PORTLAND, Ore. -- Most NBA rookies, even the great ones, hit a wall at some point. Kevin Knox got that out of the way early.
Three games into his rookie season with the Knicks, Knox suffered an ankle sprain that sidelined him for two weeks. Upon returning, he struggled in all areas of the game, as he felt his way into a consistent role.
Now, with those early growing pains out of the way, Knox has turned a corner. At the changing of the calendar year, he was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for a December campaign in which he averaged 17.1 points and six rebounds per game while shooting 38.4 percent from three-point range.
Not only has Knox's recent hot streak been one of the few bright spots on an awful Knicks team, but he's already earning head coach David Fizdale's trust in crunch time.
"It's starting to become that I need him on the court," Fizdale said during the Knicks' recent trip to Portland. "That's pretty good to say about a 19-year-old. We need him out there."
As Knox has made the adjustment from the college game to the NBA game, he's learned when to attack and when to let the game come to him. It's been a gradual process, but the game has been slowing down, and the results are being borne out in his improved play.
"At first, I was going so fast and everything was happening so fast," Knox said. "Now I'm able to get to my spots. But my mindset has changed. I'm trying to be more aggressive. Get to the rim, get to my spots, hit my little floaters, get to the free-throw line."
With the Knicks firmly in rebuilding mode, and franchise centerpiece Kristaps Porzingis out for the foreseeable future rehabbing his torn ACL, Knox has been given plenty of runway to play through mistakes as a primary scoring option, with the encouragement of his veteran teammates. Shooting guard Courtney Lee, in particular, has taken pride in bringing Knox under his wing.
"You can see he's developing his confidence," Lee told SNY. "Coming in from college, you don't really understand the difference in the pace of the NBA game, and it's hard to pick and choose your spots. All he was doing was trying to be aggressive, and it was kind of hurting him more than it was helping him. But once he got a couple of practices and games under his belt and understanding the timing of the game, where he can pick and choose his spots, that's when you can see that he got comfortable."
Specifically, Knox has become more assertive attacking the basket when the opportunity presents itself. He has gradually started making decisions that are less forced and more organic within the flow of the game, rather than deciding at the beginning of a possession what he's going to do with the ball.
"I'm getting more rebounds, and offensively I'm just letting the game come to me," Knox said. "Reading the defense and making the right plays, stuff like that. One thing I learned early on when I was struggling is, you've got to get to your spots. I've been doing well getting to my spots, getting to shots I know I can make."
Beginning in mid-December, Knox moved permanently into the starting lineup, playing on the perimeter alongside Tim Hardaway, Jr. That vote of confidence from Fizdale has contributed in no small way to Knox's increase in production and the building of his confidence.
"He's not rushing anything," Hardaway told SNY. "His midrange and floater game is starting to come into play. He's knocking down open threes, attacking, finishing at the rim, rebounding the ball. When you do little things like that, you get yourself comfortable and into the game a lot easier and a lot quicker."
At 19 years old, Knox is only in the beginning stages of unlocking his true potential. He acknowledges he needs to get better defensively, and he hopes to add a post game at some point. That may take a while, though.
Knox admits he's patterned much of his game after his idol, Kevin Durant, who has added a post game as he's gotten older. Not that Knox is expecting to become as good as Durant, who he calls "one of the greatest scorers of all-time." But, with a similar length and playing style, he's more than a worthwhile blueprint for a player the Knicks expect to be a building block for a long time to come.
"A lot of those superstar guys start expanding their game when they get older," Knox said. "They start moving into the post. … That's just something that will come with time. I'm still trying to work on my perimeter game. There's a lot of things that are still shaky with my game that I can get better at. Once I master that and get more comfortable with that, I can start to expand my game."
For now, after a rough start to his first season in the league, the Knicks have to be pleased that the No. 9 overall pick is starting to show what he can eventually become.
"He's 19, coming into the NBA playing against grown men," Lee said. "So he's definitely got room to continue to grow as far as learning the game. He's still picking up different things as we go along now."