Detroit Pistons continue to prioritize second chances after Kevin Knox signing

Detroit Free Press

There are some trends that have developed among  Troy Weaver’s long list of moves since taking over as general manager three years ago.

The Detroit Pistons have prioritized rebuilding through the draft thus far, and have selected six players in the first round during his tenure. They’ve brought in veterans who can still play — Jerami Grant outplayed his contract, and Cory Joseph, Mason Plumlee, Wayne Ellington and others have filled in as locker room leaders while still contributing on the court.

They have also given second chances to young players on the downslope of their careers. One of Weaver’s first free agent signings was Josh Jackson, the No. 4 overall pick in 2017 who wore out his welcome in Phoenix and Memphis before returning home. Jahlil Okafor (No. 2 in 2015) and Dennis Smith Jr. (No. 9 in 2017) were given show-and-prove opportunities as well.

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They followed a similar script in free agency Thursday, nabbing 2018 No. 2 Marvin Bagley III on a three-year, $37.5 million contract and Kevin Knox, No. 9 in 2018, on a two-year, $6 million deal. Bagley, who arrived from Sacramento at the trade deadline in February, put up good numbers in 18 games last season (14.6 points per game, 6.8 rebounds, 55.5% shooting in 27.2 minutes per game). But Knox is more of an unknown — a gamble that could pay off if he’s able to find his footing.

That’s a big if, though. Knox, a 6-foot-7 forward who played a single season at Kentucky, has all the tools of a modern scoring wing. He averaged 15.6 points and 5.4 rebounds in college, shooting 44.5% overall and 34.1% from behind the arc. Draft analysts liked his size and potential as both a spot-up shooter and versatile defender.

He has yet to deliver. Knox is a career 36.9% overall shooter and has hit 34.1% of his 3-pointers. After averaging nearly 29 minutes per game as a rookie, his workload has declined each season. He played just 111 minutes through 13 games with the New York Knicks last season before a January trade to Atlanta. His circumstances didn’t improve much with the Hawks, as he played 111 minutes over 17 games.

But Knox could become an important piece for the Pistons, if he’s able to knock down shots. Detroit is thin at forward — beyond Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Livers, there isn’t another small forward on the roster who can consistently knock down 3-pointers. Per the stat website Cleaning The Glass, Knox hit 38% of his corner 3-pointers as a rookie and 47% on corner 3s during his third season, albeit in few attempts. His efficiency everywhere else on the floor has been poor. But the Pistons are light on reliable scoring, and Knox should have opportunities to play.

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Weaver often talks about the importance of building a strong culture and investing in player development. The Bagley trade was a risk, but he proved he had more to his game than he was able to show with the Kings. Bagley transitioned from an inefficient corner 3-point shooter to a highly efficient lob finisher and interior scorer. Environment matters, and so does on-court fit.

It’s unclear if Knox is a rotational NBA player. Okafor, Smith and Jackson didn’t pan out for the Pistons. But it’s a minor financial commitment that could be a steal if he can hit open shots and hold his own defensively. He’s four months younger than Bey, and won’t turn 23 until August.

Detroit is still fairly early in its rebuild. Knox will be another litmus test for the front office’s ability to identify and develop talent.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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