When the Knicks’ final preseason game was over, Kevin Knox waited his turn as a rookie must — even a lottery pick — and submerged his body in an ice bath, washing away the aches, pains and maybe struggles of preseason.
He looked very much like a 19-year-old rookie who, during most of the preseason, hardly lived up to the demanding edict of coach David Fizdale that every starting spot is up for grabs. While he didn’t earn it, he will have that starting small forward job when the season begins in earnest Wednesday.
“No, he’s been up and down,” Fizdale said after the Knicks’ 113-107 loss to the Nets Friday at Madison Square Garden. “I think he’s shown the ability to start in the first two games with the double-doubles. And the last three stunk. But for that position and what we’re trying to grow there, I think he’s what we want to put in that spot and just let him go through the hell of it and get beat up and have some success, and all of that stuff.
“But like I said, it’s not permanent, and if it’s something where a guy continues to struggle, it’s on me to help, and sometimes shifting the lineup helps guys. But they all know that it’s going to be all year. You’ve got to continue to fight and battle for what you get.”
The reality is that Fizdale has few options other than to spend what is a developmental season for the organization getting Knox through the bumps of a rookie campaign. He has said he doesn’t want to play Tim Hardaway Jr. or Courtney Lee (who missed the entire preseason with a sprained neck) at small forward. Mario Hezonja is really the only other possibility, but even he is more of a power forward.
Knox finished the preseason schedule with a 1-for-6 shooting night, three points and five fouls. After an eye-catching summer league performance and a reasonable start, he finished the five-game preseason shooting 16-for-49 from the floor and 10-for-30 from beyond the arc.
Knox was smiling after Friday's game, confident that the struggles will pass as he learns his way through the rigors of the NBA.
“Basically me and [Fizdale] have the same mentality,” Knox said. “This is all learning for me. Like he says all the time, I’m going to get my butt kicked a lot and I’m going to have a lot of mistakes. It’s part of a rookie year, you’re going to have ups and downs. It just shows how much confidence he has in me keeping me in the starting lineup. As I keep playing more, get used to playing in the system, get used to playing the NBA stage, Madison Square Garden, New York, I’ll get better and I’ll be able to find my rhythm.”
Part of the confidence for Knox is that he went through a similar jump last year at Kentucky as a freshman, finding himself the object of opposing defensive game plans and needing to adjust to find a way to contribute.
“A hundred percent. I started off at Kentucky a little slow,” he said. “People strategize, game plan. Defensively, kind of stop you. It’s a little bit different. Once I found that rhythm, found out what I was really good at, Coach [John Calipari] found out what I liked to do offensively and defensively, being more engaged, started picking it up and got more rhythm, got better confidence and stuff like that.
“It’s the same thing here. Once I find that rhythm, that confidence to keep shooting, keep going. and once my shots start falling, defensively get better. rebounding more. Once that all comes together, it’ll all be fine.
“At Kentucky, I went though a lot of two-, three-game slumps where I just couldn’t make a shot, four-game slumps where I couldn’t make a shot. Cal told me the same thing: Keep shooting and just try and find other ways to help involve your team. I think one of the ways I got out of my slump was I got a lot of rebounds one game. I don’t know what game it was. But that just kind of got me out of my slump. I wasn’t worried about offense, more about defense. I’m going to keep doing that more. Fiz is telling me the same thing. It’s going to come sooner or later.”