Posts by Michael Nania

From Yonkers to KFS! @Michael_Nania on Twitter

Analyzing the on-court strengths and weaknesses of the newest Knicks

To the enjoyment of many NBA fans outside of New York, the Knicks were, as you are likely well aware, unable to lure in a superstar this past week.

Following their failure to land a game-changing stud, Scott Perry and Steve Mills got straight to work and fulfilled their Plan B. The Knicks filled the barrel with veterans and interesting young players on short-term deals, looking to push the team back towards respectability while also assisting the development of their young core.

There are many ways that this new batch of vets can help the younger Knicks fulfill their maximum potential. One of them is very simple: being more competitive can lead to more fruitful development.

So, how will each of the new Knicks additions help the team on its quest back to legitimacy? Recently, I took a comprehensive dive into Julius Randle’s skillset. Here, we’ll dig into the primary strengths and weaknesses of the other five free agent additions making their way to 4 Pennsylanvia Plaza.

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The numbers behind Mitchell Robinson’s breakout rookie season

On September 25th, 2017, the Knicks pulled the trigger on a franchise-altering trade, ending the Carmelo Anthony era, as they sent the declining star to Oklahoma City. In return, the Thunder sent over Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a 2018 second-round selection via Chicago.

Two full regular seasons have passed since that trade, and only one of the pieces involved in the deal remains with the team they were acquired by.

That piece would be the once-nameless Bulls second round pick
— which was used by the Knicks on a lanky seven-footer named Mitchell Robinson.

Let’s dive into some of the numbers behind the 21-year old’s surprisingly stout rookie campaign.

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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Via, 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, 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?

Knicks-Hornets Observations From Charlotte

I moved to the Charlotte, NC area from New York in 2013, and have been attending nearly every Knicks-Hornets game at the Spectrum Center (formerly the Time Warner Cable Arena) since. While the games have usually been extremely entertaining (remember KP’s almost game-winner?), the Knicks always failed to do one thing when visiting Charlotte – win the basketball game!

Finally, on a rainy, chilly Friday night in mid-December, the Knicks snapped their infamous Carolina drought as they rode the backs of. . . . . . Emmanuel Mudiay, Luke Kornet, and a Syracuse-esque zone defense?

Kornet, who had not scored in his previous seven appearances this season, put up 13 and 6 while anchoring Fizdale’s zone throughout the second half.

Mudiay dropped a career high 34 – ironically, I had witnessed Trey Burke hang a career high 42 on the Hornets only nine months earlier!

Here are some of the things I caught keying in on the Knicks throughout the game.

Just about every active Knick came out to shoot an hour-plus before the game – save for Courtney Lee and Damyean Dotson. Even Trey Burke and Allonzo Trier, who each missed the game, were out there getting some shots up before the game.

While they were never all out there at once, I had never seen that many players come out for the Knicks before the game – usually the most you would see is 4 or 5. It was very cool to get to see basically the entire roster.

I was able to get signatures from nine Knicks (my previous career best was four!) – Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Noah Vonleh, Enes Kanter, Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke, Allonzo Trier, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Mitchell Robinson.

Good luck trying to guess whose is which!

Kevin Knox was one of the first players out there and I believe had put in the most time getting some work in of all the players on the team (from when I was there). Our own Spencer here at KFS has done some tremendous breakdowns of Knox’s shot form, and we’ve had some discussing of the intricacies of his shot, so I focused a lot on watching the fluidity of his form.

Knox worked almost exclusively behind the arc during his shootaround. You can see in that kind of calm environment the potential he has as a shooter – such a smooth release at a high point where he can get it off unaffected from any spot on the court over any defender.

At one point, Knox hit nine straight pull-up jumpers from a couple of feet behind the line at the left elbow. He can make it look as effortless as I’ve seen any player make it look live – I’m pretty sure Knox hit a higher percentage of his practice 3’s that night than any other Knick.

Here’s a look at Knox getting a few up.


A few other notes from the shootaround:

  • Trey Burke had a knee brace on but did a lot of extended work before the game shooting off the catch and off the dribble. He didn’t seem very limited at all.
  • Same goes for Allonzo Trier. He was out there shooting some corner threes and mid-range pull-ups, didn’t seem too limited.
  • Frank Ntilikina worked a lot on his mid-range game. He spent a lot of time around the elbows trying different isolation moves and shooting out of them. He was inconsistent, coming up short frequently, but his makes tend to be about as pretty as they come.
  • Enes Kanter spends a surprisingly decent amount of time shooting threes during his warmups. He was making at least half of them, too.
  • Conversely, Mitchell Robinson barely even shot any jumpers. He worked on his free throws and his short corner J’s a bit, but he mostly focused on finishing out of pick-and-rolls.
  • Non-basketball note here, but I asked Kanter when we could expect him to appear on the truTV show Impractical Jokers (he’s a noted fan of the show) – he laughed and said “we’ll see!”



