It wasn’t long ago that Kevin Knox seemed to be finding his way, rescued from the struggles he endured under the prior coaching regimes after entering the NBA as one of the youngest players in the game.
Under the Knicks' new coach, Tom Thibodeau, the 21-year-old Knox had seemed to answer the questions about energy on the court and effort on the defensive end while finding his place as a three-point shooting specialist on a team desperately in need of shooting.
After a 19-point performance in Charlotte on Jan. 11 when he took a season-high 17 field-goal attempts in a season-high 29 minutes, he followed it with a 5-for-6 shooting night against the Brooklyn Nets. But his minutes still steadily dwindled, culminating in the last two games when he did not get off the bench heading into Wednesday’s meeting with the Bulls in Chicago.
Part of the decision was the result of the Knicks having what has been a rarity — a full squad available. Reggie Bullock started both games with Austin Rivers and Alec Burks coming off the bench behind him. Obi Toppin is back after a long absence and growing into his role as the latest lottery pick. He is the one that this front office has a more vested interest in seeing succeed since he is the first one that is their own pick.
"I know we got a lot of great players on this team," Knox said following Wednesday’s morning shootaround. "The rotations can get tight. Coach makes a lot of decisions. But he’s the head coach ultimately, so whatever decision he makes I got to respect it.
"So like I said, I’m going to continue to be ready, because anything can happen, at any moment, any given time. So I want to make sure that I’m ready. I’ll continue to get my reps up, continue to shoot the ball well . . . focus a lot on defense, watch a lot of film . . . so when they do call my number and my time does come, I’m ready."
While Dennis Smith Jr., another victim of the crowded roster, opted to head to the G League bubble in Orlando to get playing time, the Knicks said Knox would not follow suit.
"I think in Kevin’s situation he’s still very much situational and things can change quickly based on matchups, fouls, injuries, illness, whatever you might have," Thibodeau said recently. "He would be the next guy in, and so, some of it could be matchups, too."
While Immanuel Quickley was nominated for the NBA Rookie of the Month honors, it was two years ago that Knox actually won the award after averaging 17.1 points and six rebounds per game while playing 34.9 minutes per game. He averaged 12.8 points his rookie season while playing 28.8 minutes and starting 57 games. But he dropped to 6.4 points in 17.9 minutes last season and 6.1 points in 18.2 minutes this season, although he increased his three-point shooting to a career-best 39.1%.
But in a numbers game with Thibodeau intent on keeping his rotation to 10 players, that has led to DNP-CD in the last two games, both losses.
"I think that’s very important right now, just being the best teammate I can be no matter how much playing time I get, just encouraging my guys, making sure that I help some of the young guys — Obi, Quick — and even some of the older guys if I see something from the side," Knox said. "I’m always staying ready, working hard in practice, going 100% because you never know when my number can be called."