New York Knicks: Kevin Knox has challenges ahead to keep rotation spot

(Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
(Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /

Kevin Knox’s spot in the New York Knicks’ rotation has waned since Marcus Morris’ arrival. What’s next for the second-year forward?

12 months ago, the New York Knicks were in full-on developmental mode. Young players took priority and received the bulk of the playing time, while veterans like Enes Kanter and Courtney Lee took a backseat before their respective departures.

One of those youthful pieces, Kevin Knox, was the 2018 first-round pick, so coach David Fizdale let this rookie play through woes at both ends of the court. Fellow first-year players, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier, outshined Knox overall, but at 19 years old, there was little cause for concern.

2019-20, so far, has been a different story.

From the day Marcus Morris signed a one-year, $15 million contract, Knox’s role was reduced. The price and positional upgrade, at least based on experience, trumped the Kentucky product’s raw offensive game and defensive question marks. The expected starting lineup change happened in the first preseason game, and coach David Fizdale, who was under fire, had to configure his most competitive lineup.

Even with the bench role, Knox found consistent minutes in the season’s first 11 games. He made outside shots and provided the Knicks with a stretch forward. When the 20-year-old fails to score though, his value evaporates.

Knox has averaged just 4.3 points over the past four games while watching his minutes decrease to 14, 14, 19 and 10, respectively, in that stretch. He did not play at all in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Defensive woes factor into the mix. Knox’s defensive rating is 108.4; not a great number, but hardly the team’s worst, depending on how much stock you put into it. Lapses at this end of the floor have been apparent, however, and Fizdale called for improvement from his second-year forward at Friday’s practice:

Fizdale has clamped down on 20-year-old second-year players before. Most famously, Frank Ntilikina rode the bench for two stints in 2018-19 due to poor offensive play — the opposite of Knox’s primary deficiency. The Frenchman has broken through this season, but only after Elfrid Payton and Dennis Smith Jr. were absent.

So Fizdale’s challenge for Knox has been laid down. Fulfilling it won’t happen overnight, but it should put the No. 8 overall pick of last year’s draft on alert, especially as the Knicks have played competitive basketball, for the most part, since that uncomfortable presser with Steve Mills and Scott Perry.

Sure, the argument for “just play the kids” is also there. The Knicks are 4-11 and near the bottom of the NBA, but for immediate results, it may mean Knox sits back and learns while Morris and other veterans take control.

Knox hasn’t even felt the brunt of this, either, as Allonzo Trier has struggled to find the court after starting on opening night. There is currently no end in sight for the undrafted free agent.

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Knox’s situation can change with the New York Knicks within a game, as seen with Fizdale’s rotation configurations. For now, Knox has hit a sophomore wall, so can he climb it?