Not every Kentucky product has taken off for the Knicks.
While rookie guard Immanuel Quickley and Julius Randle are soaring, forward Kevin Knox, a fellow Wildcat alum, hit rock bottom Sunday in the Knicks’ 129-115 loss to the Clippers when he received his first DNP of the season.
The writing was on the wall, as Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau reduced Knox’s role when swingman Alec Burks and rookie power forward Obi Toppin returned from long-term injuries. Knox had played just eight minutes in each of the last two games, going scoreless while attempting just one field goal.
Their 2018 lottery pick had started the season with a bang, showing 3-point shooting range and earning kudos from Thibodeau.
“Clearly they aren’t prioritizing his development — same as last year,” said one NBA scout.
Less than two weeks ago, Knox led the NBA in corner 3-point shooting percentage, but he has stopped shooting. Knox is averaging just 6.1 points, shooting 39.1 percent — and 39.1 percent from 3-point range. Knox’s effective field-goal percentage, which gives extra weight to 3-point makes, is a healthy 50.5 percent — higher than both Quickley and RJ Barrett.
Nevertheless, Thibodeau sees a larger picture, and has fallen in love with the grit of wing Reggie Bullock and even the tenacity of Toppin, who is not shooting well (40.8 percent, 26.1 percent from 3). When Toppin was out, Knox played a lot of minutes at power forward.
It should be noted Knicks president Leon Rose is more invested in Toppin than Knox, who was selected ninth overall by Knicks GM Scott Perry and former president Steve Mills.
One individual familiar with the coaching staff’s thinking said Thibodeau still senses Bullock, Toppin and Burks provide “more energy” than Knox has recently, though no data exists to back that up. One of Knox’s issues coming out of Kentucky was a low motor, but he had competed harder this season.
Thibodeau recently commended Knox’s shot selection — feeling last season he launched a lot of ill-advised attempts. For his part, Knox said recently he needed to attack the rim more and not rely solely on 3s.
The NBA scout said the Knicks’ slow pace that Thibodeau prefers doesn’t fit Knox as well as a more rapid attack. Indeed, the 6-8 Knox excels running the floor.
Knox’s shooting had fallen off before Sunday’s DNP. He was just 4 of 17 in the prior seven games.
On Sunday, Thibodeau was likely worried about Knox’s matchups against the Clippers’ elite forwards, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, as well as the rugged Marcus Morris. However, without Knox, the Knicks let up a season-worst 129 points.
Barrett, whom the Knicks are trying to make more of a small forward, battled but didn’t contain Leonard (28 points).
The future for Knox, still only 21, seems murky. If the DNPs continue, it wouldn’t be a shocker if the Knicks sent him to the G League bubble in Orlando for reps — like they’ve done with Dennis Smith Jr.
Knox still has trade value, and The Post reported Oklahoma City had interest in him when the Knicks were looking at a Chris Paul trade.
On Andrew Yang’s podcast last week, NBA draft expert Kevin O’Connor sensed Knox may come into his own with another squad if the Knicks are growing impatient with his slow development.
“(He was) a raw prospect coming out of the draft, was going to be a project,” O’Connor said. “And he’s still raw. Still a guy who doesn’t look ready to play. What a shame it is in year three. Look at the Knicks offense and how much of a difference a quality wing scorer would make on this team. Having somebody like a developed Kevin Knox would make this team totally different when it comes to projecting them forward. Ultimately his shot hasn’t come together like it needs to — neither has his ball handling nor decision-making.”
The Knicks exercised Knox’s fourth-year option, which will pay him $5.8 million next season.
“He looks like one of those guys that it wouldn’t shock me that if his second team or third team, he ends up becoming a quality NBA player,” said O’Connor, who works for The Ringer. “That’s the interesting thing with the Knicks with guys like Knox. They’re probably more valuable to the Knicks as a player to trade for somebody who can play right away and bring something. The people I talk to in the league, he’s looked at as someone who can pan out.”
The Knicks officially assigned Smith Jr., Ignas Brazdeikis and Jared Harper to the G League bubble in Orlando, which begins in mid-February. The season will last about four weeks.