New York Knicks: One unexpected breakout player for the 2021 season

New York Knicks, Kevin Knox
Oct 25, 2019; Brooklyn, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Kevin Knox II (20) controls the ball against Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Caris LeVert (22) during the second quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

While New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau plans to start the best players on the roster rather than develop some of the youngsters, the preseason hasn’t made his job any easier.

After going 3-1 over four preseason games, the Knicks are preparing to start the regular season against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday. The starting five has yet to be set, but both rookies, Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley have looked phenomenal so far.

Thibodeau plans to play aggressive basketball, focusing on defense and overwhelming opposing teams. The Knicks have done a good job of that, keeping the Cleveland Cavaliers to just 83 points in the final preseason contest. However, one player has quietly looked phenomenal during the small sample size of games.

Third-year player Kevin Knox could be preparing to hit his stride in the NBA. The 21-year-old forward averaged just 17.9 minutes per game last year, down from 28.8 in his rookie season in 2018.

When Knox is given clear driving lanes and good shooting opportunities, he has been successful in the past, but streakiness makes him a rotational player rather than a starter.

“Looking at his career, when he’s taken good shots, he’s always made them. Or at least had a good chance to make them,” Thibodeau said. “And when he’s eliminated the tough shots, it makes him a much better player.”

As stated before, Thibodeau plans to field an aggressively defensive team. Their goal is to shut down opponents and tire them out with relentless energy. That is a benefit of having younger players on the roster.

“He plays with a lot more energy defensively. But I want him to get himself going – with his defense first, running the floor, rebounding and then spacing the floor. And then I thought our guys did a great job of penetrating and finding him. I thought the rim reads were great. Kevin has worked extremely hard to get himself ready for the season.”

The New York Knicks have enjoyed Knox’s recent performances:

Knox only averaged 6.4 points last year, but in the final preseason game against Cleveland, he put up 20 points, hitting on 7-of-10 shots from the field. He also connected on 6-of-7 shots from three-point land, turning the ball over just once. Overall, he looked like a different player, flush with confidence and optimism of the year ahead.

“It’s always good to see the ball go through the net,” Knox said of his preseason effort. “But with preseason over now, starting Wednesday we get the real games going, so I want to continue to get the work in, watch a lot of films, get a lot of shots up. But it was great to see the ball go through the net these last two games, and hopefully I can continue with that confidence and play with it consistently like I’ve been playing.”

There’s no question that Knox has the mentality to be a great player, he just hasn’t been able to translate his desires onto the court. I believe coming off the bench to start the season will take some of the pressure away, giving him a bit more confidence to work with.