Kevin Knox may have finished his career with Kentucky, but his career with basketball is just beginning. Knox recently declared for the NBA draft and also hired an agent, finally answering the question we all knew the answer to before he stepped foot on Kentucky’s campus. Knox was a one-and-done, now it’s time for him to prove why.
When looking at practically any mock draft, Knox is consistently slotted to be drafted somewhere between the 10-14 range, which would make him a late lottery pick. There are plenty of reasons why NBA scouts think Knox could be an important piece of their specific team rebuild. He’s an elite scorer, has great size for someone of his playstyle, and has the tools to turn into a multi-positional defender.
But let’s take a deeper look into Knox and really figure out how some of his skills could project at the NBA level.
In his one season at Kentucky, Knox averaged 16.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game during SEC play (including the SEC Tournament and West Virginia game), shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from three. His killer instinct is scoring. He’s similar to Malik Monk in that way because they both just seem to have a knack of knowing how to get tough shots to go in, but Monk is a shooter while Knox is a scorer. There’s an important difference between the two. Knox specializes in generating points from almost all areas of the court at an efficient rate while Monk specializes as a long-range gunner who can rack up threes in a matter of seconds. We’ve seen with Monk’s rookie season in the NBA that there can be a learning period for players who rely heavily on the outside shot, but Knox is a penetrator and he’s great at playing around screeners.
Speaking of playing around screens… I’m sure you’ve seen some sort of rendition of this play run for Knox quite a few times last season.
In the second half of the season and especially into the SEC Tournament, Coach Calipari ran this play a ton. Knox would curl around screens and cut to the basket or to the closest open area on the court, always with his hands up and ready to catch a pass. Knox is the focus on this play, but defenders have to respect the big man who set the pindown screen and the potential that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander could throw a backside lob (Honestly, probably my favorite play they ran all year. Just a highly efficient and easy set). You can see this play run a good amount in the NBA and the most important note is that Knox was really, really good at finishing these shots. Whether it be a layup or a catch-and-shoot jumper, this is where Knox can make an immediate impact at the next level. He has the height to get these shots off in coverage and the balance to knock them down.
Knox is a solid spot up shooter who really only needs a few inches of space to get a good shot off. His 37.3 shooting percentage from three during SEC games isn’t terrible, but it’s not great either when projecting him to the NBA game and an extended three-point line. I would expect him to struggle from the perimeter during the early stages of his rookie season.
In transition, Knox is somewhat “misunderstood”. He definitely struggled at times – keeping his head buried in the hardwood as he went one-on-three, frustrating an entire state’s worth of people – but there were positives signs to take from his many transition opportunities. He may not have been the most effective at times, but there is a lot to say about a player such as Knox who is always running in transition, especially at his height and frame. He doesn’t have crazy athleticism, but a solid wingspan, aggressiveness, and a willingness to get out and run created way more opportunities for him to capitalize on than if he refused to do so. He’s an underrated finisher, and once again is similar to Monk in the way that they both can finish at the rim with body-contorting moves. Shots that have no business of going in, he finds a way to get the two points. If he can become more under control and put in some much-needed work on his ball handling, he can be a constant fastbreak threat, something NBA teams with loads of eager, young players are infatuated with.
You better believe that NBA point guards would love to look up and see Knox sprinting the floor as an oversized big man tries to keep up with him.
Another thing about Knox is that he can play multiple positions. He can play either the small forward or power forward position in today’s NBA. He’s a little bit too slow to guard most small forwards and too small to guard most power forwards, but on the other hand, he’s too shifty for most power forwards to defend him and bigger than most small forwards. Knox will definitely be a matchup problem, both good and bad.
The biggest area of concern for Knox on offense is his ability to create his own shot at the NBA level. In college, he could use pure size and skill to beat his defender, but he won’t have such luck in the NBA. Far too often would he plow over defenders because he couldn’t get around them in one-on-one situations. This is why him it’s key that he continues to improve on catch-and-shoot opportunities until he can develop a quicker first step. He can be lethal coming off screens. Learning to score in isolation will have to come later.
0.3 steals and 0.8 blocks per game just isn’t going to cut it on an NBA defense.
Defense is Knox’s wildcard. At 6-foot-9 with a nearly seven-foot wingspan and quick feet, Knox can be an above-average defender, it’s just a matter of if he puts in the work. Knox was hardly the defender he could have been at Kentucky, but when he really wanted to be, he showed his potential as a plus-defender.
He also could have been a much better rebounder. Now, running in transition means he sacrifices the chance to pull down some boards, but when Coach Calipari challenged him to grab more rebounds in Jarred Vanderbilt’s absence, he answered the calling card. In small ball NBA lineups, Knox will absolutely have to sacrifice transition outlets in favor of rebounding, but it’s something he’s capable of at least being average at.
As far as comparing him to a former Cal-era Kentucky player currently in the NBA, a taller version of Malik Monk may be his best comparison. There’s even some Darius Miller in him, as well, in my opinion. In general, Knox most reminds me of Khris Middleton from the Milwaukee Bucks. Middleton is 6-foot-8 with a nearly seven-foot wingspan who’s a pure scorer that has steadily improved on defense since he left Texas A&M. Middleton is better at attacking the rim than Knox, something that he can develop if he puts the work into his body necessary to compete with other large forwards. Middleton currently has about 20 pounds on Knox, which he uses to his advantage when driving to the basket, however, Middleton had identical measurements to Knox when he was entering the league. Knox is a bit underweight for what he’ll want to do in the NBA, but that is something that he can work on in the offseason. Middleton is also a better defender than Knox, but again, that is an area he has improved at over time. It’s not a perfect comparison by any means, but if Knox can take a similar path as Middleton, he has a bright future in the NBA.
I think Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has a better chance of making an immediate impact on an NBA team and it may take Knox at least two or three years for him to really grow into the player that his body says he can be (remember, he’s still only 18), but there will be a payoff. Knox definitely has potential to be a top-7 rotation player on a playoff team before he turns 25 and that is well worth selecting him as a late lottery pick.