When the Knicks have spoken over and over again about developing their young players, it has meant rookies Kevin Knox or Mitchell Robinson, who they can imagine starting alongside the help they believe will come this summer.
But as they make their way to the end of the season, an odd beneficiary to the plan is second-year player Luke Kornet, who ascended to the starting lineup along with Robinson Saturday, a plan that coach David Fizdale said he hopes to use through the final stretch of the season.
Kornet comes with none of the expectations, and even a night like Monday, when he put up a career-high 24 points in a win over a Bulls lineup that he likely recognized from his time in the G League this season, is a sidebar to the real hopes for the franchise. But for a player on the fringe of the roster, these opportunities are everything.
“It’s always valuable to be able to get on the court,” Kornet said. “I feel like the only time that you can really get better and really improve is playing in the game. Five games left, every single minute is valuable, just as valuable as game number one. You’re always trying to look to improve and see what you can do to win games. That hasn’t changed.”
Since Jan. 23, Kornet had been inactive or stuck on the bench for 14 of the Knicks' 31 games, and when he got his chance he hadn’t exactly put up the numbers that would force the coach’s hand. In his 17 games, including five starts, he had shot just 26.4 percent from the floor and 25.8 percent from beyond the arc. But put in the lineup again, he had 17 points Saturday and then hit 8-for-11 from the field, including 5 of 7 three-pointers, in Monday's win over the Bulls.
It was a high point for him, with his father, former NBA player Frank Kornet, in attendance Monday. He was unaware he’d posted a career high until he was told in the postgame locker room. He never expected this as the games sitting on the bench were piling up, but he has learned in his limited role to stay ready. There are five more games and he is expected to start and get plenty of playing time, providing spacing with Robinson rolling to the rim.
“It’s kind of what your job is so you don’t have much of a choice,” Kornet said. “We had Mitch and DeAndre [Jordan] and both of those guys are fantastic for the team, so it’s just going to be part of what your career is going to look like. So you try to work and stay ready as much as you can. It’s funny because you hear it all the time from older guys — stay ready. These are the opportunities that happen and the situations that you’re put in and every guy kind of goes through it.”
Notes & quotes: The Knicks signed Billy Garrett, the Westchester Knicks' all-time leading scorer, for the remainder of the season. Garrett, a 6-6 guard who played at DePaul, has averaged 14.2 points in two seasons with Westchester.