If there is one thing that Detroit Pistons GM Troy Weaver loves more than centers, it is former lottery picks that haven’t quite found their footing in the NBA. In three years, Weaver has brought in the likes of Jahlil Okafor (former No. 3 overall pick), Josh Jackson (No. 4), Marvin Bagley III (No. 2), and even Dennis Smith Jr. (No. 9) and Trey Lyles (No. 12). Of course, the biggest potential successful story of that group was when Weaver packaged Jackson and Lyles to acquire Bagley, who then played well enough and showed enough upside that he received a three-year, $37 million dollar contract that points to him being an important piece of the rotation over the next couple of years.
As the dust began to settle for the Pistons after an exciting draft and a little pre-free agency free agent shopping when the Pistons traded for the cost-cutting Knicks’ pair of Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks, and that Bagley deal, the Pistons had one roster spot left. Weaver decided to again mine for former lottery gold by signing former No. 9 overall pick Kevin Knox. His minutes have actually declined each year since his rookie season with the Knicks, where he averaged 28.8 per game. Knox came into the league as a 6-foot-9 forward after one season at Kentucky and averaged 12.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game for a very, VERY bad New York Knicks team. Seriously, look up the roster!
After not showing much his rookie season, Knox saw a decline in usage, decline in confidence and his game fell off a cliff. Eventually, he was shipped to the Atlanta Hawks for a chance at a fresh start, but he was similarly buried at the end of the depth chart.
Weaver is bringing him in on a two-year, $6 million flyer of a contract that would be a bargain if Knox showed anything at all and easily disposable if he doesn’t. Because of his sporadic playing time over his first four seasons, I decided to do this breakdown a little differently than ones on previous free agent acquisitions. The statistics I provide will be his career stats as I watched games from each season for the breakdown.
The most intriguing part of Knox’s game is his shooting. He has a shot that makes you a believer the more you watch it. Unfortunately, the numbers simply don’t back up that faith. He is a career 34% 3-point shooter and only a tad better on catch-and-shoot shots. At 6-foot-9, he is able to shoot over contests, but for a player whose offensive game is built on shooting I did not see enough variety in the types of attempts. I would have loved to see him a little better work off of screens and off movement. Even his mid-range pull-up jumper did not stand out as especially encouraging. We will talk about the rest of his game but at the end of the day this is going to be the deciding factor that determines how much he contributes to the Pistons this season. If he can push those percentages closer to 40%, he might be able to stay on the floor. If he shoots in the low 30s, I don’t see a scenario where he cracks the rotation.
The reason the shooting is so important to his offensive game is he does not bring much else to the table. The scoring package is limited as he struggles to go left, does not score at a high efficiency around the rim, and does not really bring any of that “extra” in terms of off-ball cutting or offensive rebounding. According to inSTAT, the only PlayType he scored better than 1 PPP (point per possession) outside of catch-and-shoot shots was in transition. He was below an efficient level as a pick-and-roll handler, on the catch & drive, in hand offs, off screens, and in isolation. He did show an ability to get into the lane at times, but not consistently enough because his moves lacked variety and nuance. I wanted to buy into his “floater” game but even that left plenty to be desired.
He is definitely not a guy that is going to be doing a lot of creation, but I did want to mention that he has improved throughout his four years in the league at simply keeping the ball moving. I know this isn’t some phenomenal skill, but in desperately seeking areas of improvement, it’s worth noting he is not a “ball stopper.”
On the defensive end Knox could be “fine” playing against other teams’ second units. He was actually a little better at defending on the ball in isolation situations than I anticipated by doing a decent job staying in front and using that length. With that said, he isn’t going to be a guy that stays in front of true NBA starting level perimeter players, and he REALLY struggles navigating ball screens and hand-offs.
Off the ball you get the same positives and negatives. It was really strange watching him because at times I felt like his awareness was good and he would often make the correct and on-time rotations. Those possessions would then be followed by him getting “ball watchy” and losing his man for an open 3-pointer or backdoor. Overall, I think I would consider him a negative defensively away from the ball because he does not provide any rim protection. He only notched 0.4 blocks per game, and showed little ability to be disruptive via steals, 0.3 per game, to help offset the points he gives up.
I have no issues with Troy Weaver taking a flyer on Knox, although you can’t help but wonder if he now wishes he had saved that open roster spot and put in a claim on former OKC Thunder Isaiah Roby.
I do think it will be a tough path for Knox to make a meaningful contribution on the team. I personally see his best role as a second unit small-ball 4, but he can obviously play the 3 where he has spent most of his career. His best path to success is being at least neutral on defense and in every area offensively outside of his shooting where he needs to prove that he can be a consistent threat to knock down shots and provide floor spacing. You never know what a fresh start and change of scenery will do for a young player, and I am not sure I would be placing any bets on it for Knox but I am intrigued to find out.