Kevin Knox

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Schmeelk: Scott Perry's Front Office Off To A Promising Start

Knox, Robinson Offer Hope For Knicks' Future

John Schmeelk
July 17, 2018 - 9:51 am
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With summer league in the books, and with it the first look at the Knicks rookie class, everyone needs to give the Knicks brain trust (President Steve Mills, General Manager Scott Perry, and Head Coach David Fizdale) a big, albeit premature, tip of the cap. Obviously, summer league is little more than a low-level exhibition tournament where all results should be taken with a grain of salt, but it appears the Knicks scouting department did an excellent job evaluating the players they selected.

Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robison were not the easiest players to scout. There were a lot of other players available when Knox and Robinson were picked that were much simpler evaluations. It was easy to see that Mikal Bridges was very good at shooting and defense. Miles Bridges' athleticism was obvious and he was asked to be the primary perimeter shot creator on his team. Both of those guys were very known quantities with defined skills that would be useful in the NBA.

Knox was different. He was the tenth ranked high school recruit by ESPN in 2017, but his freshman year at Kentucky wasn’t that impressive. In Jon Calipari’s very defined system, he was inserted into the same role Devin Booker and Malik Monk played despite the fact he was built more like a big forward than a guard. Calipari asked him to navigate a bunch of screens off the ball and catch and shoot.

Much like Booker before him, Knox was rarely given the opportunity to handle the ball in pick and rolls at Kentucky. According to Synergy Sports, he only did it 37 times all season long. Isolation plays from above the free throw line were similarly scarce. NBA teams simply didn’t get to see him handle the ball and make plays for himself or others very often. Those are two vital skills for NBA players that want to be number one options. During the draft process, Knox spoke often about how anxious he was to show NBA teams what he could do that he wasn’t allowed to show at Kentucky.

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He flashed those skills at times (he was in the 85th percentile on those 37 pick and roll possessions according to Synergy), but there was nothing consistent that could make a team extremely confident he could do those things at a high level in the NBA. All a team could really know with great confidence about Knox from his college tape is that he could shoot well on spot-ups, off screens, and off the dribble. There were legitimate questions about what else he could do offensively. Even when he did try to get to the hoop, he had to settle for contested floaters when he wasn’t quick enough to get around his defender. His prowess and effort on defense and on the boards were also legitimate questions.

It would have been easy for any team to decide to go with either Bridges because what they showed in college appeared more certain to translate into a successful NBA career than Knox. It was the same reason I advocated for both players before Knox. They were safer picks based on what they put on tape. Betting that Knox could do things he rarely showed in collegiate games was a real risk. The Knicks, however, relied on more than just what those players did in college.

Team President Steve Mills, General Manager Scott Perry, and especially Head Coach David Fizdale all spoke extensively about Knox’s workout against Miles Bridges. They all mentioned Knox’s ability to handle, get to the rim, and his toughness on defense during that competitive workout. They saw past his time at Kentucky and saw the player he could be rather than focusing on the player he was. Knicks brass also mentioned extensively how much Jon Calipari was promoting his player’s skill set.

It can be extremely dangerous to put too much onus on a workout, something the Knicks decisions makers all said at their post-draft press conference. It is also a college coach’s job to promote his players, so there was always the possibility Calipari’s words were hollow. Kentucky players in the past had been stifled by Calipari’s system, but there was no guarantee Knox was one of them. But the Knicks managed to evaluate those unknowns properly, and took into consideration Knox’s intangibles and background to determine he was more than what he did as a Wildcat.

Early results at summer league are making their decision look brilliant. Both Bridges also looked like they will become good NBA players, but neither showed the dynamic offensive game combined with elite size that Knox did in Las Vegas. The Knicks took a measured and educated risk in selecting a player in Knox with more uncertainty, and it looks like the right move right now.

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Mitchell Robinson’s evaluation was even tougher. Robinson didn’t play college basketball after dropping out of Western Kentucky, nor did he play any competitive five-on-five basketball for a year after graduating high school. He also didn’t attend the NBA draft combine. There simply was not a lot of new information out there.

Robinson was, however, at least according to ESPN, the 11th best prospect in the 2017 recruiting class. He was 7'1 with a 7’4 wingspan. His athleticism was obvious to anyone that saw him in workouts. The decision, however, in taking a player with that background is inherently risky. It is hard to know how a player could change in a year of not playing in a competitive league of any kind. It’s also hard to judge the mental makeup of someone that dropped out of college.

With his pick, the 36th overall in the draft, the Knicks made a wise decision simply by assessing their risk properly. The chance of a player selected 36th in the draft that has a long and productive NBA career is extremely small. So why not draft the best athlete available that played at an elite level the last time he was on the court like Robinson did? In the end, it was a no-brainer.

The summer league, once again, vindicated the Knicks choice. Robinson looked like he belonged on the same floor as guys like DeAndre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Mohamed Bamba. He might not be as good as those players in the near future, but he has a chance despite being picked 36th overall. That alone should show Knicks fans what a wise move it was.

This draft should give Knicks fans confidence that this group of evaluators seem to have a good feel for talent evaluation. It was Scott Perry’s new team’s first chance to run a draft. Two picks with a level of risk to them are already yielding (VERY EARLY) positive results. There is now a very young but talented core in Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson.  It should be fun for Knicks fans to watch them grow together.

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