Well, that was quick.
In the end, all it took was a loose ball, four dribbles and four seconds for Kevin Knox to become one of the most talked about rookies in Las Vegas.
On the second day of competition at the NBA’s 2018 Las Vegas Summer League, Knox led the Knicks to a 91-89 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. The rookie turned in a 22-point, eight-rebound effort that sent a pretty clear message to everyone: Knox didn’t come to mess around.
Although one decent summer league showing doesn’t mean Knox is headed for the Hall of Fame, the road to superstardom in the NBA is littered with footprints that track back to impactful summer league performances.
In other words, dominance during July doesn’t necessarily translate to productivity in November, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
So if you’re searching for a major takeaway from Knox and his NBA debut on Saturday, let it be this: he’s at least shown you why Scott Perry decided to select him with the ninth overall pick in June’s draft.
He competed at both ends of the floor and showed the traits that the more dominant players in this era of “position-less” basketball possess—he’s rangy, athletic and can handle the rock. He excelled playing both in the middle of the floor and on the wing and as both a pick-and-roll ball handler and finisher.
It was impossible to not notice.
Riddle me this: what’s more dangerous than a talented kid with these tools?
Answer: a talented kid with these tools and something to prove.
Knox, you see, rarely answers a question about himself without offering one of his fondest memories—being booed by the Knicks fans in attendance at Barclays Center on draft night.
“I just wanna come out and just play as hard as I can,” Knox said.
“[The fans] were booing me and stuff like that, but I just want to come out and play hard and show them what type of player they were getting.”
The true test for the 18-year-old forward is the extent to which he can find consistency. Unlike his collegiate days, Knox is being counted on to provide some hope for a generation of fans that haven’t experienced meaningful playoff basketball. When asked, he’d tell you that his opportunities at the collegiate level were necessarily limited to help maximize his team.
Now, Knox needs the Knicks to maximize them.
Even as a rookie, with Kristaps Porzingis expected to miss the majority of the 2018-19 season, he’ll have every opportunity to. If his performance on day one is anything near an omen of how he’ll translate, the Knicks might be looking back at draft night as the day Scott Perry firmly changed course and charted the Knicks back toward the North Star.
“He’s super mature,” head coach David Fizdale said of his rookie.
“He’s very comfortable with himself, very comfortable with his game. He knows his game. He really understands at a young age how to get to spots and find his shot. We put him in a lot of different situations. He was rolling on pick-and-rolls, he was handling in pick-and-rolls. We’re gonna mix it up with him try to utilize every bit of his skillset.”
That skillset will have every opportunity to find itself at the NBA level. More than ever, teams will employ forward-heavy rotations that rely on the versatility that players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetkounmpo and even Jayson Tatum bring. Call it a stretch, but in today’s NBA, coaches value individual traits more than traditional rotations. Eventually, we’ll see a lineup featuring five players between 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-10. A ball handler, a rim protector and slashers who can finish at the rim and space the floor—those are the five requirements for such a unit.
Most teams in the NBA aren’t blessed to have five such players in the same unit, though the Milwaukee Bucks seem close.
At this point, Knox doesn’t belong in a conversation with those players, but the potential is what tickled the fancy of the front office in New York. On Saturday, it tickled everyone else in Las Vegas, too.
“It’s totally different from college,” Knox said of his first NBA game. “A lot of up and down. Fast paced, a lot of threes, it was good to get out here and play my first NBA game…
“There were a lot of nerves before the game, but a lot of veteran guys just told me just to keep playing. I got my first dunk and the jitters went away.”
Where his personal jitters ceased is where the infatuation began. It continued over the course of the contest, where Knox was put in many different situations and found ways to impact the game.
“[Coach Fizdale] wants me to handle the ball a lot during the season, be able to get rebounds, push it, at the top of the key, be able to come in pick and roll. I’ve been working on that a lot this summer, so I just wanna show people that I can really handle the ball and be able to make plays.”
As the Knicks look toward the summer of 2019 as the time when they can go spearfishing, the franchise knows that merely being able to offer the bright lights and Broadway won’t be enough to lure the best of the NBA’s talent. The type of truly transcendent players that would be needed to help the Knicks become a contender are good enough to get the attention, accolades and greenbacks that New York could offer elsewhere.
The league just got a sobering reminder of such with Paul George opting to keep his talents in Oklahoma City without even as much as hearing an official recruiting pitch from the Los Angeles Lakers.
So if the Knicks have their sights set on Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson or any of the other members of the star-studded free agency class of 2019, they’ll need Knox to prove to be a tad bit more than someone who can fill a mid-July Las Vegas auditorium. They’ll need him to join Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina as young studs upon which the franchise can hitch its wagon.
With Fizdale having learned a thing or two about the personal relationships and connections that help serve as a catalyst to building a unified locker room culture, his message to his youngsters has been consistent with an interest in building connections.
That’s why it’s no coincidence that both Ntilikina and Knox have been investing in one another.
“We have really good chemistry,” Knox said of he and Ntilikina. “We work out a lot after practice. We’re just always communicating with each other. He’s a great guy, he’s young too, just like me, so I’m kinda learning from him.”
And at this point, it’s already kinda safe to say that we’re learning from Kevin Knox, as well.
To this point, he’s been exemplary. He’s gone from being a somewhat overlooked contributor to one whose potential—even in just 30 minutes in a summer league game—is quite evident.
During the relatively short duration, he’s soaked up instruction like a Bounty paper towel and has kept his head to the ground as he attempts to prove himself worthy of the adoration of those that believe in him.
But when he gets on the court, make no mistake about it, Kevin Knox has a lot to prove.
And in just four seconds on an early-July afternoon, in an instant, we saw just a flash. But at this point, it’s enough.
The NBA knows that now, and today, certainly knows who the newest Knick hopeful is.
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