Let’s move on to the game! Here are some things I noticed being there live.

  • I’m 100% convinced former Knick Willy Hernangomez was acquired by the Hornets simply for a cheerleader role. Willy had very long and detailed handshake routines unique to just about every other individual player on the Charlotte roster that he went through pregame. He had one routine with I believe Deonte’ Graham that involved a frozen position for what felt like almost ten seconds. I’ve never seen anything like it. He may not be able to defend the pick and roll, but the man has handshake game!
  • David Fizdale is so fun to watch coach a basketball game. Obviously we still have a long way to go before we can be certain he is the man to lead the Knicks back to the promised land, but all we can say for sure right now is that this man is a ton of fun to root for. He is standing for the majority of the game and reacts to each play just as I was in the stands; fist pumps after good plays, stunned silence when the team was playing terribly, and that “that ball was halfway down!” look after Mudiay’s missed game-winning attempt.
  • Michael Jordan had the best plus-minus in this game. He sat on the Hornets bench for the first half, but left to a suite in the second. Shouldn’t have done that. Not GOAT material right there.
  • Muggsy Bogues was honored by the Hornets at halftime. I never watched him play and first knew about him from Space Jam, but I’ve seen his highlights and am aware of his achievements – and you can’t help but love the guy. Possessing a frame that would get him picked on in a sixth grade classroom, he once had a season where he averaged FOUR REBOUNDS PER GAME in the most elite basketball league in the world. 7’0 Andrea Bargnani had four seasons in his career where he couldn’t hit 4.0 ‘bounds a game! Bogues averaged 2.6 rebounds per game for his career – 6’10 Steve Novak never even averaged 2.0 rebounds per game in a single season! Overall Bogues averaged 9 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals over 10 seasons in Charlotte. He was top ten in assists in six seasons and sits at 21st on the all-time list. Heck of a career.


  • Mudiay had 5 points on 1 of 4 shooting from the field in the first half, Hardaway had 3 points on 1 of 5 shooting. When the team came out for the second half, neither shot the ball around, as both came out of the tunnel late and sat quietly on the bench. Their methods of isolated thought worked out, as Mudiay scored 29 points on 13 of 17 shooting in the second half while Hardaway scored 9 points on 4 of 7 shooting.
  • The Knicks were playing awful defense in the first half of this game (72 points allowed, and 12 made threes on 60% shooting) – so in the second half when me and my dad started noticing Mudiay, Hardaway, and the other guards seemingly floating around on the perimeter guarding nobody, we chalked it up as more classic terrible Knicks defense. However, after the Knicks came down on the defensive end and did this multiple times in a row, we quickly realized they were playing a zone defense.
  • Early on, the zone wasn’t very fruitful. The Hornets were getting some good looks, but just couldn’t get them to drop (after hitting 60% from deep in a half, you have to expect things to average out regardless of how good the looks are). Fizdale’s team did try this sparingly in a few games this season, but never for too long of a period, so I expected the Knicks to revert back to man soon enough. It never happened though, and the comeback began on the strength of that zone due to one change – Luke Kornet’s entrance into the game. Kornet’s length and mobility advantage over Kanter changed the dynamic of the defense, and things started to click when he entered that 5 spot. While they missed a lot of solid looks, especially in the corner spots that the zone defense will often yield, the Hornets seemed befuddled by the zone look at times. They made a lot of uncharacteristic sloppy mistakes, throwing the ball into the stands multiple times and allowing the Knicks to create transition opportunities off of defensive rebounds and live ball turnovers. The zone defense was as much of a star in this game as any individual player, adding to the shock of this improbable win.

Fun victory for the Knicks! There are always a lot of Knicks fans in the building there (I’d estimate 30-35%), and as always, home teams love few things more than to beat a visiting New York opponent and send us rowdy fans packing.

Finally, we were able to leave Mike’s house with a victory! Take that, MJ!

David Fizdale is proving he can play the numbers game

Unfortunately, David Fizdale’s run as the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies was short-lived and ultimately unsuccessful, as he posted a 50-51 record and contributed to ending the team’s seven-year playoff streak. Despite those shortcomings, one glaring positive stood out from his time on the banks of the Mississippi River in southwestern Tennessee.

He was able to maximize the offensive efficiency of his best players.

