Grading each aspect of Kevin Knox’ game at the All-Star Break

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This is a season of development for the Knicks. We always knew it would be.

Things have gone as planned (well, sort of). The Knicks are in control of the top slot in the lottery, and the young guns have almost completely overtaken the rotation. Potential pieces for the future are getting plenty of burn in featured roles, shaking off the rookie rust early in their careers to hopefully set the tone for second and third year leaps going forward.

At the forefront of this movement has been the man selected with the ninth pick in the 2018 Draft, Kentucky product Kevin Knox.

Knox was always going to be a bit of a project. He brought tantalizing physical tools and flashes of greatness to the table, but it was expected that Knox would most likely not be an instant-impact rookie. His ceiling is among the best of his class, but it always seemed that some very rocky bumps were going to be there on the way to reaching that peak.

Fortunately for the Knicks, this season was perfectly constructed to accommodate players of that ilk.

After all, according to my research, Knox is still only the ripe age of 19. The man (is he actually a “man” yet?) has plenty of time.

With that said, as the team prepares for the (much-needed) All-Star break, I thought now would be a good time to evaluate the youngling’s progress. Forty-nine games into his professional career, let’s take a look at Kevin Knox’s performance in each area of the game, and grade each accordingly.

SHOOTING: C

Knox’s shooting has not been atrocious by any means, but he definitely has a ways to go. On the plus side, Knox has been decent enough to where you can reasonably expect a future jump. Paul George shot at a 30% clip from three as a rookie. LeBron James connected on 29%. Since then, they’ve shot 39% and 35%, respectively, over the rest of their careers.

Post-rookie year leaps happen all of the time. It’s normal for a rookie to struggle with his shot. Knox has hit 33.6% of his threes so far, a below-average, but respectable enough number.

Since 2009-10, 61 rookies have attempted at least 3.0 three point attempts per game (minimum 40 games played). Knox checks in at 41st in 3P% among those names. Here is a look at the region around him:

There are some names in this bottom half that give you some confidence, such as Kemba Walker, Jamal Murray, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, and Knick villain Kristaps Porzingis. However, there is a far greater number of busts in this group. Knox could stand to raise his clip just a few points by the end of the season to inch closer to the top of this list, where a high frequency of future stars reside.

Knox has also hit 72.4% of his free throws. Again, it’s not terrible, but it is below league average. That number would place Knox at 49th out of the 61 player group referenced above. There isn’t a single player with an All-Star appearance below Knox (though Luka Doncic is at 72.2%).

Knox has a very pretty shot. He gets good lift and has a nice stroke. With better shot selection and more mental reps, he could definitely become a very good shooter. So far, the results have not been very good, but they have not been catastrophic. Hope is without a doubt alive and well. I think he can certainly get there in time.

Some strides over the final few months would be wonderful to see. Knox was catching fire in December, but has clearly been looking more and more fatigued since the calendar flipped. The All-Star Break should work wonders for him.

VOLUME SCORING: B

Knox is averaging 12.6 points per game and 15.9 points per 36 minutes.

He’s improved from the early portions of the season, where he was posting consistent numbers in the single digits.

While the efficiency hasn’t yet been there (.434 eFG%, .469 TS%), Knox has been aggressive looking for his shot. I think that’s great for him. Mental reps are huge in the NBA for a young player getting accustomed to completely new circumstances and competition. Knox will enter his second season with a lion’s share of tape to look back at and learn from.

Among the 189 rookies to play at least 1000 minutes since 2009-10, Knox currently sits at a healthy 49th in points per 36 minutes.

There are some very impressive names in Knox’s region. As mentioned, Knox currently owns an average of 15.9 points per 36 minutes. Jayson Tatum is at 38th (16.4), Bradley Beal is at 41st (16.1), Kemba Walker is at 44th (16.1), Victor Oladipo is at 46th (15.9), and John Wall is at 54th (15.6).

Knox ranks even more highly when it comes to aggressiveness. He sits at 22nd in field goal attempts per 36, with 15.4. He sits directly behind Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma and ahead of Lauri Markkanen and Kemba Walker.

Among the top 40 names in FGA/36, only five have shot below 40% from the field: Knox, Walker, Dennis Smith, Trey Burke, and Emmanuel Mudiay.

As discussed earlier, a surge in efficiency over the final stretch would go a long way for improving the outlook of Knox’s future odds of success based on past results. With that said, it’s great he has alleviated any concerns regarding complacency as a scorer. He’s going to look for his buckets. That much we know.

REBOUNDING: C-

Knox is averaging 4.2 rebounds per game and 5.3 rebounds per 36 minutes.

How does that stack up among rookies at his size? Let’s compare the 6’9, 215-pound Knox to fellow rookies in the height range of 6’8 to 6’10.

