Channeling KP, Knox turns jeers into unbridled optimism

JAIME C. HARRIS | 7/12/2018, 3:58 p.m.

It was Oct. 9, 2015, at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. The Knicks were playing their second preseason game facing the Washington Wizards. A little more than four months earlier at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Knicks fans booed their moribund franchise’s selection of 7-foot-3 forward Kristaps Porzingis from Latvia with the fourth overall pick of the first round, who at the time was a 19-year-old unknown beanpole out of the Liga ACB professional league in Spain.

Porzingis’ numbers versus the Wizards were solid. In 21 minutes he scored nine points and had 10 rebounds and blocked two shots. Yet, it was his impressive array of skills for someone so tall that announced his arrival as a potential future NBA All-Star. He fulfilled his promise by being named to the Eastern Conference All-Star squad last season before tearing the ACL in his left knee in early February.

Kevin Knox’s pronouncement as a forthcoming force came much earlier than Porzingis’ after he was the recipient of the same derisive reception from Knicks fans at this year’s draft at the Barclays last month. After the 18-year-old’s display of superb athleticism, sweet stroke from behind the three-point line and superlative ability to put the ball on floor and attack the basket with ferocity during the current NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, few if any of those disgruntled fans who shouted down the Knicks’ selection of Knox over 20-year-old Micheal Porter Jr. from the University of Missouri remain unhappy.

On the contrary, they should be ecstatic by the prospect of Porzingis and the 6-foot-9 Knox anchoring a potentially dynamic front court in the years ahead. “They booed Porzingis and look where he is now,” Knox said soon after being drafted. “That’s the same mindset I’m going to have. They can chant Micheal Porter all they want. But they got Kevin Knox, and I’m willing to work and I’m willing to get better.”

Soon after Knox became a Knick, Porzingis reached out to Knox, who was born in Phoenix, Ariz., and attended Tampa Catholic High School in Tampa, Fla., to assure him he could win over a cynical fan base. “He asked me how the fans reacted and I told him, ‘I got the same amount of boos as you got,’” Knox recalled. “He said, ‘It’s all motivation and fuel to the fire.’ He said, ‘Just work. Sooner or later they’ll be cheering for you.’”

Knox’s 29 points and nine rebounds against the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night increased the buzz surrounding him. What’s more, a disconcerting possibility for opponents and gift for the Knicks is that he might grow another inch or so by the end of his rookie year as he will turn 19 Aug. 11.