The New York Knicks added a bevy of redundant talent to its roster in the summer of 2019; an inevitably short-term approach that did more to hinder the team’s future than it did to advance it. As a result, 20-year old Kevin Knox was forced to take a back seat.
But just because the Knicks seemingly gave up on Knox this past season, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t still have a backing of believers. Leading the charge is Kenny Payne, the current Kentucky assistant coach who mentored Knox during his lone season in Lexington. Payne believes that a new coaching staff and a sense of comfortability are essential if the 6-foot-9 forward wants to thrive in the NBA.
“No question, I think a new staff comes in and can evaluate what the kid is and tell him what he needs him to do,’’ Payne told Marc Berman of The New York Post. “He’s starting with a clean slate. There’s no prejudging of who he is. He can go out and feel comfortable and do the things to help the team win. I think he’s coming back with a new and different fire. With a little adversity, you can attain greatness. And he’s been through it.”
Knox was drafted ninth overall in the 2018 NBA Draft by the Knicks and began his career with relative success for a first-year wing. He posted averages of 12.8 points and 4.5 rebounds while playing slightly under 29 minutes per game. His shooting numbers were historically poor, but there was potential for Knox to grow into a second or third option on a good team. However, a tumultuous start to his second season derailed any idea of success he accrued the year prior.
In the summer of 2019, the Knicks went out and signed four players to shorter contracts that would allow for future financial flexibility. The overcrowded frontcourt (consisting of Knox, former Wildcat Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Bobby Portis, and Taj Gibson to start the 2019-20 season) immediately left Knox as the odd man out. A coaching change after just 22 games put a man in charge who ultimately decided to use Knox in even more random bursts than he already was. Knox’s numbers in year two–which were already sliced in half from his first NBA season–dipped even further after Mike Miller replaced David Fizdale as the interim head coach.
Knox’s inconsistent play over the final two months prior to the season’s suspension had fans and media members alike pondering his future with the team. In the same article by Berman, he reports that newly-hired Knicks president Leon Rose (who has a connection with UK head coach John Calipari) was desperate to see Knox in what would have been the final few weeks of the regular season. Due to the coronavirus, that didn’t happen. On more than one occasion was Knox’s name floated around the trade rumor mill this past season.
While nothing has been decided quite yet, the Knicks don’t appear likely to bring Miller back for next season as the full-time head coach. Which is good news for Knox, considering Payne believes this is the key to unlocking the full potential of the rising third-year player. There are options out there, including well-respected veteran coach Kenny Atkinson, who is known for his impressive player development record.
Whoever the Knicks end up choosing, they need a clear plan for Knox. Fluctuating his playing time from 10 minutes to 25 minutes without any consistency and a broken roster set Knox up for failure. If the franchise intends to move forward with Knox in the fold, bringing aboard a coach who can get the most out of him should be step one.
“Things changed this year where they were going to hold him a little more accountable,’’ Payne later told Berman. “The first year was ‘Let’s feature him, get comfortable and let him play through his mistakes.’ Sometimes young players like Kevin have to feel comfortable. I personally don’t think it’s about his talent. He’s talented enough. It’s about how he digests the game. How he feels about himself. Is he in rhythm playing basketball or playing with a team that is playing a little selfish and the ball is not moving as much? Or the system and schemes offensively and defensively is where he’s not secure.”
The Knicks were not one of the 22 teams selected to finish the remainder of the 2019-20 season down in Orlando’s Walt Disney World. They’ll head straight into the offseason with plenty of questions surrounding all aspects of the roster and what to do about Knox will be near the top of the list. Remember, Charlotte Hornets guard Malik Monk said back in February that even though he went to Kentucky, he still wasn’t ready for the NBA. “You’ve got to know what 25-year-olds know when you’re 19,” Monk told the Charlotte Observer. Knox will start his third NBA season at just 21 years old.
“I’ve talked to Kevin a few times, giving words of encouragement,’’ Payne added. “When I watched him this year, he just never felt comfortable. For a young kid, that’s important. I’m sure he’s reflecting and recognizing where he could’ve been better.