Knicks’ top draft pick vows to fix one weakness
LAS VEGAS — When rookie 6-foot-9 combo forward Kevin Knox debuts for the Knicks on Saturday in the Las Vegas Summer League, their lottery pick gets the first chance to dispel his reputation as a low-energy defender who occasionally lacked a revved-up motor while playing one season at Kentucky.
Knox, 18, has taken all the criticisms to heart. He entered the draft process as a project expected to go in the 15-range until a glorious three-on-three workout propelled his stock and convinced Knicks coach David Fizdale he was the one to take over Mikal Bridges and Miles Bridges with the ninth-overall pick.
“I’m ready to come out and show people I’m able to play defense,’’ Knox said after their first summer-league practice Tuesday at Thomas & Mack Center. “It’s a new season, a new year, so I’m really looking forward to coming out there and be physical on defense, get stops. Like Coach Fiz says: Our offense is going to come from our defense. If we get stops and run in transition, that’s kind of how we’re going to play.”
Playing at Kentucky is similar to the basketball cauldron found in New York. The Wildcats’ rabid fan base got on him plenty, questioning fluctuating effort levels during games. Despite averaging 15.6 points, he shot a modest 44 percent and his player-efficiency ratings were subpar.
“Yeah, I heard that all the time,’’ Knox said of his motor. “I just kept playing. People are going to talk all the time, criticize you. I listened to my parents, listened to my coaches. They said the same thing. I kind of got better at [it]. I worked on my conditioning a lot this summer as far as getting in extra sprints, so I keep my motor up the whole game. You’re going to get tired at some point during the game. It’s good we got a lot of guys that if I have to sub myself out so I can be on the court 100 percent playing with full energy.”
So it was a fair criticism?
“Yeah, [there] were games I agree with that,’’ Knox said.
Fizdale said he sees nothing but athleticism, potential, a dedicated student and his starting small forward this season. Kentucky’s coaches have talked of Knox being either the next Jayson Tatum or the next Kevin Durant. Since the June 21 draft, Knox has worked out daily with Fizdale, along with the other Knicks prospects.
“He’s a focused kid,’’ Fizdale said. “He listens well. He absorbs information well. He applies it well — which is all the things you want from a young talent. He takes what you tell him and applies it to the game. So far he’s shown the ability to absorb information and execute it.”
Knox knows earning the starting slot — even on the young Knicks — is no guarantee.
“I have confidence in myself,’’ he said. “I know it’s not going to be easy. I’m going to have to work it, compete for that starting spot, compete for that job. I’m willing to come in and work, willing to compete and go at people in practice so I can have that ability to start in the starting lineup. Like Coach Fiz told me, it’s not going to be easy. There are a lot of veteran guys on the team that are going to want the same spot. I have to work for it.
Racking up 20 points a game during the summer-league tournament — five games, plus playoffs — is not the goal.
“I just want to win,’’ Knox said. “That’s all I care about. I want to make it to the championship. That makes everyone on the team look better. I’m not worried about personal stats. It’s summer league. I’m just trying to win and get a feel for the game and a feel for my teammates.”
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