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Three Reasons to be Wary of Kevin Knox

Kevin Knox is shooting up draft boards, and may be in play for the Clippers. But is he worth his meteoric rise?

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Florida Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

The top 10 of the 2018 NBA Draft has been receiving a shake-up in the past couple of weeks. Workouts appear to be having a major influence on the perception of a few prospects, and players who never sniffed the top-10 to this point now appear poised to go there on Thursday. Chief among those is Kentucky forward Kevin Knox. Knox was a player with a lukewarm reception during the season, who was ranked somewhere at the edge of the lottery for most of the year, right in range for the Los Angeles Clippers. But after the Knicks and 76ers came away impressed by him in workouts, the thought is that Knox could be nearing a sure-fire top 10 pick.

Knox has been a player that Clipper fans may have been excited about potentially adding, because he seems to be one of the last players available in the draft that could have star potential. The 6-9 Knox showed flashes of scoring ability throughout his one college season, and his size and mobility combination could make him a matchup problem on both ends of the floor for opponents. He’s also insanely young, turning 19 in July, and his playmaking ability makes him very enticing.

However, Knox isn’t a draft riser because he is an under-scouted prospect that NBA teams are finally getting their eyes on. Knox was the 11th-best recruit in the country in 2017, and played at a little school called Kentucky. It’s not like NBA teams didn’t have eyes on him all season, and he wasn’t rated this highly even through the Combine. This is because there are some real problems with Knox as a prospect - things that were very apparent on film, but are well-hidden in workouts. It’s important to remember these things, because while workouts can give you a lot of answers about shooting, adaptability and work ethic, game tape is valuable. And the tape is not very kind to Knox, for three main reasons.

  1. Lack of functional athleticism

If you go by Knox’s measurements from the Kentucky pro day, Knox’s athleticism isn’t too worrisome. His 3.37-second 34 court sprint is acceptable, his 10 reps at 185 in the bench press is strong, and his 36.5-inch vertical is solid. But watching him in college film, his athletic abilities don’t really translate in a meaningful way. On offense, he struggles to get separation from contact, even against slower defenders. NBA defenses will likely be able to wall him off from the paint because he struggles to get an edge off the dribble.

He also just doesn’t have enough burst, even off two feet, to shoot on the interior over a defender. Combined with a little bit of a lack of craft around the rim, finishing is a huge question for him if you’re projecting primary creator equity.

Defensively, Knox struggles to get lift and stay in front of quick opponents. He doesn’t mirror well on drives because he isn’t twitchy and reactive with his movements, and while his length helps him recover, when it comes to contesting shots, he doesn’t have a very functional shot-blocking presence.

Of course, athleticism isn’t a prerequisite to stardom, but you have to have a high level of skill and craft to be able to compensate for that.

2. Decision-Making

Knox doesn’t really appear to have that either, especially on offense. He struggles to create offense in a consistent manner, mostly because he doesn’t seem to be willing or able to read the defense and make the smart play. His shot selection is fairly poor, particularly in isolation attempts:

He’s also not a very natural passer. Knox has a pretty strong post game, which hints at potential for him to play as a small-ball four. But the big piece he’s lacking from that area is passing, particularly out of double-teams. Knox doesn’t appear comfortable with pressure, and his vision and technique limit his ability to get out of these situations.

Making plays in real time was a struggle for Knox. Whether we are talking about shooting or passing, he just isn’t at a level that leads one to believe that he’s ready to be a big part of a team’s offense.

3. Defensive Intensity

Knox is thought of as a player who can play the three or the four, and much of that projection comes from his size and post game. However, if he is going to play the four in the NBA, he’s going to have to become more physical. Knox frustrated this year with his lack of effort on the defensive end, and he particularly struggled in the post, where he has difficulty with preventing opponents from getting post position.

This is a symptom of a larger problem with Knox - he struggles to stay engaged on the defensive end consistently. When engaged, Knox can make some strong plays thanks to his lateral quickness. But too often, he struggles to consistently stay alert. He remains flat-footed defending on the perimeter, slacks off when off-ball, and gives up on the play too often.

This is not going to cut it at the NBA level. Knox was asked to do a lot of things at Kentucky that your typical college player won’t, but that’s not going to change in the NBA. He is going to have to prove that he can switch, read and react off-ball, and finish the play through second and third actions consistently. When you combine his issues with effort and physicality with his potential athletic concerns, it’s tough to see Knox being a passable NBA defender.

Knox definitely has room to grow, and just because he has these flaws doesn’t mean he will never get ahead of some of them and become a productive player. But when compared to some of his contemporaries as supposed top 10-caliber prospects - Mikal Bridges, Miles Bridges, heck even Lonnie Walker and Troy Brown - Knox has some significant impediments to even becoming a productive role player. If he doesn’t become a better shooter and decision-maker on offense, he will struggle to fill that stretch-four role on offense that so many scouts peg for him. If he doesn’t become more sound and consistent on defense, at least in terms of effort, he’ll get played off the floor even if he is a strong offensive talent.

Knox is a high riser in this draft, and may have risen well past where the Clippers could take him. That rising isn’t without some merit, mostly thanks to his size and potential as a scorer. But it’s important to remember that Knox is not as polished as your typical Kentucky prospect might be, and the chances he hits that ceiling might be dragged down to a large degree if he doesn’t solve some of these issues.