Since 2009-10, of the 99 rookies in that height range to play at least 500 minutes, Knox ranks 78th in rebounds per 36 minutes.

Among 19-year old rookies, only Brandon Ingram and Andrew Wiggins trail Knox.

Certainly, rebounding was not expected to be a major part of Knox’s game. He currently carries a slender 215-pound frame, and of course, is over a year away from legal drinking age.

Knox could certainly improve his rebounding from where it is. However, rebounding doesn’t seem to be a skill that improves with age. Most players remain steady in that category throughout their careers.

I don’t think Knox’s rebounding number is terrible. If he can carry it with him throughout his career, it should plenty acceptable alongside improved scoring. Still, he could stand to make improving his play on the glass a point of emphasis in the offseason.

PASSING: D

Nobody really expects Knox to be a passer, but he has still left a lot to be desired in this area.

Knox is averaging 1.0 assist per game and 1.2 assists per 36 minutes.

Among the 180 players to play at least 1000 minutes this season, Knox is 176th in AST/36, ahead of only JaVale McGee, Hassan Whiteside, Jerami Grant, and Gerald Green.

Touching the ball as frequently as he does (Knox’s 22.2% USG% is 6th among the 24 rookies with at least 500 minutes played), it’s fair to expect a little more playmaking propensity from Knox. He can tend to be far too aggressive looking for his shot, leading to wild basketball. Over-aggressiveness will lead to too many contested looks, missed open teammates, and late passes resulting in a turnover among other catastrophes.

Knox has averaged 24.8 passes per game in 28.5 minutes. Among the 13 Knicks to appear in at least 25 games this season, only Mitchell Robinson has made fewer passes per minute.

His few passes haven’t been very productive, either. Only 3.9% of Knox’s passes have resulted in an assist, 14th-lowest rate in the league.

Specifically, Knox has been too shot-happy when driving to the hoop. Among the 127 players to drive at least 200 times so far this season, Knox has passed on the lowest percentage of his drives, at only 10.8% (24 out of 223). The average number in that group is about 40%, while the league leader, Ryan Arcidiacono, has passed out of 64.0% of his drives.

In turn, Knox’s drives have not been very productive. On those plays, he has shot only 39.7% (13th worst), turned the ball over 8.5% of the time (26th worst), and committed an offensive foul 13.0% of the time (4th worst).

Like the rebounding category, passing is not necessarily a core skill Knox was drafted to bring to the table, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an area he should try to improve in.

Anthony Davis also averaged only 1.2 assists per 36 as a rookie. This season, he is averaging 4.3. Kawhi Leonard averaged only 1.6, but has been above 3.5 in each of the last three seasons. Paul George averaged 1.8 and now has a career 3.5 average.

Hopefully, Knox’s distributing ability will improve as the game slows down for him.

You can liken it to a running quarterback in the NFL who always looks for his first. It may be sexy for a QB to post 50 rushing yards per game, but what if for every 50 yards he gains on the ground, he is passing up on 100 potential yards through the air?

For every contested shot an aggressive scorer like Knox takes, there is most likely a higher efficiency opportunity available for someone else on the court.

An elite quarterback doesn’t look to run first, but he also doesn’t ignore the option completely. He knows when the run is the highest upside play and takes it then and only then.

Basketball follows the same concept. Great players know how to balance scoring and distributing to maximize every possession.

The more refined Knox becomes as he matures, the more often we should see him make the smartest play, be it a smarter shot or the smart pass.

DEFENSE: C

Via NBA.com, Knox’s 114.2 defensive rating is 20th out of the 21 players to take the court for the team, better than only Tim Hardaway Jr. The Knicks have been 6.3 points better defensively per 100 possessions with Knox off the court versus when he has been on.

I remember reading and watching scouting reports on Knox extensively after the Knicks drafted him. The common consensus seemed to be in line with just about every other aspect of Knox’s game. While his physical profile gave him a tantalizing ceiling as a defender, he had a lot to work on fundamentally.

On the ball, Knox’s defense hasn’t been too shabby. Via NBA.com, Knox has allowed a FG% to his matchups 0.1% lower than expectation, sixth-best among regular Knicks.

On three-point attempts, Knox has dipped opponent shooting by a very strong 3.8%, allowing only 32.5% shooting.

From watching Knox, his problems have mostly been off the ball and down low. Of course, he has struggled with guarding bigger 3s and 4s early in his career with his lack of size.

Away from the play, Knox tends to get lost and lose his man, a common issue for young players and one that was present for him at Kentucky.

Knox’s defensive upside was probably the number two trait behind his scoring upside that made him a top-ten pick. He has the tools to be a very useful multi-position defender.

But we’ll ask the same question regarding his defense that we’ve been asking regarding every other aspect of his game – can he make the necessary strides to fulfill his sky-high potential?

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