Detroit Pistons’ Kevin Knox capitalizing on big opportunity after being buried on bench

Detroit Free Press

DENVER — “Opportunity” has been the word of the week for Detroit Pistons forward Kevin Knox II.

The fourth-year wing has played sporadically this season, but became a major rotation piece Sunday against the Sacramento Kings after Saddiq Bey was ruled out with a right ankle sprain. Isaiah Livers replaced Bey in the starting lineup, but coach Dwane Casey needed Knox to provide shooting and defense off the bench. He did that, logging 11 points and knocking down 3-of-5 3-pointers in 22 minutes. It was his first time this season cracking double figures in scoring.

Knox followed that with his best performance of the season during Tuesday’s 110-108 victory over the Denver Nuggets, tallying 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting and eight rebounds. He made several big plays down the stretch, and played the final eight minutes and 56 seconds of a close game — a big vote of confidence.

After being drafted ninth overall by the New York Knicks in 2018, Knox’s career was on a downslope when the Pistons signed him to a two-year, $6 million contract this offseason. Detroit is his third NBA stop, after the Knicks traded him to the Atlanta Hawks in February. Through his first three seasons, Knox shot 36.9% overall and 34% from 3.

He has shown signs of becoming a capable 3-and-D role player this week.

“It says a lot for him to stick with it,” Casey said after practice Monday. “He’s worked at it, he’s been at three places now. Hopefully he gets a real opportunity, because I think he’s a talent. I know he’s a talent. He just needs the opportunity.”

Knox is seizing his opportunity, as he has logged season-highs in minutes in back-to-back games. Casey was pleased with his effort Tuesday. He entered the scoring column at the first quarter buzzer after tipping in a missed 3-point attempt by Hamidou Diallo. In the second quarter, he finished a couple of transition passes from Jaden Ivey and knocked down a 3.

In the final period, he recorded a steal and fastbreak dunk to extend the lead to eight with 8:10 remaining, and his defense kept him on the floor late. Bey left the road trip − which took the Pistons (4-15) to Utah on Wednesday and culminates in Phoenix on Friday − earlier this week to receive treatment on his ankle. Knox will have more opportunities to prove himself.

“I’ve just been working nonstop every day, waiting on my opportunity,” Knox said after the win in Denver. “A couple guys went down, next man up mentality. Just going out there and doing whatever I need to do to win.”

Knox entered the season with positive momentum. Casey said during training camp Knox was one of the Pistons’ best shooters over the summer. The coaching staff wanted him to embrace spacing the floor and locking in defensively. By all accounts, he did that.

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But a strain to his right calf muscle limited Knox in training camp, and Knox says it’s a reason why he started slow. Before Sunday, he shot 24.1% overall and 15% from 3 in limited minutes through 10 games. He’d been an inefficient shooter throughout his career, but his numbers this season suggested he was in a slump.

Knox will have to string more good performances together, but it has been an encouraging week. No longer burdened by the expectations that come with being a top-10 pick in New York, he’s thriving in his role and filling an important void for an injury battered Pistons team.

“He’s doing everything,” Casey said Tuesday. “Not just the scoring, not even looking at his scoring. I’m talking about his defense, his length, his verticality, his running the floor opens up for everybody and allows the ball to breathe in transition. He contributed in so many ways to winning. And that’s what we talked about this morning, make as many winning plays as you can. Let’s stack them up. If we can stack them up and have more winning plays as a group, that’s going to help us pull out and we did that tonight.”

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