When GM Troy Weaver and the Detroit Pistons agreed to a two-year contract with former No. 9 overall pick Kevin Knox II on the first day of free agency, the expectations for Weaver’s latest reclamation attempt were low.
Sure, Knox had shown promise in his rookie season with the New York Knicks averaging 12.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game but was just 37% from the field overall and 34% from behind the 3-point line. Further, Knox would find his numbers, and playing time, decreasing each year after that.
Eventually, Knox would get traded to the Atlanta Hawks, where he was still unable to find any footing in the league, before becoming a free agent this past off season and coming to the Motor City.
While the 6-foot-7 forward is averaging a modest 6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game, he is doing it on an efficient 48% from the field overall and 38% from behind the 3-point line. Knox’s current 65% from 2-point range would be far and away the best of his career.
It is important to take a quick look at those stats in the 19 consecutive games Knox has played where the points jump to 7.7 and the rebounds to 3 per game while shooting 54% from the field overall and 45% from behind the 3-point line.
The former No. 10 overall recruit (via ESPN) in the 2017 class (Marvin Bagley III was No.1) is taking advantage of the opportunity created by the injury to Isaiah Livers (No. 75 in that class) and by simply outplaying Hamidou Diallo. Let’s take a look at how Knox is contributing on each end of the court for the Pistons.
Right now, Knox is fulfilling the role the Pistons need from him perfectly on the offensive end. The former Kentucky Wildcat is knocking down open catch and shoot opportunities when they are created as well as being a good off ball cutter, offensive rebounder and ball mover.
Knox is not only bringing these positive contributions on the offensive end but he is also doing it without the negatives. His shooting efficiency has already been mentioned but he is also limiting turnovers. Knox has the 2nd lowest turnovers per 100 possessions outside of Saddiq Bey of all Pistons rotation players (does not include Isaiah Livers who only has seven games played). Knox did have a four turnover game on Wednesday night vs the 76ers but that should be looked at as an outlier as he only has one other game in this 19 game stretch with more than one turnover and nine games without a single one. All of this combines for a top five offensive rating per 100 possessions on the team (via basketballreference.com).
To emphasize before continuing, this is an important role for a team and one that Knox is fulfilling quite well so far this season. With that said, it is always important to look for areas of growth for a player as young as Knox.
The catch and shoot 3-point efficiency has been awesome to see but Knox could continue to increase his overall value if he continued to grow that shooting into makes in transition (something we saw on Tuesday night vs the Jazz) and coming off screens.
Knox does have a decent push floater in the 5-10 feet area of the lane but overall attacking closeouts would also be a nice improvement on the offensive end. If the shooting continues, he will get harder and closer closeouts for him to shot fake and attack. Being able to turn these into points in the lane or drives and kick opportunities for teammates would be a great compliment.
While Knox is nothing close to elite, or maybe even good, on the defensive end, he has been far better than anticipated. The Pistons are very bad defensively so anything positive tends to stick out but Knox is making his presence felt by simply being active, engaged, communicating and making multiple efforts on this end of the court.
It seems like if there is ever a chance for a 50-50 ball he is the one that is currently coming up with it. His 2.6 stocks (steals+blocks) per 100 possessions is second behind only Killian Hayes of non bigs (excludes Jalen Duren, Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley III) and his 8.3 rebounds (offensive and defensive) per 100 possessions is first of all rotation players if you exclude those same players.
Much like on the offensive end, Knox is simply filling the role that is being asked of him on the defensive end of the court. As those stats show, he is active and engaged with where the ball is at and is aggressively seeking it out when the opportunity presents itself. All of these also put Knox in the top five on the team in defensive rating per 100 possessions (via basketballreference.com)
The biggest knock (no pun intended, Kyle Metz) on Knox as a defender is going to be at the point of attack. It is not for a lack of effort but he simply does not have the footspeed to stay in front of really good NBA perimeter players consistently. Scaling him to the “4” position is a reasonable idea but at 6-foot-7 and 215 lbs. he may not hold up guarding the size that would be asked of him.
Contract and Conclusion
Kevin Knox was signed to an extremely reasonable contract that pays him three million dollars this season and has a club option for the same amount next season. There does not seem to be any reason the Pistons would not pick up this option based on what we have seen so far. While there is reason to believe the improvement of the wing-forward position will be a point of emphasis this offseason for Weaver, and he has the means to improve it with draft picks and cap space, Knox is starting to make his claim to at least be part of that conversation.
Can the 23-year-old sustain this level of 3-point shot making, avoiding mistakes, and provide the same level of activity and engagement defensively for an entire season? If so, that would be a huge step in his career. If he can do that plus add some of the offensive value that was discussed AND improve at the point of attack defensively, now you are looking at a legit rotation wing-forward that would provide tremendous value moving forward for this organization.