What is the potential for Kevin Knox?
It’s almost impossible to answer based on his rookie season as a teenager and second-youngest player in the league. He’s starting, logging almost 30 minutes a game and is allowed to make mistake after mistake with no consequence besides losing and self-doubt.
So there he was in Indiana, finally feeling good again about his game after he had been in the struggle for several games. He had a 10-point first quarter and the three-point shot was on target. He tried to raise his effort on defense and that’s where the fouls started to mount along with the return of frustration.
Three quick fouls in the third quarter, the last of which resulted in him turning to the bench with a look of sincere confusion. Bojan Bogdanovic, who has been on a tear lately for the Pacers, caught the rookie cheating on a baseline inbounds (clearly anticipating a play on the scouting report) and toasted him with a clever jab step and back door cut for an easy layup plus the foul. DeAndre Jordan glared at Knox and ripped into him.
David Fizdale quickly corralled the sulking Knox by the sideline, put his arm around him and explained what happened. It probably went something like this, “You got ‘Rooked.'”
More growing pains for Knox, who finished with 16 points on 5 of 9 shooting in 24:49, but he was a team-high -15 and wound up with five fouls. You could see Knox was trying to be more focused on defense, but his reaction time, anticipation and just overall strength are just not at a level where he can defend successfully in this league.
“That’s just part of his growth,” Fizdale said, “getting touch fouls and fouls away from the ball.”
Also part of the growth is knowing that you play for more than yourself. Jordan barking at Knox after that foul — the Knicks were within 5 at the time and the cheap three-point play suddenly made it 8 in a quarter the Knicks ended down 12 — was something Fizdale wanted to see.
“I love the accountability within the group,” he said. “It ain’t a blame thing. It’s ‘Hey, you gotta do your job and this is how you do it.'”
Knox wasn’t the only rookie who dealt with the accountability factor in this game. Allonzo Trier, who has been red hot since the all-star break, struggled with his shooting. He missed his first six shots and finished 3 for 12 from the field (1 for 5 from three) for 7 points and had 4 turnovers. He, too, had his head down at one point and was taken out of the game.
Trier, who has become so adept at drawing fouls, did not attempt a single free throw in the game. It was the first time in over a month of games that Trier has failed to take a free throw. Fizdale’s message to him was simple.
“How else can you help us?” he said. “That’s what I stress to all of them. It shouldn’t just be you putting the ball in the hole. Can you come up with a big stop [defensively], a big rebound, loose ball, get another guy an open shot?”
The teaching never stops. There are 14 games left before an offseason of decisions on the roster that will likely lead to the end of these days of making mistakes without consequences. The young players have to learn now so they can apply it next season.
– The turnover issue has become an epidemic. After committing 20 turnovers against the Pacers — which turned into 17 points — the Knicks are now averaging 16.8 turnovers per game over the last five games. In the previous 63 games, the Knicks averaged just 13 turnovers per game, which was among the top third in the NBA. DeAndre Jordan had five turnovers against the Pacers and Dennis Smith Jr. had four, to give him a total of nine over the last two games. Smith had committed just 1.6 turnovers per game over the previous seven games. But turnovers had been an issue for him in Dallas, where he averaged 3.1 turnovers per game in 32 games this season. Fizdale mentioned a penchant for going for “home run plays” as one cause for the sudden uptick in turnovers, but also added two other reasons: carelessness and fatigue. Smith Jr. seems to be falling in that latter category. He played just 25:21 in the game and took only 8 shots.
– Mitchell Robinson was looking forward to his matchup with Indiana’s Myles Turner, who is the NBA’s top shot-blocker this season (2.9 blocks per game). Robinson’s goal, according to MSG’s Rebecca Haarlow, was to out-block Turner. He did, with three blocks to Turner’s two. But Turner was able to play a lot more of the game because he had only two fouls, while Robinson, limited to 12:53 of playing time, had five.
– In our pregame show, we pointed out how Robinson had adjusted to the officiating and was learning how to be an impact defender without fouling. Since Jan. 17, Robinson has 20 steals and 75 blocks to 79 fouls. Using the steals+blocks-fouls metric, that’s a +16 differential. [Before the game, his differential was +18, which was fourth-highest in the NBA over that span.] From the start of the season to Dec. 14, Robinson’s differential was -19 due to his struggles with foul trouble. So there’s evidence of his growth.
[Watch the Knicks Battle the Spurs Friday at 8:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO.]