MILWAUKEE — At full strength, it would be a challenge for the Knicks and their first-year coach, David Fizdale, to come up with a plan to slow down the Bucks and their rising star, Giannis Antetokounmpo. But their own highly regarded rookie, Kevin Knox, was back in New York, trying to heal a sprained left ankle.
In what is a developmental season, every time on the court is important for Knox, the No. 9 overall pick in the NBA Draft. But Knox was out of action for Monday night’s game as well as more to come — a still indefinite absence but one that is expected to be at least two weeks.
“I don’t think it’s any kind of major setback,” Fizdale said Monday. “It’s just part of the NBA. It’s like I said the other night at the press conference, this is part of that roller coaster that you’ve got to go through. All of this stuff is going to be a good learning experience for him and a big part of his growth.
“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Not with a 19-year-old. His development is going for about three to five years. Obviously, we don’t want to see him out, but I don’t think this is a huge setback.”
Just how much of a setback it is in the development of Knox and the Knicks will depend on how quickly he can get back on the court. The Knicks said Sunday that the injury, suffered in the first quarter against Boston on Saturday, will be re-evaluated in a week. But when asked if he’d be happy to have Knox back after a two-week absence, Fizdale saw that as an optimistic outlook.
“Yeah, that’d be great,” he said. “I hope it’s a short amount of time so we can get right back to work. Obviously, the Brooklyn game was so promising that I want him to get right back into that confident mode.”
Knox came off the bench in the Knicks’ first three games, drastically improving from the first game to the second. He shot 4-for-16 in 24 minutes in the season opener against the Hawks and shot 7-for-14 and scored 17 points in 28 minutes against the Nets. But he had played only four minutes on Saturday when he went down while trying to plant on a fast break.
The Knicks don’t need to shift the starting lineup without Knox, but they do need to find a way to make up for his minutes and production. Mario Hezonja played less than 10 minutes Saturday, shooting 1-for-5 from the floor. Damyean Dotson, who did not play in the first two games, got a chance and played 22 minutes, scoring 10 points and providing the defensive intensity that Fizdale was seeking.
“It’s unfortunate that Kevin went down, but yeah, next man up,” Hezonja said. “That’s what this league is about. It’s happened many times.”
“Some days he’s just spectacular,” Fizdale said of Hezonja. “Some days he has lapses. But that’s OK. That’s again, having a coach that’ll show it to him over and over again to break old habits and then to build new habits. That’s where we have a patient long game with that kind of stuff.
“I’m very hands on when it comes to that. And just building their mindset and their mentality and picking them up when they’re down and telling them the truth when they need to hear it. That’s my job. It’s also my job to put them in as many uncomfortable situations as possible. Because playoffs are uncomfortable. The Finals are uncomfortable. So if we’re ever going to make it to that place, they have to get uncomfortable now.”