This is an extremely important skill for a coach in the modern NBA to possess. As the NBA rapidly shifts to an analytics-based league, favoring the three-pointer and the efficiency-first game more and more, it’s becoming necessary for a coach to understand how to play to those numbers.

For the coach of a rebuilding team, like Fizdale with these baby Knicks, it’s imperative that he instills positive shooting tendencies in his young cornerstones that will help them gracefully adapt to the present-day NBA game. By hammering home productive habits early, the kids can easily become impactful players once they mentally and physically mature into the league.

Even before donning the orange and blue, Fizdale showed major potential in this area back in Memphis.

Mike Conley was perhaps the most glaring example. In the 2016-17 season, Fizdale’s only full campaign as head coach of the Grizzlies, Conley posted a career high 20.5 points per game, which remains his single-season best by over 3.0 points compared to his second best season, back in 2013-14 when he averaged 17.2 points.

Points per game can be one of the most misleading stats in basketball. Every team has plenty of shots to go around. Somebody has to take them. Just about anybody can launch up a lion’s share of shots and claim their spot in the coveted 20 PPG club.

Conley’s career year had much more going for it than simply a high volume of shot attempts. Conley became a completely different player under Fizdale – an absurdly efficient one.

Over his first nine seasons in the league, Conley posted a .491 effective field goal percentage (eFG%). Among the 83 guards with at least 3000 field goal attempts in that span, Conley ranked only 44th in eFG%. He was productive throughout his career, but his efficiency was at a middling level, holding him back from producing like a bona fide star.

That all changed under Fizdale. In 2016-17, Conley posted still-standing career highs in field goal percentage (.460), three point percentage (.408) and two point percentage (.497). Altogether, he clobbered his previous career highs in eFG% and true shooting percentage (TS%), with .545 and .604, respectively. Each mark is at least .040 ahead of his career second-best mark. For comparison, that’s about the difference between the career efficiencies of Tony Parker and Elfrid Payton.

That season from Conley didn’t just put his previous career bests to shame. It was among one of the most efficient shooting seasons from a guard in recent history.

How did Conley do it? Most noticeably, he significantly upped the portion of shots he was taking from deep. Previously only attempting 27.4% of his shots from deep, he increased his 3PAr to 41.5% in his career year.

With that uptick in attempts came an improvement in efficiency, as he improved from a previously solid career percentage of .373 from deep up to an elite .408. In turn, with increased efficiency and volume from deep, Conley became more efficient on his inside shots on a lower volume. He shot above his previous career average in every range inside of the arc – a product of becoming a drastically more dangerous threat from beyond the arc.

In addition to Conley, Fizdale worked a few other efficiency miracles.

Marc Gasol posted a .503 eFG% under Fizdale, which remains the best mark he has posted in the eight seasons he has played since starting to regularly shoot from outside of the paint.

JaMychal Green posted remarkable numbers of a .555 eFG% and a .601 TS% under Fizdale. He hasn’t come remotely close to either number in his other two seasons with extended minutes in the NBA.

The ageless Vince Carter posted a .508 eFG% under Fizdale, which is the 3rd best single-season mark he has posted in his illustrious career that has now surpassed two decades.

So, with Fizdale having coached 12 games as the head man at the Mecca, what early signs have there been to suggest that he will carry over his trademark efficiency magic to these tenderfoot Knickerbockers?

Frank Ntilikina stands out as a prime example. Frank has upped his 3PAr from .314 to .465, an increase almost identical to that of Conley’s in his career season under Fizdale.

Ntilikina is still working to improve his shooting numbers, as he is currently only shooting 30% from deep, 42% from two, and 36% from the field overall. However, Ntilikina’s increased 3PAr, coupled with a drastic improvement in FT% from 72% last year to 92% this year, have his efficiency numbers up slightly. His eFG% has risen from .414 to .434, and his TS% from .437 to .465. Frank still needs to get those numbers significantly upped in order to become a quality offensive player, but the early signs under Fizdale are positive. He’s certainly taking some baby steps.

Tim Hardaway Jr. is also seeing some positive shooting trends. His free throw attempt rate is at a career high .325. That has been the driving force behind his TS% improvement, from .533 last year to .559 this year. To boot, he is hitting a career high 38% from beyond the arc on a career high 8.9 attempts per game.

Damyean Dotson is playing nearly triple the minutes he played per game last season, jumping from 10.8 to 30.4. He’s third on the team in field goal attempts per game at 10.7, yet sports an impressive .542 eFG%.

Noah Vonleh currently rocks a fiery .585 TS%, a drastic .086 better than his previous career average. The primary reason is his stupendous .538 FTAr, sixth best in the NBA among players with at least 200 minutes played.

