Kevin Knox, the Knicks’ 2018 lottery pick, can use a fresh start next season — and maybe a new head coach. So says Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne, Knox’s guy in Lexington during his promising freshman year. Interim coach Mike Miller did a lot of good things in his 44-game stint. Getting the 6-foot-9 combo forward …
Kevin Knox, the Knicks’ 2018 lottery pick, can use a fresh start next season — and maybe a new head coach.
So says Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne, Knox’s guy in Lexington during his promising freshman year.
Interim coach Mike Miller did a lot of good things in his 44-game stint. Getting the 6-foot-9 combo forward right and ready wasn’t one of them.
Knox’s second season was a colossal disappointment, wallowing on the bench and losing his mojo on the court.
Payne, John Calipari’s right-hand man, saw Knox’s demise from his TV set. Miller is being interviewed for the permanent gig but stands as a longshot.
“No question, I think a new staff comes in and can evaluate what the kid is and tell him what he needs him to do,’’ Payne told The Post in a phone interview. “He’s starting with a clean slate. There’s no prejudging of who he is. He can go out and feel comfortable and do the things to help the team win. I think he’s coming back with a new and different fire. With a little adversity, you can attain greatness. And he’s been through it.”
Indeed, it was a rough road for Knox in 2019-20 when his scoring average dropped from 12.8 to a pathetic 6.4 points.
Knox, 20, was unavailable for comment as the Knicks have not made any players available to the press since the March 11 shutdown.
Rookie president Leon Rose, who has not spoken to the media since his hiring, is not sold on Knox and desperately wanted to see him in the now-scrapped final 16 games, sources told The Post.
“He’s had people question his desire, question his toughness, question his defense, question his shooting,’’ Payne said. “In my opinion, great players, good players in the NBA, it’s not can he shoot, defend, rebound. It’s about if he’s secure and comfortable doing it, getting him more comfortable. Getting him in a more aggressive mindset to do it is more important.’’
Former Knicks coach David Fizdale failed to reach Knox in the season’s first two months. Miller did no better. Maybe defensive genius Tom Thibodeau or player-development ace Kenny Atkinson can.
After the Marcus Morris trade at the Feb. 6 trade deadline, Miller opted to keep Knox coming off the bench because his defense still wasn’t up to winning standards.
“Things changed this year where they were going to hold him a little more accountable,’’ Payne said. “The first year was ‘Let’s feature him, get comfortable and let him play though his mistakes.’ Sometimes young players like Kevin have to feel comfortable. I personally don’t think it’s about his talent. He’s talented enough. It’s about how he digests the game. How he feels about himself. Is he in rhythm playing basketball or playing with a team that is playing a little selfish and the ball is not moving as much? Or the system and schemes offensively and defensively is where he’s not secure.”
And that’s what Payne saw — an insecure player as opposed to the sniper from his rookie year when Knox once scored 31 points to beat the Bucks.
“I know they think he can play,’’ said Payne, who has a long-standing relationship with Knicks GM Scott Perry. “They just need him to continue to develop and build on what his first year was, learn from last year and come out and play with a fire and a desire to be great.”
A diehard Wildcat, Knox visits the campus whenever time allows. In fact, the Tampa, Fla. product blew off the rest of All-Star Weekend in 2019 when he participated in the rookie-sophomore game to attend a Kentucky home game.
“I’ve talked to Kevin a few times, giving words of encouragement,’’ Payne said. “When I watched him this year, he just never felt comfortable. For a young kid, that’s important. I’m sure he’s reflecting and recognizing where he could’ve been better.
“He’s a great kid and high-character person. I’m curious to see what the next year brings for him. I think this year will be a good year for him.”