Kevin Knox knows what he brings to the Detroit Pistons and he finally got to show it

Detroit Free Press

Kevin Knox is entering his fifth season, but the 23-year-old forward can already be considered a journeyman. The ninth overall pick in 2018, Knox is with his third franchise, having signed a two-year, $6 million contract with the Detroit Pistons during the offseason.

It’s too early to say if his opportunity with the Pistons will last, but Thursday was a showcase for why he was considered one of the highest-upside players of his draft class. Knox, who was limited during much of training camp with a right gastroc strain, made his preseason debut against the Memphis Grizzlies and was one of Detroit’s main contributors in a 126-111 loss at Little Caesars Arena.

Knox hit four of his nine attempts — including three of six 3-pointers — and capped his night with a poster dunk on Grizzlies wing Vince Williams Jr. He scored 13 points in 18 minutes off the bench. It was a promising debut, especially considering the Pistons struggled to find an offensive rhythm as a team.

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“I feel comfortable here,” Knox said. “Not saying I didn’t feel comfortable everywhere else, but I’m just here with a young team that’s on the same timeline as I am. Trying to get better every single day, grind every single day. Feels good to be around guys my age and just working and getting better every day.”

He spent his first three full seasons with the New York Knicks — showing promise as a rookie with 12.8 points per game, albeit on less-than-ideal efficiency — then was dealt to the Atlanta Hawks before the trade deadline last season. After appearing in 75 games as a rookie, he had just 72 games over the past two seasons. But the Pistons offer a fresh start.

The word out of training camp is that during the summer, Knox was consistently one of Detroit’s best marksmen. That’s good news for a team that shot 32.6% from 3 last season, next to last in the NBA. Knox is a career 34% shooter from outside, but has been above-average from the corners.

On media day, Knox said his outside shooting and positional versatility was coveted by general manager Troy Weaver and head coach Dwane Casey.

“That’s something I can bring to the table for anywhere I’m at,” he said after Thursday’s game.“New York, Atlanta, I was able to shoot the ball well. Coming here I want to be able to bring the same thing, bring some more defensive energy, making the right plays and just connecting with the guys.”

Injuries have depleted Detroit’s wing depth, paving a way for Knox to crack the rotation when the regular season begins Wednesday. Isaiah Livers (right hip soreness), Alec Burks (left navicular fracture) and Hamidou Diallo (left quad strain) all missed Thursday’s game. It’s unclear which players, if any, will be healthy on opening night.

The 6-foot-7 Knox has the size to defend multiple positions — a necessity in Casey’s switch-heavy defense. If he can continue hitting 3s, he’ll make a strong case to stick in the rotation even when players begin returning from injury.

This front office has prioritized extending second chances to recent lottery picks. Marvin Bagley III, Josh Jackson, Jahlil Okafor, Dennis Smith Jr. and others have all attempted to revive their careers in Detroit, with various degrees of success. Knox is the latest player trying to prove his best basketball is still ahead of him. He’s off to a promising start.

The Pistons don’t need Knox to live up to the star potential he showcased at Kentucky. They need him to star in his role — hitting outside shots and holding his own defensively. He passed his first test Thursday.

“I’ve been working hard all summer, just trying to get better in every aspect of my game,” Knox said. “I knew I was coming to a new team, a young team, but a great opportunity. I wanted to make sure I make the most of it and just go out and play hard every single night.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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