June 25, 2018
By Sam Hiller
In 2015, the New York Knicks selected fourth overall in a draft that looked to be stacked with talent. With high hopes from fans, the Knicks needed to make the right pick to set their franchise back on track. When General Manager Steve Mills and Team President Phil Jackson decided on Kristaps Porzingis, an unproven 19-year-old Latvian who had spent his young career playing in Spain, Knicks fans were unhappy, frustrated and confused, so much that the most iconic moment from that draft is a young Knicks fan giving a thumbs down and crying on camera.
This year brought back many of the same expectations and reactions as the Knicks, once again, held a top ten pick in a very talented draft. The need to draft someone to help their star Kristaps Porzingis was crucial.
Before the draft, there was speculation that the Knicks were trying to trade up to the fourth pick with the Grizzlies to draft Texas center, Mohamed Bamba. However, this trade brought up contract questions as the Grizzlies insisted on getting rid of Chandler Parsons, who is owed 48M over the next two years, as part of the deal. Parsons’ salary would be hard to add to an already overpaid roster featuring contracts paying over 70M to both Joakim Noah and Tim Hardaway Jr. Ultimately, the Knicks chose to stay at 9 and watch as Bamba, along with coveted guards Trae Young and Collin Sexton, disappeared from the board leaving Mikal Bridges, Michael Porter Jr, and Kevin Knox as the three remaining players whom the Knicks had a large interest in. Bridges, a proven champion from Villanova with a 3-and-D style that is sought after in today’s game, was high on their board along with Michael Porter Jr, but questions about Porter’s health seemed to be the deciding factor after Adam Silver walked onstage and declared Kevin Knox a New York Knick.
Staying true to himself, the same Knicks fan who booed Porzingis wasn’t happy with this pick either.
While there may be some concerns about using a lottery pick on one of the youngest players to enter the draft, thispick has tremendous upside and shows exactly what Scott Perry, and the new-look Knicks front office, was looking for in this draft. Knox fits the profile of a small forward in the NBA today. He has great size and length at 6’9”, 216 lbs and a 6’11.5” wingspan, which is comparable to Jayson Tatum coming out of Duke last year and to Paul George when he was drafted out of Fresno State in 2010. Knox also already has the ability to create his own shot which will relieve Porzingis of some of his scoring responsibilities — a much-needed option that was absent last year and proven after Porzingis tore his ACL. In addition to this, Knox was also known for moving well without the ball at Kentucky. Coach John Calipari’s system allowed him to move freely along the baseline and break up to the wing for a catch-and-shoot, which has allowed him to further develop his 3 point jumper. At Kentucky, Knox hit 34% of his treys during his freshman campaign.
Other interesting stats from Knox’s All-SEC first-team season include his true shooting percentage (56%), and he played the second most minutes of anyone in the SEC, finishing behind his teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Of course, picking an 18-year-old with the ninth overall pick has its drawbacks. He will have to get better on the defensive side of the ball, but it’s not his defensive skill that’s holding him back, it is his lack of focus and awareness over the course of a game. His ability to process information is lacking at the moment. Because of this, his progress in the NBA most likely will take time to develop and adjust. There are many plays in his film that show him closing out on shooters without his hands up, not seeing screens coming or knowing how to deal with them, or failing to see a cut behind him. These are all mistakes that can be fixed, and while focus can’t be taught, it can be improved with motivation and a good work ethic both in the player and in the environment around them — this is the perfect situation for Dave Fizdale to preach the fundamentals and fix all of the small errors.
While the pick has its skeptics, so did the Porzingis pick in 2015. All picks have their skeptics, but the Knicks can sleep comfortably knowing they picked a potential young star, with an already established skill set, who is already used to the national spotlight at a top program.
With Knox, Porzingis gets scoring relief, and the Knicks get a young winger to pair with Porzingis and last year’s first-round pick Frank Ntilikina.