GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Knicks could have gone with the safe pick or taken a risk. They went with the latter, but not the one their fans wanted.
The Knicks took 6-9 Kentucky freshman forward Kevin Knox with the No. 9 pick over Villanova forward Mikal Bridges and Missouri’s Michael Porter, Jr. Knox, the second-youngest player in this draft, is 18 and has tremendous growth potential. But Porter was once considered a top three pick before a back injury caused him to drop.
Fans inside the Barclays Center were chanting “Michael Porter” and “We want Porter” before the Knicks made their selection. When Knox was announced as the pick, there were loud boos. Knox was inspired by that.
“I like that. That’s motivation,” Knox said. “A lot of the city wants Porter, but I’m ready to work. I’m ready to get to the organization and try to win some games. help the organization.”
Boos when the Knicks pick is nothing new. Three years ago, the Kristaps Porzingis’ selection was roundly booed on draft night and a young fan was seen on TV crying. Porzingis proved himself and is now the Knicks’ franchise player.
The Knicks are not ready to hand the franchise to Knox, who will be 19 in August. But they feel comfortable that he will play and develop as a rookie.
“Even though he’s young, we’re going to push him to be able to contribute as early as possible,” Knicks general manager Scott Perry said. “It’s not like we’re looking at the selection of him as a guy who will not be ready to play. We talked about this team needing more talent and adding to our talent cupboard if you will. Kevin represents that and he represented that for us. He has the level of talent we were looking for.”
Team president Steve Mills said the Knicks’ decision makers debated who take for weeks, but they felt comfortable picking Knox. The Knicks had a tough decision regardless.
Bridges, 21, is the more mature and ready-made NBA player. He also checked so many boxes of what the Knicks need: he’s an athletic wing, a good three-point shooter and versatile defender.
But the Knicks are rebuilding so they could swing for the fences.
Porter could turn out to be the best player of the three. But there were red flags involving the 6-11 forward because of medical concerns. He ended up going 14th to the Nuggets.
The Knicks ended up taking a player who they felt fits the NBA trend of multi-positional player and could grow with the organization.
Knox could develop into a hybrid forward who plays and guards multiple positions. He averaged 15.6 points and 5.4 rebounds in his only season at Kentucky. Knox is a good mid-range shooter, but he needs to improve his three-point shooting and defense.
“I think both of those young men have chances to be very good players in the league,” Perry said. “But we just thought that Kevin separated himself for us in terms of where we want to go, how we want to play, where the league is trending. We’re just really excited about getting him here.”
The Knicks see Knox as someone who can complement Porzingis, and he fits a positional need.
“We realize we’re a developing team and we need talent and athleticism,” Mills said. “If we could get that at the right position that’s the best of both worlds.”
The Knicks think that playing for Kentucky and coach John Calipari helped prepare Knox for the NBA and New York. Perry said that Knox “got thrown right in the fire” at Kentucky.
Mills also said one of the things that drew them to Knox was his mental makeup and confidence. Many players in the lottery do individual workouts. But Knox agreed to work out with five other players at the Knicks’ facility and impressed.
“The fact that he wanted to come in and compete with five other guys that said something about how he felt about himself as a player,” Mills said. “The size that he has, the athleticism he has, he’s a perfect fit for how we want to play and what’s going on with the league today.”
Knicks take center. The Knicks, who have some uncertainty at center, took 7-footer Mitchell Robinson with the sixth pick of the second round. Robinson is said to have first-round talent — he was the No. 8-ranked player coming out of high school in 2017 — but there are questions. Robinson never played in college. He enrolled at Western Kentucky, but he was granted his release to transfer. He re-enrolled briefly and then left to train for the NBA Draft.