LAS VEGAS -- On Thursday, the New York Knicks summer league team featuring ninth pick Kevin Knox and 36th pick Mitchell Robinson bowed out of the tournament in an 82-75 loss to the Boston Celtics; New York will play a final consolation game Friday. The rookies took their first steps as pros in the Las Vegas Summer League, with some intriguing results but also room for improvement.
Knox averaged 23.3 points and 7.3 rebounds through his first three games but made only five of his 20 shot attempts on his way to 15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 turnovers on Thursday. Even in a poor game, though, Knox showed the hallmarks that the Knicks hope will translate to the next level.
Knox projects to the type of combo forward that is increasingly popular in today's NBA, similar in size and role to last year's Vegas Summer League Championship Game MVP Kyle Kuzma. On offense, Knox is more finisher than team-offense initiator. Perhaps his most impressive weapon in the summer league was his dribble drive to the rim. Knox has a quick and long first step, which he uses to get his body between the defender and the ball. Once that's done, Knox is able to carry them on his hip to the rim, where he's got the strength and length to finish in traffic.
That move was consistently effective against summer league competition, but on Thursday, Boston Celtics forward Semi Ojeleye was physical enough to make it more difficult. On one drive in the third quarter, Knox got his half-step and lowered his shoulder, but Ojeleye beat him to the spot and drew the charge. On another play, at the end of a quarter the Knicks ran an ISO out top for Knox, but he lost his footing against physical defense and lost the ball. That's the level of defense Knox can expect at the next level, so he'll have to adjust.
Knox's other primary offensive skill is his shooting, but it runs hot and cold. On Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers, he went 5-of-7 from downtown. On Thursday, Knox made only 2 of 7 from behind the arc. He was able to get clean looks consistently -- better than he's likely to see at the next level, so he needs to increase his efficiency and consistency for this to become a strength.
On defense, Knox generally stayed with his man, didn't do a lot of switching or helping out, and rebounded adequately but didn't look like a "defensive stopper." His rebounding seemed to vary with his effort level; when locked in, Knox was able to grab contested rebounds. Again, Thursday was a low-water mark for Knox with only three defensive boards.
While Knox had his worst game of the summer league on Thursday, fellow draftee Robinson had his best. He entered the game averaging 11.3 points and 9 rebounds, then popped for 17 points and 12 rebounds in the finale. Robinson is long with great bounce, exploding for a whopping six blocked shots on Thursday. His offense was primarily finding open spaces for dishes and finishing alley-oops more so than posting or creating off the ISO, but in today's NBA, there is a definite market for the explosive-defender/efficient-offensive, garbage man combination.
Robinson's path to playing time is muddier than Knox's, who is likely to start from day one. Robinson is behind Enes Kanter and ... dare we say it ... Joakim Noah on the depth charts for the Knicks. But, he does have a window with thinner competition until Kristaps Porzingis returns in which he can try to make his case for the rotation.
All told, neither Knox nor Robinson looked to be the next NBA superstar during their time at the Vegas Summer League. But both have skill sets that should translate to the league as long as they continue to put in the work, and each could develop into contributing pieces at the next level.