SAN ANTONIO — Kevin Knox is grateful the Knicks have shown patience and not shown him the G League.
In San Antonio, the Spurs rookie first-round pick Lonnie Walker IV has spent most of the season developing in the G League – part of a strategy often employed by that organization.
As the season winds down, Knox is sixth among rookies in minutes played, logging 1,702 despite his lagging shooting percentage and lax defense.
“It was a great opportunity to stay with the team, hang around with the veterans and see the NBA life,’’ Knox said at Friday’s morning shootaround at AT&T Center before the 13-55 Knicks faced the Spurs.
“I can say a lot of rookies don’t have that opportunity. There are a lot of rookies that’ve been in the G League and rookies that haven’t seen the court at all on a regular basis. I‘m grateful to be up here learning from guys, getting this experience. I’m happy about it because a lot of rookies don’t get the opportunity I had.”
After being on an extended rookie-wall slide since playing well in December in earning Eastern Conference’s Rookie of the Month, the 19-year-old Kentucky combo forward has seen an uptick on the first two games of this three-game road trip.
He’s shot 50 percent in Minneapolis and Indianapolis (10 of 20, 5 of 8 on 3’s). That is no small thing for the Knicks’ 2018 lottery pick who is shooting just 36.2 percent. Knox has oftentimes looked like the project Kentucky coach John Calipari warned he might be.
“Just extra shots, extra work, staying confident in yourself to keep shooting,’’ Knox said. “It was definitely good to see the ball go through the rim. I airballed the first shot (in Indy) and made my next two. It’s me keeping confident, to find that stroke helped me a lot.’’
Knox has a nice shooting stroke, but Knicks coach David Fizdale knows he’s got to get stronger, become a smarter defender and playmaker. Knox is averaging just one assists to go along with his 12.3 scoring average.
This offseason is going to be a major one for Knox and a big finish can only be a positive thing for when free agents Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kahwi Leonard analyze the roster.
“We were talking a lot about that stuff,’’ Fizdale said regarding Knox’s summer. “His strength is going to be a big, big thing, fine-tuning his shooting, solidifying his post game. Obviously, defensively I’m going to be all over him about taking another step forward, about being a playmaker, a shotblocker, a guy who can take a challenge one on one and really slide his feet against the best attackers.’’
Nevertheless, Knox’s biggest flaw on defense is not just low energy, but reading the floor. Knox hasn’t been a competent enough help defender when patrolling the weakside. He’s got the physical gifts to be so with his size and length,
“Weakside, weakside, weakside,’’ Fizdale said when asked Knox’s largest defensive flaw. “Just seeing things earlier, so he can do his job better. And then I think ultimately it’s just core strength for him so he can take the challenge in the post.”
After December, Knox’s play dipped and the rookie wall struck in a big way. That’s one sliver of optimism for Knox’s growth, that his ineffectiveness on some nights is due more to wearing down than his talent.
“It’s a little fatigue,’’ Knox admitted. “I’ve played more games this year than I’ve ever played in my life. You can probably say there’s a little fatigue in there. It’s me staying positive and never getting too down on myself. I think the most games I’ve ever played was in the 30s. I’m playing 82 now.”
Former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy told The Post last month Knox’s growth from his rookie season to his second season will be extremely telling.
“Strength, balance, consistency, confidence,’’ Fizdale said of what he envisions as Knox’s growth areas. “It’s a lot of different things. His shot is fine though. Once we get through this coming into next year he’s going to have a lot more understanding of what he’s going to face and he’s going to know very clearly where his shots are coming from.’’
Knox points to his endurance as a key to next season.
“There’s a lot things I will definitely work on this summer that will help me expand my game,’’ Knox said.
Not once did Fizdale think of sending Knox – or 2017 lottery pick Frank Ntilikina to the Westchester Knicks to gain confidence.
“No, because our team was already like a glorified G-League team so they were playing minutes up here,’’ Fizdale said. “It just felt like they might as well go through these lumps up here against the best of the best. I didn’t even have any second thoughts about that.”
With Dennis Smith Jr. out with a sore back, PG Kadeem Allen, on a two-way G League contract, was summoned to San Antonio. Fizdale said he feels Allen may be part of the future.