When he made his NBA debut Wednesday, Kevin Knox admitted that his stomach was going crazy before the game. His nerves were on edge and he was overwhelmed by the moment. The 19-year-old rookie seemed to be past that obstacle by his second game, though.
Knox has not been in the starting lineup for the Knicks’ first two games, but in a back-and-forth battle with the Nets at Barclays Center on Friday night, the Knicks’ lottery pick was on the floor down the stretch and confidently drained big shot after big shot.
“The beginning of the game, I was nervous still,” Knox said. “I’m nervous before all games. But once I hit that first shot, once my teammates get that first basket, that kind of jitter goes away. Coach had me in late in the game today, so it shows his confidence in me and my teammates, that they trust me late in the game. I just want to make sure I do my role at the end of the game defensively and offensively.”
Knox shot 4-for-16 on Wednesday, but this time he converted an efficient 7-for-14 and scored 17 points as the Knicks fell to the Nets, 107-105. But more than the numbers, it was how and when he did it.
Knox entered the game late in the third quarter and almost immediately hit a three-point field goal. In the fourth quarter, he drilled another three-pointer to tie the score with 4:21 left.
The shot not only tied the score but changed his coach’s mind. David Fizdale already had sent Lance Thomas to the scorer’s table to check in for defense, but when the shot went through, Fizdale stuck with Knox — although he did greet him coming off the floor for a timeout, and rather than congratulate him on the shot, he imparted a defensive correction.
“Yeah, I was putting Lance in for defense,” Fizdale said. “He hit that shot and that’s the rule. Lance knew it so he started walking right back to the bench.”
Knox never came out, remaining in the lineup down to the final buzzer.
“When I watch him play, he seems like a guy that’s been in the league for eight years,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “He just seems like a pro. There’s a nice calm to his game. He’s skilled, he’s big. Obviously, he’s getting used to the pace of the game. But it looks like coach Fizdale has given him the green light, which we kind of did in our development process with young guys. It will build his confidence. He’s going to be a good player in this league for a while.”
While veterans Enes Kanter and Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Knicks in scoring with 29 points each, development is the key this season, and seeing Knox never hesitate in a close game and a hostile atmosphere is more important. The confidence has not been an issue.
“No, he got up 16 shots last game,” Fizdale said. “I think he was all right. I want him doing that. I want him thinking that way. I know people thought, oh you didn’t start him, but he’s still got to play a lot of minutes right now until he earns his way to that spot. While he’s out there, I want him to be ultra-aggressive.”
The lessons are coming fast and furious after Knox spent one season at Kentucky. But so is the learning curve, as he did not commit a turnover in 28 minutes. He grabbed a defensive rebound with 31 seconds left, giving the Knicks the ball to set up a tying three-point play by Kanter with 15.9 seconds remaining.
“Is he getting the shot that he wants?” Fizdale said. “Is he under control? Is he making good decisions? Defensively, is he competing hard? Is he catching on to the teaching points? Is he rebounding the ball?”
So, Fizdale was asked, Knox has to work on everything?
“[He’s] 19, baby,” he said. “Blank page.”
While this season may be about developing a star in Knox, the Knicks still have an eye toward pursuing another star in free agency next summer. Though there were rumors about Kyrie Irving — who will arrive at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night with the Celtics — having interest in joining the Knicks next summer, he lowered the flame on that this month by openly proclaiming that he wants to remain in Boston and has begun talks with management.
Speaking to reporters in Boston on Friday morning, Irving was asked if he understands that his pronouncement likely will bring a lot of questions in New York. He responded, “Man, who cares? Who cares? Honestly, who cares?”
Well, the Knicks might, given that they are trying to figure out ways to create a full veteran max slot in their salary cap. That is part of the reason that the team has not provided an extension to Kristaps Porzingis, preserving approximately $10 million to put toward the talent chase. The class can change between now and July 1, 2019, when the bidding can begin, but right now, Irving, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler are among the most attractive free agents.
Knicks general manager Scott Perry is hesitant to talk about the future, but he noted Tuesday: “We feel comfortable and confident where we’re at, that we’re going to be able to move forward and continue to . . . strategically build this team in the right way and continue to add to this team. Our goal, what we aspire to be one day, out in the future, but we want to be a championship roster, so we feel good about that.”
Notes & quotes: The Knicks were without Courtney Lee (neck spasms) and Emmanuel Mudiay (ankle). Mitchell Robinson, who played a little more than a minute in the season opener before tweaking his right ankle, was available but did not get in the game.