SAN ANTONIO — With the NCAA conference tournaments in full swing, the Knicks’ front-office members have scattered around the nation for close-up looks at the prospects in the upcoming NBA Draft. Left behind to finish out his rookie season is the Knicks’ most recent lottery pick, Kevin Knox.
While the prospects are being dissected and optimism reigns, Knox’s flaws have been on display for all to see this season. It was no different Friday night as he endured a 2-for-7 shooting night and scored seven points in 25 minutes as the Knicks were humbled by the Spurs, 109-83, at the AT&T Center.
Damyean Dotson had 21 points and Kadeem Allen added 16 for the NBA-worst Knicks (13-56), who are 2 1⁄2 games behind the Suns.
Knox, 19, the second-youngest player in the league, has been installed as a starter for the Knicks, left out there to succeed or fail in the spotlight. While some rookies get a moment to fill in the holes in their game in the G League, Knox has been placed front and center at Madison Square Garden with never a thought of sending him down.
“No, because our team was already like a glorified G League team,” coach David Fizdale said. “So they were playing minutes up here, it just felt like they might as well go through these lumps up here against the best of the best. I didn’t even have any second thoughts about that.”
Knox has averaged 27.9 minutes per game this season, sixth highest among rookies, and his time on the floor since he was installed as a starter is even greater — 31.1 minutes per game. And in those minutes, he has endured the ups and downs you’d expect from a young player.
He was named the Eastern Conference rookie of the month in December but went a stretch of 20 games from Jan. 17 through March 3 in which he didn’t shoot 50 percent from the floor once, recording a .318 field-goal percentage and .277 percentage from beyond the arc.
He didn’t exactly light it up when that streak finally came to an end with a 4-for-6 effort at Sacramento on March 4, shooting 41.9 percent in the five games entering Friday’s road trip finale.
But after shooting an air ball on his first attempt Tuesday in Indiana, he hit five of his remaining eight attempts, including 4-for-5 from three-point range.
“Just extra shots, extra work, staying confident in yourself to keep shooting,” Knox said. “It was definitely good to see the ball go through the rim. I air-balled the first shot and made my next two . . . Keeping confident to find that stroke helped me a lot.
“It was a great opportunity to stay with the team, hang around with the veterans and see the NBA life. I can say a lot of rookies don’t have that opportunity. A lot of rookies that have been in the G League and rookies that haven’t seen the court at all on a regular basis. I‘m grateful to be up here learning from guys, championship guys, getting this experience.”
What is next for Knox is turning the lessons learned into something better in the future. That means when this season finally comes to an end, the work will really begin.
“We were talking a lot about that stuff, but again, his strength is going to be a big, big thing,” Fizdale said. “Fine-tuning his shooting, solidifying his post game. I think offensively those will be the areas and obviously defensively, I’m going to be all over him about taking another step forward, about being a playmaker, a shot-blocker, a guy who can take a challenge one-on-one and really slide his feet against the best attackers in the league.”
“Just staying consistent, getting ballhandling,” Knox said. “My endurance, so I can play longer. In the games, I don’t get tired as much. Just watch a lot of film so I can get better defensively and getting stronger in the weight room. Me getting stronger helped a lot on my drives and helps me rebound. There’s a lot of things I will definitely work on this summer that will help me expand my game.”