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Knicks coach David Fizdale defends rookie Kevin Knox  

Coach says  he is 'learning on the fly' and that it's tough for a player that young to figure out the NBA.

Kevin Knox of the New York Knicks takes

Kevin Knox of the New York Knicks takes a shot in the second half against the Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 20, 2018. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — When the Knicks chose Kevin Knox last June, they plucked the second-youngest player to be drafted, 18 years old at the time, and expected the age and inexperience to provide some inconsistency. And now, 23 games into his career — 16 of which Knox has gotten into — the struggles have far outweighed the highlights and the questions have come.

Is he really a worthy lottery pick? Will he become the star the Knicks hoped they were getting?

The team insists, and Knox agrees, that better days will come. When a recent story criticized the Knicks’ last two lottery picks, Knox and Frank Ntilikina, David Fizdale bristled at the notion.

“I think I’ve got a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old trying to figure out the NBA, the league that’s full of the absolute best players in the world, the best coaches in the world, doing it in the absolute toughest market in America,” Fizdale said. “Give them a break. These guys are learning on the fly.

“Whoever’s criticizing them, let me know how many people can become great at 19 and 20 while they’re being punched in the face and they’re learning it all at the same time. I don’t hear those critics.

"My kids come in here and bust their hump every day. Our organization, we love our kids. We put our arms around them. We’re in here just trying to get them better every single day. And they’re going to go through struggles. That’s just part of the deal.”

Knox has spent extra time on the practice court and in the video room, and the video he has watched is not only of his own play but also that of players who have gone before him. One of those is Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom the Knicks will face Saturday at Madison Square Garden and who endured his own struggles as a 19-year-old rookie with the Bucks. He averaged 6.8 points that season — less than what Knox is averaging now.

“Giannis came into the league, he struggled,” Knox said. “He wasn’t nowhere near where he is now when he first came into the league. It took him a few years. The thing about him, he stayed confident, he stayed working, he stayed in the gym and the weight room and got bigger, stronger and knew right away he wasn’t going to be able to do what he’s doing now . . .  It took a few years but now he’s taking over the league, so that’s somebody I really look up to.”

Knox said that critics outside his circle don’t affect him and that he takes the criticism he hears from within as teaching moments.

“I love the criticism because that’s just going to help me go watch film and make sure I can get better at that,” he said. “The outside world, I don’t really pay attention to those people like that. But the coaches, Fizdale, he wants me to play harder and I’m going to go out there and play harder. My mom and dad, they want me to get to the rim, so I’m gonna get to the rim. I’m going to listen to those people inside my circle because those are people I trust.”

Notes & quotes: Courtney Lee, who missed the first 23 games with neck spasms, is expected to make his season debut Saturday. Mitchell Robinson is questionable with a bruised left heel.

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