Rookie Allonzo Trier has turned the most heads with his isolation scoring, but his efficiency has been the primary reason he has looked like such a stud so far. He’s currently averaging 11.9 points per game in only 24.5 minutes, as he has shot 45% from deep and 51% from two point range. Altogether, he’s been hyper-efficient, with a .547 eFG% and a .620 TS%. In fact, his .620 TS% ranks third best among the 31 rookies with at least 50 minutes played so far. The only rookies currently scoring more efficiently than Trier are Hornets first rounder Miles Bridges and ……..

Fellow ‘Bocker Mitchell Robinson, who currently leads rookies with a .646 TS%.

A huge reason both of these guys are spearheading the rookie list in scoring efficiency? Free throws – the most efficient method of scoring in the game.

Robinson currently owns a .471 free throw attempt rate, Trier, a .458. Those are the top two marks among qualified rookies to date.

All of these signs are very, very promising for the long-term prospects of the Knicks under David Fizdale. His basketball mind has stood out as something special since the very first time he spoke publicly as the head coach of the Knicks. While we never expected this team to compete for the playoffs, and still don’t, the way he has this team competing every single night is tremendous. It is very impressive how many players he has either smashing expectations, performing shockingly well to start their careers, making positive developments, or all three.

The Knicks are not going to win many games this year. That wasn’t going to be the case before the season, and it still isn’t the case in spite of all these surprises. This team is as raw as it gets. Mentally and physically, there is a boatload of filling out to be done across this roster. Until those progressions are made and more pieces are added to compliment them, the talent level on this team simply is going to be bottom-of-the-barrel.

Despite that, what we have learned since the start of this season is that the seeds planted in the ground beneath Four Pennsylvania Plaza have the ability to grow much, much faster towards a ceiling much, much higher then we could have possibly imagined looking at them one by one before the year.

Perhaps even more promising than the stunningly quick growth of those seeds has been the man responsible for nurturing them. His patience, dedication, and perhaps most importantly, his wherewithal and awareness of the climate, have this youthful crop ready to blossom sooner and brighter than expected.

The Knicks might finally have the right man to grow this thing from the ground up.

Make sure to follow Michael Nania on Twitter for more great analysis.

All stats via Basketball-Reference

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

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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Some early statistical trends worth monitoring

Michael Nania looks at the early sample size of data to find some individual trends that are still worth monitoring.

GOOD: Tim Hardaway Jr.’s Free Throw Attempt Rate and Transition Frequency

Since returning to New York, Hardaway Jr. has been a frustrating player. Every night, there are at least a couple of moments where you see exactly why the Knicks front office was so confident in putting him at the forefront of this transitional period. Athletically, he’s special. His speed and acrobatic ability flash constantly. He has a quick trigger and has shown he can make clutch contested shots from any spot on the court. Underneath the rim, he’s capable of some really eye-popping finishes – the type that make you wonder: why doesn’t he do that more often?

Over the previous three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Hardaway Jr. shot 52.8% from two-point range. That ranked third best among the 68 guards to play at least 4000 minutes over that span, behind only Gary Harris and Stephen Curry.

The key for Hardaway Jr. in reaching such an efficient level inside of the arc has been his willingness to attack the basket.

Forty-eight percent of his two-point attempts during that span came within three feet of the basket, and he connected on 66% of those. Comparatively, Curry shot 67% in that range with 48% of his two-point attempts near the rim, and Harris shot 66%, with 55% of his two-point attempts coming near the rim.

Hardaway Jr. is only a 34.5% career three-point shooter. Relative to his position, it hasn’t been nearly as effective a weapon as his inside game. Yet, the Michigan product has been over-reliant on the outside shot. Among that same group of 68 guards over the past three seasons, he has attempted three point shots at the 13th highest frequency, with a .477 3PAr, in spite of shooting the 3 at an efficiency ranked 54th/68. Marcus Smart was the only other player to take over 40% of his shots from deep in spite of shooting below 35% on those shots.

This season, in as featured of a scoring role as he has ever seen in the NBA, Hardaway Jr. has taken promising steps towards maximizing the weapons he has proven most efficient at using.

Demonstrating his increased willingness to attack the basket are two trends in particular – his increase in free throw attempts and fastbreak possessions. In the free throw department, he currently owns a FTr (free throw attempt rate – free throws relative to field goal attempts) of .238 – a career high. It’s barely edging out the .235 he posted as a Hawk in 2016-17 – not coincidentally, that was the year in which Hardaway Jr. posted his career highs (through last season) in win shares, true shooting percentage (TS%), and minutes, earning the trust of coach Mike Budenholzer and an ensuing $70M+ deal the following summer.

