“I’m only 19,” he said just minutes after dropping 31 points, seven rebounds and two steals with a +11 in 44 minutes. “I want to keep getting better and keep learning every single year.”
Standing in his bare feet, he was measured last spring at 6 feet and 7 3/4 inches. His wingspan was a quarter-inch shy of 7 feet. It’s almost a given that he will be taller and, possibly, longer, in another year or two. He’s also listed at 215 pounds with a frame that suggests it can, and will, carry more after an offseason or two of pro-level training. He’s got a soft, high-arcing jumper that lands on the rim like a butterfly with sore feet and runs the floor with strides that cover yards of hardwood like Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. We saw what both of those players looked like as rookies and what happened once they had a physical metamorphosis with age and training.
And if you ask David Fizdale, the kid is just out there ballin’ with not much more than a green light to fail and encouragement to learn and fail some more. Knox got the fan base giddy with some dynamic flashes in summer league, but then found himself getting pinballed around a bit once he hit the court with veterans early in the season. Then December came and what you learned was Knox certainly lacks some things — man strength, defensive awareness, and a consistent motor — but what he doesn’t lack is confidence. He’s the epitome of the guy who misses nine shots and yet believes the 10th one is going in.
But even after a string of 20-point games and winning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, Knox was still climbing the ladder. He’d get off to great starts only to disappear later in games. It was that strength issue again. But there he was behind the scenes, each day, building himself up.
“We’ve obviously stressed conditioning to him a lot and we’ve been trying to build his tank up to be this kind of guy, who can play big minutes and really perform throughout the game,” Fizdale said.
It’s one thing to be a catch-and-shoot scorer, but Knox is a guy who doesn’t just rely on the outside shot. He’s a willing driver, into traffic, and he’s learning to use those long strides and that reach to get to the rim.
Fizdale noted the work may be starting to pay off as this game, he said, “was the first time he didn’t fade when he started off with a double-figure first half. He actually scored more in the second half (18 points) than he did in the first half and that’s a big step for him as a scorer and a guy who is understanding how to carry that load.”
When you consider all of this, it makes you marvel at the season 19-year-old Luka Doncic is having for the Dallas Mavericks. And while Knox recorded his first 30-point game of the season — and first 30-point game by a teenager in Knicks history — he’s the third teenager to do it this season. Doncic has four 30-point games. Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Grizzlies also has one.
He is also the 5th youngest player in NBA history to post a 30-point game, along with Jackson, Durant, Devin Booker and LeBron James. That’s pretty good company and, regardless of age, if you score 30 points in an NBA game, you’ve got some game in you.
It’s also how you score the 30. It wasn’t like Knox was stat-padding in garbage time. He recorded nine points in a fourth quarter that saw the Knicks push the 76ers to the final possession. His three-pointer with 3:02 left pulled the Knicks to within 96-94. He took 23 field goals and made 12 and was 4-for-9 from downtown.
No, we have no idea how good Kevin Knox can be. But he knows how good he wants to be. Just read what he said last week about what he took away from playing against the likes of Durant.
He doesn’t seem at all daunted by the task. All he knows is that he’s on his way with no idea yet where he’ll end up.
– Can we officially add Luke Kornet to the conversation about who are “keepers” on this roster? Here’s another player who quietly worked behind the scenes and hardly played early in the season. In fact, he accepted a few G-League assignments just to get game minutes. There was some thinking that he would be the odd-man out when it came time to make a roster spot for Allonzo Trier. But over the last few weeks, Kornet has emerged as an intriguing player to watch in the second half of this season. He just posted his second 20-point game in the last 8 games with 23 points against the 76ers along with five rebounds, five assists and a steal with a +25 in 33:38. The second-year pro, who went undrafted out of Vanderbilt in 2017, also didn’t back down from engaging in a physical battle with MVP candidate Joel Embiid (26 points, eight rebounds) in the second half. Kornet is wearing a protective mask because of Embiid, whose shoulder broke Kornet’s nose a few weeks ago. In this game, Embiid caught Kornet in the jaw with an elbow and also banged his head into Kornet’s face. And when the officials let Kornet get away with some contact, a frustrated Embiid issued a hard foul on Kornet and was assessed a Flagrant One. “He’s got to thank the referees,” Embiid told MSG’s Rebecca Haarlow after the game. “They did a pretty good job allowing all that contact.” Kornet just grinned and said, “Honestly, on some of those [plays] he had reason to be [upset]. You just kind of keep playing through it. A lot of stuff happens that you can’t really control.” Kornet can control his destiny right now if he can keep up the three-point marksmanship (42.6% in 21 games), smart passing and effective defensive presence.
– Now if only the Knicks could get rookie center Mitchell Robinson back on the court. He missed his 12th straight game due to injury. There is some thought that he could be ready this week or by Monday’s MLK Day game.
– On a positive injury note, Frank Ntilikina returned after missing three games with an ankle injury. The 20-year-old had eight points and a team-high six assists, two steals and a blocked shot and was +10 in 27:33 off the bench.
– Tim Hardaway Jr. (hamstring) was officially a DNP-CD, but before the game, he was listed as a game-time decision due to his hamstring issue. Hardaway Jr. dressed and sat on the bench but he did not play. Enes Kanter (illness) was inactive for a second straight game.
– Emmanuel Mudiay (19 points, four assists) had a great look at a game-tying shot in the final seconds off a purposely missed free throw. The Knicks were down five when Daymean Dotson was fouled by Embiid on a three-point shot with 4.7 seconds left. Dotson made the first two and missed perfectly to the right on the third attempt as Mudiay raced to that side of the rim to grab the rebound. “We worked on it at practice a few times,” Mudiay said. “You couldn’t ask for a better miss.” Mudiay curled out to the three-point line and with a half-second left his desperation attempt over Embiid was on-target but hit the front rim.
– The Knicks bench outscored the 76ers bench, 40-17. Many analysts believe the Sixers can’t be a true contender without improving their bench. Might they give Carmelo Anthony a call before March? Would they be interested in trading for a Three-And-D veteran like Courtney Lee to help replace some of what they lost when they dealt Robert Covington in the Jimmy Butler trade?
– The Knicks accomplished a rarity in this game as they held the 76ers to 108 points, which is the lowest point total allowed in 22 games and only the second time in that span they kept an opponent under 110. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider in today’s NBA (even a top-10 scoring defense team is allowing an average of 108 points per game and the league average is 110.3) that’s somewhat of an accomplishment for the Knicks. It’s even more so because the Knicks this season are allowing 116 points per game, which is the third-highest in the league.
– Do you know who has the second-highest points per game allowed? The Washington Wizards. That’s the Knicks’ next opponent, which is Thursday in London. The Brits may not be getting a pair of elite teams for this game, but the numbers suggest they’re going to see a lot of offense.
[Coverage Of Knicks-Wizards In London Begins Thursday At 2:30 PM On MSG & MSG GO.]