EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

EOTS’ 5 at No. 16: Could Kevin Knox be Jayson Tatum light?

May 30, 2018, 6:23 AM | Updated: Jun 4, 2018, 8:49 am
Kentucky forward Kevin Knox (5) and Buffalo guard Dontay Caruthers (22) reach for a loose ball duri...
Kentucky forward Kevin Knox (5) and Buffalo guard Dontay Caruthers (22) reach for a loose ball during the first half of a second-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Saturday, March 17, 2018, in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Empire of the Suns is diving deep on the Phoenix Suns’ other picks besides the first overall selection, Nos. 16 and 31. We will be examining five players we feel are the best fits for the Suns in the mid-first round, then will break down the five positional groups on the Suns’ roster and who they could target in the late-first to early-second round.

Boston Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum took the league by storm to start the 2017-18 season and ended it as the last high-usage rookie standing in an impressive class that includes Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons.

The former Duke Blue Devil was a reminder that drafting a mid-range specialist in an analytics-driven league shouldn’t be scoffed at. Tatum was a mediocre at-best three-point shooter in college but in his first season hit a ridiculous 43 percent from deep and 48 percent overall before closing his season by dunking on LeBron James as a 20-year-old in Game 7 of the conference finals.

Who’s the next Tatum?

Stylistically, Kentucky forward Kevin Knox is the closest thing to Tatum in the 2018 NBA Draft. And with the Phoenix Suns holding the No. 16 pick, he’d be among the best available talents to slide to the mid-first round, even though the roster fit may not make sense — more in that in a bit.

Strengths

Like Tatum, Knox hit 34 percent of his three-point shots in his single college season while taking around five attempts per 40 minutes.

The smoothness is there for the 6-foot-9, 215-pound Knox, whose 77 percent foul shooting and silky form also hints that he can improve his range at the next level.

Knox averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists for the Wildcats and thrived as a face-up forward. His feel for getting buckets is pronounced — his ability to square up, shot fake, take a dribble and launch was unmatched, and his length (6-foot-11.75 wingspan) also allowed him to get off shots at will.

Knox’s favorite spot on the floor is along the baseline, something that will help him thrive in wing isolation and post situations in the NBA, as defenses tend to push scorers baseline.

But he also looks excellent in the mid-range using floaters, Eurosteps and acrobatic aerial moves to get his shots off over defenders with touch.

Defensively, Knox’s length helped him jumping passing lanes, where he was able to push the ball with his good handles and score on the break.

Weaknesses

Knox’s playmaking off his own offense might be the biggest worry — or at least unknown — when considering his ceiling. His role didn’t help.

While Tatum produced 2.1 assists per game while routinely taking opponents off the bounce a year ago, Knox wasn’t as a liberated to pound the ball into the court. And because he was so easily able to get his own looks, he hardly flashed playmaking abilities.

His assist rate (8.7 percent) is lower than that of higher-rated big men prospects like Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. and even Marvin Bagley III.

Similarly, Knox will be dinged for scoring so easily within Kentucky’s offense. He shot 42 percent on two-point jumpers with 44 percent of those being assisted. Compared to Tatum’s 39 percent with just 20 percent of them assisted, there’s a wonder how diverse Knox’s offensive repertoire is at this point. Does he have enough of a handle to free himself in isolation situations?

Toss in the 34-percent three-point accuracy and — fair or not — a lot is unknown about how good of an offensive player Knox is at this point if NBA-level defenders respect him as a scorer.

In a league that’s getting smaller, Knox figures to be not just a traditional wing player at small forward. But to do so, he’s going to have to prove much more as an interior presence.

His rebounding figures appear underwhelming, and defensively, his shot-blocking impact — 10 blocks all year — left something to be desired. Of course, Knox floating around the perimeter playing alongside bigs like Wenyen Gabriel, P.J. Washington and Nick Richards didn’t afford him the opportunities to pad his statistics. Still, it’s a wonder what else he’ll bring to the table beyond his scoring.

The length is there.

His strength and explosiveness could use work and will help determine how much of an impact he can make on the interior — that’s for both the offensive and defensive ends.

The fit in Phoenix

Making the Tatum-Knox comparison probably elicits this point: The Suns didn’t take Tatum because, with T.J. Warren in tow, it was a wing like Josh Jackson that filled in the bigger needs of defense, grit and intangibles.

That would make it seem Knox isn’t the ideal fit — not if the Suns retain Booker, Jackson and Warren or if they don’t see Knox as a power forward in the long term. It would be somewhat surprising to see Phoenix move up to take someone of Knox’s type, but when considering best talent, the Suns would be hard-pressed to pass on a player like Knox at No. 16 overall.

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EOTS’ 5 at No. 16: Could Kevin Knox be Jayson Tatum light?