A year ago, with highlights and hype, Kevin Knox was a star of the Las Vegas Summer League. This summer, he returned without the hype or the expectations, and hopes that the work will be a precursor to a better sophomore season.
His appearance on the highlight reels this time came at the expense of his reputation. In the first half of the opening game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Knox aggressively pulled down a rebound — but Zion Williamson grabbed the ball from behind Knox and yanked it out of his hands, sending Knox to the floor, before turning and dunking it. That play seemed as if it played on a loop on ESPN the next day.
“Yeah, I saw it,” Knox said. “It was all over Instagram. It didn’t bother me. People are just commenting and saying what they’ve got to say. But that doesn’t bother me. I thought I played really well against him.
“Zion, he’s not a small guy. He’s a big guy, came out of nowhere, came from behind. He’s strong. He can do that to a lot of people in the league, especially blindsided. Coming from behind, I didn’t see him. He can do that to a lot more people. He just caught me off guard.”
But as Knox pointed out, even if he wasn’t making the highlights for his own performance, there was a steady step forward, including in that game. He averaged 17.3 points in four Summer League games, including 25 points in 24 minutes in the fourth and final game before Saturday night’s consolation game.
His shooting numbers (20-for-49 from the floor and 9-for-25 from three-point range) were skewed by one poor performance — Tuesday’s loss to Toronto, in which he went 3-for-15 overall and 1-for-8 from beyond the arc. But Knox believed he accomplished the things he wanted.
“Yeah, I feel totally different,” he said. “I probably didn’t have the numbers I did last year, didn’t have all the highlights and stuff. But just me out there feeling more comfortable and more confident, dribbling the basketball, shooting the ball, I feel a lot stronger out there. I didn’t put the numbers up, like I said, but I think overall I had a really good summer this year and I think I feel better going into the season this year.”
Knox was called upon to take a huge role in his rookie season as the Knicks shed veterans and put the ball in his hands as sometimes the lone offensive threat on a 17-65 team. He earned Eastern Conference rookie of the month honors in December but struggled much of the season and was left off the end-of-season All-Rookie teams.
“I just think that these guys have no clue,” Knicks summer league coach Jud Buechler said. “They’re so young, one year in college and coming to a man’s league in the NBA. I think he just will have a much better idea of all the stuff that happens during an NBA season, the rigors of the schedule, the travel. I can see him physically being stronger, his body starting to develop, and we’ll continue to work on his game. I think he’s going to make a big jump in what he’s going to do next year.”
Knox believes that the addition of the six veteran free-agent acquisitions — and maybe a seventh, depending on what happens with Reggie Bullock — will help him, not just by relieving the pressure on him and rookie RJ Barrett but by forcing them to compete more.
“Yeah, I think the guys we brought in, the vets, I think they’re going to help me out a lot this season,” Knox said. “All those guys compete. They play hard, so it’s going to push me to play hard on both sides of the court.
“It’s totally going to be different from last year. Rookie season, me, Mitch [Robinson] and Allonzo [Trier] got a lot of good minutes. That was part of the development stage that we were at. This year, we’ve got a lot of vets, a lot of older guys that are really coming in looking forward to play. It’s going to be competitive in practice, we’re going to have to earn our minutes, fight for playing time on the court . . . That’s what I’m looking forward to. That’s why I worked really hard for the summer. I know I’ve got to earn my minutes this year because [we] brought in a lot of great guys.”