Kevin Knox didn’t have to look far Saturday to view the vast progress of another former first-round draft pick who had also struggled mightily upon entering the NBA.
New York Knicks coach David Fizdale said Giannis Antetokounmpo currently is the best player in the league, but that hardly was the case when the renowned Greek Freak joined the Milwaukee Bucks as the No. 15 selection in the 2013 NBA draft.
Antetokounmpo averaged just 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game — while shooting just 41.4 percent from the floor — in 77 appearances as a rookie. That’s a far cry from the MVP-caliber numbers the 6-foot-11 dynamo is putting up now at age 23, with career bests of 27.3 points per game, 12.9 boards and six assists entering the Bucks’ game at the Garden on Saturday night.
The 19-year-old Knox, the ninth-overall pick in the draft after a one-and-done freshman season at Kentucky, is averaging 7.5 points and 2.8 rebounds through his first 16 NBA games for the Knicks on just 32.5 percent from the floor.
“Every game is good for me, but playing against one of the superstars in the league — a lot of people say I play like him — there’s a lot I can learn from him,” Knox said of Antetokounmpo. “To play against him, be able to watch film on him, I learn more and more every single day.
“When Giannis came into the league, he struggled. He wasn’t nowhere near where he is now when he first came into the league. It took him a few years. The thing about him, he stayed confident, he stayed working, he stayed in the gym and the weight room and got bigger, stronger, and knew right away he wasn’t going to be able to do what he’s doing now. … It took a few years, but now he’s taking over the league, so that’s somebody I really look up to.”
Fizdale had stood up for Knox and second-year Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina on Friday, defending the team’s two most recent first-round picks over criticism from anonymous scouts and NBA personnel in a Post report earlier this week.
Asked before Saturday’s game how the Knicks planned to stop Antetokounmpo, Fizdale joked: “You got a tractor? A tank? Obviously, we can throw schemes at him and stuff like that, but the guy is right now, to me, he’s the best player in the league. He’s playing at the highest level, and you’ve got to throw the whole house at him.”
Knox clearly has a long way to go before anyone speaks about him in those terms. Fizdale simply wants the rookie to become more confident taking his outside shot and more aggressive getting to the hoop, while playing with high energy more consistently. Those also happen to be among the traits Knox admires about Antetokounmpo’s dynamic game.
“He’s just really good attacking the basket,’’ Knox said. “He plays with force in the paint and does a really good job. Everyone knows he’s working on his jump shot. His ability to get to the rim is still really good. He gets to the rim, does a lot of really good spins and just goes up powerfully and tries to dunk everything.
“But when he came in the league, he struggled the first year like I’m struggling a little bit in the first few games, trying to feel myself, trying to find my game. Now he’s doing really well. I’m just learning a lot every single game, watching a lot of film, just being able to get better every single day, learning from the players on my team — defensively, mainly, and offensively.”
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