PHOENIX — In seeking to develop a trio of rookies this season, Knicks coach David Fizdale has carefully managed the minutes of Mitchell Robinson, keeping him out of the starting lineup to ease him through his lessons, and turned to and from Allonzo Trier.
But once he inserted Kevin Knox, the lottery pick and best hope from the rookie class, into the starting lineup five games into the season, he has opted for a different strategy than the others. Fizdale has chosen to provide Knox his lessons the hard way.
As his minutes have piled up, the 19-year-old Knox has struggled more and more offensively, sometimes admitting his confidence has wavered. But Fizdale is content to let each hard lesson provide some future benefit.
“We thought about it,” Fizdale said of moving Knox out of the starting lineup or easing his minutes. “But I want to force him through this right now. This is, from a lesson standpoint for Kevin, not to reset him, to force him to play through all of these struggles and all of this pain right now and fight his way out of this.
“So that’s why I want to keep him in that lineup, keep him against starting [small forwards] as much as possible and let him go through the bumps and the bruises. Look, it doesn’t matter. No one’s going to look back in eight years at what his shooting percentage was his rookie year. But the lessons that he’s going to learn this year are going to carry into that eighth year. To me, that’s how I’m prioritizing it with him and he’ll fight his way out of it.”
Knox is averaging 12.4 points per game on 36.1 percent shooting. The Knicks have pointed to other players who struggled through their rookie year after one-and-done college careers, highlighting shooting percentages that rose drastically after suffering as 19- or 20-year-olds navigating the NBA waters for the first time.
And Knox insists that he is on board with the plan.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” Knox said. “It’s just helping me mentally get stronger, just playing through fatigue, playing through the struggles. That’s good for me to be out there and be able to do that, experience that. That’s something good for me."
While Fizdale has decided to keep Knox in the starting lineup, he did keep him on the bench in the fourth quarter Monday in the loss at Sacramento. Knox connected on 4 of 6 shots Monday, his first game shooting at least 50 percent since January 13. In that stretch of 20 games, he shot just 31.8 percent and 27.7 percent from three-point range. He converted his only three-point attempt Monday and Fizdale also called plays to have him post up - including the opening offensive set of the game. But with Trier scoring well, Fizdale decided to keep him on the floor along with Damyean Dotson and either Dennis Smith Jr. or Emmanuel Mudiay.
That meant after playing nearly 15 minutes in the first half and the first 6:25 of the second half, Knox went to the bench and never got back on the floor.
“Sometimes I’m wrong and sometimes I’m right,” Fizdale said. “I just felt like those other two guys, I liked how their motor was going down the stretch. Zo was really going, which was something I wasn’t going to mess with, and I just took a gamble with Dot over Kevin tonight.”
“That’s totally fine,” Knox said. “Another guy is hot, playing really well. Supporting my guys on the bench, I know they would for me as well. That doesn’t bother me much. Some other guys had it going, did a really good job, made a late push in the game, so pretty good to watch.”