Hardaway Jr. has always been a solid free throw shooter, entering this season shooting 81% for his career, but he is on a red-hot start from the line, connecting on 92% of his looks from the stripe so far. His 5.0 makes per 36 minutes this season beats out the career high of 2.8 he set last season by nearly double.

In addition, Hardaway has led the charge of a young Knicks team that is embracing their collective speed and looking for more fastbreak opportunities. With 5.3 transition possessions per game, Hardaway is currently tied for 8th in the league in that category, an increase of 4.0 over his average of last season.

Of course, it is extremely early into the season, and it’s going to be hard for Hardaway Jr. to maintain all of these numbers. However, it’s very promising to see him working towards a scoring approach that better fits his skillset and will help him be the most positive impact player he can be.

BAD: Frank Ntilikina’s Shooting Efficiency

Don’t get me wrong – I’m on Team Frank all the way. His defense is tremendous, his IQ is off the charts, and the kid is as raw as they come. Certainly, he should be expected to have more growing pains and a longer growth curve than just about any other prospect who starts out in the pros from the jump.

Now, is it a bad thing if Ntilikina simply settles into the role of an elite defender and superior passing point guard whose scoring and ball-handling limitations restrict him to a key reserve role? Certainly not. As Knicks fans know well, you can do way worse than getting a key reserve out of a draft pick, even if it is a high one. Any draft pick that gets you a long-term contributor is a win.

With all of that said, with Frank still only 20 years old and possessing the mold of a guy who looks like he can be shaped into a superstar, we are all holding out hope he can become more than just a good glue guy. All of the tools are there, and the flashes have been there.

Perhaps the most important facet of Ntilikina’s game that needs to grow, if he is to provide legitimate hope of becoming a star, is his shooting efficiency. While the eye test shows a player who has smooth fundamentals in his jump shot, the production hasn’t measured up yet. So far this season, Frank has not progressed much in that area.

From the outside, there have been small slivers of growth. Frank shot 31.8% from deep last year. He’s up to 35.3% this year – a solid number – but the sample size is so small to this point that it doesn’t tell us very much. At 6 for 17, his percentage would drop to a ghastly 29% if he had missed just one of those makes.

While it’s too early to be harsh on the efficiency posted in a 17-shot sample size, the positive trend for Ntilikina in this department is his increased 3PAr. The NBA is becoming a layup-or-3 league; mid-range shots be damned. Frank has upped his 3PAr from .314 last year to .472 this year. That’s a positive trend to work from. While the sample size is minuscule, if Ntilikina can maintain a .353 3P% and .472 3PAr over this entire year, that would be awesome.

Here’s where the downside has been: Ntilikina’s offense inside of the arc. Frank shot only 38.5% on two-pointers last year and is down to 36.8% this year. He’s in a less-than-ideal clique with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova, and Malik Monk as the only guards on pace to shoot below 40% from two-point range for the second consecutive season.

Worse is Ntilikina’s inability to get to the line. After posting a .136 FTr last season, he’s dipped to a paltry .056 so far this year. To put into perspective how poor that is, the worst FTr posted by a PG last season (with at least 1000 minutes played) was a .080 – by Raymond Felton. Frank has only attempted 2 free throws in 149 minutes this year. That’s a rate of 0.5 per 36 minutes – Pablo Prigioni-esque.

Frank’s lack of free throw attempts is what really hampers his overall offensive efficiency. He posted a TS% of only .437 last year and is only up a tad to .447 this year.

The odds have been extremely rude to modern NBA guards who have tried to carve out a career after posting a TS% below .450 in each of their first two seasons. Here’s a look at the group of guards over the past decade Ntilikina would join if he can’t puff his TS% up beyond its current point by the end of the year:

It’s an ugly list.

There have been players who have struggled shooting from the floor as youngsters who have gone on to have great careers – neither John Wall nor Russell Westbrook posted eFG% rates over their first two years as high as Ntilikina’s .444 so far this year – but those guys made up for poor floor shooting with free throws.

It’s become a major, major part of efficient NBA offense, especially at the point guard position. Ntilikina really needs to see some growth in this area especially. You want to see him take more pick-and-rolls straight to the hoop without hesitancy rather than always having a pass-first mentality.

Whether or not Frank can finally bring out the aggressiveness inside of him at some point this year is one of the biggest question marks on the team. Does he need to score 20, even 15 points a game? Certainly not! You just need him to be at least an adequate scorer to compliment his outstanding defense and maximize the potential of his unique passing ability.

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All stats via Basketball-Reference and NBA.Com