games on the calendar. You can cite the same statistics and replace “last 7 games” with “since Mario Hezonja has seen his minutes reduced and Allonzo Trier has been out of the lineup.”
Kevin Knox is scoring more than 20 points per game since Fizdale drastically reduced Hezonja’s minutes and when Allonzo Trier was absent from the Knicks lineup with a sore hamstring. On the night Trier first sat and Hezonja found himself riding the bench, Knox poured in 26 points on December 9 vs Charlotte.
In the 7 games proceeding Knox’s breakout night, Hezonja was averaging 20 minutes per game. This is only two minutes less than what Knox was averaging at the time. Since Knox replaced Hezonja in the starting lineup, he is averaging 36.8 minutes, while Hezonja is down to 11.5 minutes, most recently receiving DNPs vs Atlanta and Milwaukee.
And this is where Allonzo Trier’s absence comes into play. Leading up to the injury, Kevin Knox played alongside Allonzo Trier more than any other teammate.
So while Knox’s minutes have ticked up at the expense of Mario Hezonja, his added offensive production is the product of receiving touches and shot attempts that were previously reserved for Iso Zo.
Knox’s touches each game have jumped from 37.6 in the seven games leading up to Trier’s injury to 55.1 over the seven games Trier was out of the lineup. Knox also increased his shot frequency by eight more shot attempts per game, which is interestingly around the same number of shot attempts Trier was averaging in the seven games before he got hurt.
But it’s not just volume that is helping Knox’s numbers. He is also much more efficient, of late. His 43.3 percent shooting accuracy in the games Trier sat out is a drastic increase over the 33.8 percentage he shot in the seven games prior to Trier’s injury.
And where does that increased efficiency come from?
Driving to the hoop… the same thing that “anonymous scouts” criticized Knox for not doing enough; the same thing Knox, himself, knows he needs to do more of to get his offense going.
In the seven games Trier was out with an injury, Knox averaged 5.4 drives per game, which is nearly double the 2.8 drives per game he averaged before that point in time. He is also finishing 46.2% of his shots resulting from drives during this current scoring stretch, versus only 27.0% prior to that, according to NBA.com.
Drives are supposed to exclude fast break opportunities, but it’s hard to know, for sure, if NBA.com is accurate in stripping out the semi-transition plays that result in “drives” for Knox. This could partially explain why his numbers have increased during Trier’s injury. The Knicks are more likely to run with Mudiay at point guard and Knox playing alongside him.
That said, it’s the halfcourt game where the added touches Knox receives when Trier is not playing are helping him the most. Without Trier as the lead ball-handler, the 2018 lottery pick finds himself in more situations, particularly at the top of the key, that allow him to drive to the rim, either to pull up short for his patented little floater, or finish the play with a lay-up or dunk.
This is not to say Allonzo Trier is a bad offensive player, but to suggest that Trier’s dominance of the ball can turn Knox into a spectator when he should be taking more command of the basketball.
If we now look at the Knicks loss to Milwaukee on Christmas, we can see how Knox played with Trier back in the lineup. And guess what? Knox still took plenty of shots, 20 to be exact, but 19 of those came when Trier was off the floor.
If David Fizdale wants Kevin Knox to continue to develop as a lead option in the offense, it might make sense for him to stagger Knox and Trier’s minutes as much as possible. This comes from playing Knox less minutes at the four, often resulting in a lineup that finds room for Trier alongside two other guards, and more minutes at the three, with a player like Noah Vonleh, who helps create plays for Knox with his screening ability rather than taking away opportunities by demanding more touches, like Trier.
Kevin Knox doesn’t want to see anyone go hungry…
That’s $12 already raised to feed New Yorkers based on my $1 for every point commitment.
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) December 22, 2018
Knox might eventually become a great modern day four, but the composition of the current roster is pleading for Fizdale to play him with players who help him drive to the hoop and become a lead scorer instead of playing him with ball-dominant players who take away valuable touches for his development.