New York Knicks: Kevin Knox enters make-or-break season

Kevin Knox must have heaved a sigh of relief after Gordon Hayward decided to go to the Charlotte Hornets rather than to the New York Knicks.

Knox dodged a bullet there.

With no Hayward, Knox has a clearer path to earning a significant role under new head coach Tom Thibodeau with only veterans Reggie Bullock, Alec Burks, and 2019 second-round pick Ignas Brazdeikis crowding him for minutes in the small forward position.

But Knox has to earn and work for it, according to Tom Thibodeau, whose win-now mentality doesn’t bode well for a young and inconsistent player like the version of Knox we have seen in his first two seasons in the league.

Knox hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations after he was picked ahead of the likes of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Michael Porter, Jr. — two players who have exceeded their draft positions — in the 2018 NBA Draft.

After he was showcased in his rookie year, averaging 12.8 points in 28.8 minutes per game, Knox’s minutes and consequently his performance dropped to 6.9 points in just 17.9 minutes as David Fizdale coached for his job last season.

Knox’s confidence hit rock-bottom.

Knocking on Thib’s door

Despite Knox’s lackluster sophomore year, the Knicks’ new front office hasn’t given up on the former lottery pick and wanted to give him his fair shake.

They brought Kenny Payne, Knox’s biggest supporter in his corner during his lone season at Kentucky.

“Kevin Knox, let’s see how good he can be and that’s why you want a Kenny Payne with you,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said recently.

Before Payne came to the Knicks as one of their new assistant coaches, Knox has also worked out with renowned shooting coach Chris Matthews, known as Lethal Shooter on social media.

Add Camden High School coach Rick Brunson to the list of player development coaches who have worked out Knox.

Brunson, Thibodeau’s assistant during his brief stop at Minnesota and Leon Rose’s first client as an NBA agent, has worked out Knox in South Jersey along with Knicks’ rookies Obi Toppin and Myles Powell ahead of this year’s draft.

All signs point to Knox making a leap next season. Whether that will be big enough to keep him in New York or be sent somewhere else is up to him.

The Knicks still view him as a valuable piece of their young core.

For instance, take their reluctance to send Knox to Oklahoma City Thunder in a package that could have netted them All-Star point guard Chris Paul as another sign.

But this doesn’t mean Knox is completely off the hook.

Next season, his team option will be crucial to the Knicks’ plan of opening up a $70 million cap space, which is good for two max slots. 

If Knox finally breaks out, then the Knicks won’t have a hard time picking up his team option.

But if not, it’s time to pack up.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo