When surveying the landscape for who the possible fall guy could be in this year’s draft class, signs maybe point in Kevin Knox’s direction. This 6’9” forward has the length to switch onto many 3s or 4s in today’s NBA, and his natural scoring gifts could be a splendid fit alongside Devin Booker or in second units that might be starved of players inept of consistently creating a good look for themselves.
On the scouting report, not only can Knox create for himself but he may have untapped defensive upside. There were some inconsistencies from Knox throughout his freshman campaign but his modern 4 outlook paired with his scoring gifts could quickly make him a hot commodity on the next level.
That package on offense gives Knox a relatively high floor, but also the ceiling of someone who falls in the steal category. His length will allow him to handle 3s and 4s defensively, but if he’s able to tap into being a plus on that end, it opens up plenty of new doors for Knox.
Knox averaged 17.3 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per 36 minutes while hitting 3s at a 34.1% clip (5 3PA per 36) for Kentucky, showing the three-level scoring upside he has available.
When comparing Knox to Jayson Tatum, something I’ve seen multiple times throughout the predraft process, their numbers were almost identical in terms of box score output but also shooting from distance. Both are fluid enough to create for themselves while also having the pop to drive in and finish through contact. Tatum was physically way further along than Knox was, but two years or so from now we could see this happen.
The draft range of Knox has fluctuated in and around the lottery, with the worst I’ve seen him falling is actually No. 18 to San Antonio. If Knox slips past both Charlotte and Los Angeles (Clippers), he will likely be available for the Suns at No. 16.
Knox could carry the highest grade on their board at that point, allowing Phoenix to go simply the best player available route. It also kicks off the countdown clock on the odd man left out in the wing rotation, which quickly points towards T.J. Warren.
In Igor Kokoskov’s offense, players will need to be plus shooters, passers, and defenders for it to be fully functioning. Warren brings the scoring element inside 20 feet and really not much else. This offseason is vital for Warren to develop some semblance of three-point improvement, or that contract will come back to bite the Suns over the next few seasons unless it’s quickly moved off their books.
Adding in Knox would make it crowded momentarily, but that alludes to Warren hitting the trade block simultaneously. Knox actually complements Josh Jackson well, because both are able to make up for one another’s weaknesses. You can’t say the same thing when Jackson and Warren are both not hitting their shots, because it turns ugly at warp speed.
Knox and Zhaire Smith are the only draft-eligible freshman wing prospects to accumulate an offensive win share above 2 while holding a true shooting percentage above 55. Knox is also 5” taller than Smith, showing the versatile mismatch problems the former Kentucky Wildcat could create upon his arrival.
I admittedly was lower on Knox during the season, but after diving further in on some full games and putting the microscope on him there are many aspects in his profile that make his archetype valuable in today’s NBA.
As I alluded to earlier, Knox is one of the more gifted scorers in the 2018 draft class who could also be proficient from all three levels. Per The Stepien, Knox shot 68% at the rim, 42.2% from mid-range, and 36.9% on NBA distance 3s. Knox has the skill set to blossom into someone who could be near 40% consistently on shots beyond the arc, which brings those Tatum-lite comparisons back around.
At his peak, Knox has go-to potential and could turn into someone who drops 20 points per game on a nightly basis. Like Robert Williams, I think Knox needs to land in a situation built for him to develop and instill winning habits. If he hits, he’s going to hit big-time with the offensive firepower.
Another area that will be crucial in Knox reaching his ceiling is becoming a plus defender on the next level, concerns that were washed away with Tatum once coached up by Brad Stevens. If Kokoskov believes he could get similar effects out of Knox, then he’s somebody who will have a hard time leaving the floor even as a rookie with the versatility presented on each end.
Standing at 6’9” with a 6’11.75” wingspan, Knox profiles as a player Phoenix believes could play 2-4. Blessed with above-average foot speed to stick in front of guards, Knox’s length could also allow him to keep those pesky primary ball handlers in front of him on switch opportunities.
And on the other end, Knox could exploit switches by abusing smaller defenders with post-up jumpers or dunking all over them.
Carrying key athletic skills alongside his natural scoring ability, Knox fits what the NBA is looking for with forwards. After whiffing on Tatum last season, I’m paying close attention this time around to what made him thrive early. Knox has that potential in him and it’s going to draw plenty of eyes from executives over the next three weeks.
The main knock on Knox is his lack of aggressiveness not only on the boards with low rebounding percentages but also just overall scoring the basketball. Far too often was Knox settling for jumpers on subpar defenders instead of just putting his shoulder down and giving them an ultimatum.
It could help be explained due to Knox’s lack of strength in his physical profile right now. Weighing in at only 213 pounds, Knox needs to get closer to 230-235 for him to eventually become the total mismatch wing. Also, compared to other wings in the 2018 class, Knox’s athleticism is underwhelming but in an everyday NBA strength and conditioning program, those concerns should fizzle out.
However, where Knox compares more on the Warren spectrum versus Tatum is his playmaking and defensive abilities.
Knox far too often had tunnel vision and forced tough looks constantly instead of seeing the opening in the corner or dump off to the cutting guard. Hopefully he’s able to recognize it with more film study — which did wonders for Jackson after former head coach Jay Triano sat him down — but it’s one of his bigger red flags. The negative assist to turnover ratio does Knox no favors either.
On the defensive end, Knox looks lost on some possessions. Whether it’s completely whiffing being unable to stay in front of point guards or being bullied by thicker post players, Knox is stuck in no man’s land far too often. Maybe it’s a lack of overall defensive acumen, but Knox’s development will need to be centered around this flaw plus his subpar passing.
When grading Knox alongside the six other wing prospects rated ahead, Knox only beats out Miami’s Lonnie Walker IV for the worst defensive win share amount at 1.7 (defensive box plus-minus of 1.4).
Knox’s flaws could hamper him from reaching All-Star levels, but his floor is crystalizing like one who at least can contribute at least above-average on one side of the floor.
Physical Profile Overview
Wingspan: 6’11.75” (+2.75” H2W)
Standing Reach: 9’
Fit in Phoenix
From the Suns’ point of view, Knox would instantly provide a skills package not many on the roster can provide. Having the ability to guard 3s and 4s while also being an asset from the perimeter is something Warren hasn’t been able to establish in four seasons.
With a proven track record throughout his career of being proficient on three-pointers, Knox hitting 34-38% consistently allows the Suns to trot out plenty of intriguing lineup combinations. The trio of Booker-Jackson-Knox is even more appealing if Knox is able to channel plus defensive acumen, but it still is mouth-watering from a pure scoring point of view.
Even if they kept Warren around alongside Knox and Jackson, picture this 5-man lineup in stretches: Booker, Jackson, Warren, Knox, Dragan Bender. That right there is optimum versatility while your “bigs” can stretch the floor allowing for Jackson and Warren to continuously feast off cuts. It’s very reminiscent of how the Celtics play a lot of the time with plenty of versatile wings who can do everything.
Sounds appealing, doesn't it?
Keeping the No. 16 pick and landing Knox would go even further in helping build out a roster where nobody could possibly be picked on much in mismatches. As we saw plenty throughout this year’s playoffs, exploiting those are the top goal and it leads to usual pieces being strapped to the bench.
Big Board: No. 17; No. 7 wing
Comparisons: Ceiling - Jumbo Khris Middleton / Floor - Mike Dunleavy