Knicks Draft 2018: Don’t Love Knox. Don’t Hate Him.

The first NBA draft for the Perry/Mills/Fizdale leadership team is in the books. So I’ll get right to the point, I don’t love Knox as a prospect but I certainly see what there is to love and I don’t know that there were much better options at #9. I never pronounce judgment the day after a draft unless I think the team did something dumb. They didn’t. Debatable? Certainly, but that’s to be expected. 

What I don’t like…

Though I doubt he’ll be some Anthony Bennett-level bust who just can’t play, Knox scares me a bit as a prospect. He’s actually not very good at anything just yet. To be fair, he’s always been young for his cohort. At just over 18 now, he’s the youngest or 2nd youngest player drafted this year. So he’s being sold as a high upside pick. That’s actually the part that scares me. As my homeboy Ty says, “greatness manifests early in basketball.” Yet, as ESPN’s Kevin Pelton notes (Insider), Knox has never really been great even in his cohort at AAU, USA Basketball, or at Kentucky. I’m not a big Trae Young fan, but even ignoring his shooting, he’s an elite playmaker in his cohort. Knox has been a decent-but-not-especially-efficient scorer who contributes less to the “effort” categories (rebounds/blocks/steals) than his athletic traits lead you to expect. He also doesn’t appear to be a playmaker of any note.

What I like…

I’m actually not here to crush our (Sharpei) puppy-faced prospect. Rather, I’m here to temper talk of his upside being Durant-like. (Thanks, Chauncey and others.) Unrealistic expectations doom prospects as much as anything else. If Knox really projected to be all-NBA or even consistent all-star caliber he’d probably already be elite at some aspect of the game, even at 18. (As Michael Beasley has said of Kevin Durant, “He had that jumper in the 6th grade.”) Over two seasons of EYBL and a freshman season as Kentucky’s leading scorer, he’s not proven to be even “very good” at any one aspect of the game. Nevertheless, the skills, the smooth athleticism, and a frame that can easily hold another 15 lbs. are all undeniable (especially given NY’s desperate need for more athleticism). I can’t blame anyone for feeling confident that production will soon follow. 

To my mind, a reasonable outcome for Knox is as a quality starter who functions mostly as a weakside scorer that puts the ball on the floor well enough to keep defenses honest. Assuming the shot comes around–his stroke looks legitimately great, so let’s call that likely–the open question is whether he’ll do enough other things to not offset his shooting. Given NY’s roster (and some potential culling), he could be starting consistently in his second season. I think his body probably fills out into a big 3/stretch 4, along the lines of Danillo Gallinari. If everything breaks right he could be better, but that’s more optimistic than realistic. 

In terms of process, the Knox selection is an easily defensible one given the way the board fell. I don’t see much fault on draft night. There were no dominating alternatives waiting for the Knicks at #9. Once Atlanta flipped Doncic to Dallas for Young I don’t think there was even a vaguely realistic trade-up scenario for NY. Add to that, you look at selections 10-15 and none of them is hands-down a better prospect than Knox. He was the last guy I feel comfortable projecting as a decent starter before a talent cliff. 

  • Mikal Bridges (PHI/traded): I am solidly on Team Mikal(TM) but his limitations are well known, even if I feel like his upside (especially on defense) has been criminally undersold.
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (CHA/traded): Meh.
  • Miles Bridges (LAC/traded): He has his fans, me among them, but Knox cleaned his clock at the workout by all accounts. Certainly, if NY loved Miles he was available via trade.
  • Jerome Robinson (LAC): So, the Clippers ended up with two almost identically sized PGs?
  • Michael Porter, Jr. (DEN): I’m a Mizzou alum, and even I thought Michael Porter, Jr.’s risk profile wasn’t right for NY. It’s a legit great pick for Denver. Since they’re not going to defend at all they actually need another scorer. 
  • Troy Brown (WAS): I like Brown for them. They need bench talent so, so badly.

In the second round, NY selected Mitchell Robinson, something of a mystery man C who did not play college ball after committing to Western Kentucky. Again, given the way the board fell I have no problem with a gamble on his athletic traits. He’s 7’1″ in shoes with a 9’3″ standing reach and bouncy. It’s worth noting that his size and athleticism translated into production in the EYBL, where he rebounded and blocked his ass off. According to Pelton, he was dominant among his peers in those most translatable of box score categories. Among all EYBL players from 2012-16, Mitchell was 1st in block rate, 3rd in OREB%, and 1st in 2-pt. % (min. 150 FGAs). Yes please, and thank you. 

Evidently, NY has also signed former Arizona guard Allonzo Trier to a two-way contract. Though I’d have preferred Rawle Alkins, this is easily a worthwhile gamble.

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Why Being a Knicks Fan is the Worst (But This Time Might Be Different)

As you are no doubt aware, dear reader, Knicks phenom Kristaps Porzingis (aka the Unicorn) tore his ACL in a meaningless game on February 4th against the Milwaukee Bucks. The injury ends his 2017-18 season and almost certainly keeps him out of game action until after the calendar turns to 2019. This was, in its own way, a perfect microcosm of life as a Knicks fan. To that point in the contest, KP had more than held his own against Milwaukee’s uber-talented phenom, Giannis Antetokuonmpo. Porzingis blocked at least one of his dunk attempts and generally frustrated him. Of course, with Porzingis off the court the “Greek freak” went bananas

On the 2nd quarter play where Porzingis was injured he faked a high ball screen then quickly slipped it and cut to the rim, coming wide open to receive a perfect bounce pass for a dunk. Antetokuonmpo pursued but had little chance to contest the shot. Unfortunately, as Porzingis landed he appeared to catch just a wee bit of Antetokuonmpo’s foot with his own. He came down awkwardly and crumpled into a heap, clutching at his knee. With so little contact (it’s not even clear on video) a torn ACL seemed far less likely than an ankle sprain. Yet here we are.

Of course, Knicks fans are hardly alone in terms of suffering through life with an injured star. So when I say that the Porzingis injury is a microcosm of life as a Knicks fan, I’m not suggesting the Knicks have it worse than others. Rather, I’m referring to that foreboding sense that every Knicks fan feels; that the outcome will eventually be terrible no matter the cause. Now, it’s incompetent boobery often enough to warrant endless mocking from seemingly every ignorant jackass in the sports media universe. So at least dumb luck represents a kind of rhythm change. We usually have to wait all the way until the June draft lottery to get screwed by dumb luck. But here it is in early February, like Punxatawney Phil’s dismal shadow.

But y’know? This time feels a little different. To be clear, losing Porzingis is fetal-position-thumb-suck bad. I just feel more confident than in the past that this front office won’t make things worse with idiotic quick fixes. Y’know why? The Knicks are–gasp–not incompetently run. As much as it feels like tempting cruel fate to type those words, they are true as far as I can tell.  Although the possibility of a James Dolan “big time” move this summer hangs like the Sword of Damocles, he has (to date and to his credit) stayed disengaged from day-to-day management since firing Phil Jackson. The Mills/Perry duo (to date and to its credit) has stayed away from the kind of short-sighted, just-do-a-bigger-deal disasters that any Knicks fan can recite without thinking. Reasonable people can criticize their player evaluation (they clearly didn’t value Hernangomez), but turning McDermott (who they weren’t going to pay) into a cost-controlled look at a guard with size, athleticism, and some upside is not a bad look at all.