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Kentucky Basketball Freeze Frame: Expanding Kevin Knox’s Offensive Game

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Kevin Knox struggled against Monmouth, but he is still a work in progress and should improve after his bad outing.

NCAA Basketball: Harvard at Kentucky
Calipari wants to see Knox take it to the rim
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Knox struggled against Monmouth on Saturday, and Kentucky still won. That’s a good sign. Knox was 1 of 9 from the field, with 7 turnovers, yet the Cats cruised to a 93-76 win despite the only game where Knox was held to single digits all season. But as Kentucky’s schedule finally picks up the Wildcats can’t afford another letdown from their freshman star.

Coach John Calipari is using Knox’s poor performance as a learning tool for the future. Calipari said, “Kevin Knox struggled today. It wasn't one of his better games, but that's fine. It's good for the soul to go 1 for 9. Now, what you would learn, if you go 1 for 5 would you shoot jumpers or just keep going to the basket until they foul you and get baskets? Or you end up going 1 for 9, which is what he did. It's a great lesson for him.”

Knox’s offensive profile so far this season demonstrates his reliance on catch and shoot opportunities, specifically from the three point line.

Calipari is right: Knox has been limited to too much of a jump shooter right now (Statistics courtesy of hoop-math.com).

Up until this point, Knox is shooting over 40% of his field goal attempts from beyond the arc, while making just 32.6% of those attempts. That’s not a terrible shooting percentage, but Knox is almost as reliant on threes as Malik Monk was last season (47% of Monk’s field goals were from three and he made just shy of 40% of his long range shots). In other words, of Knox’s 106 field goal attempts, 43 have come from three, 39 as a two point jump shot, and just 24 at the rim (where, not surprisingly, he shoots over 70%).

So what exactly does this look like in action?

Mid-way through the first half of the Monmouth game, Knox receives the ball on the wing. He gives a quick pump fake and leaves his man in the dust.

Knox pump fakes and drives past his man drawing interest from another defender.

In this play, the lane is crowded so Knox has two options: rise up for a mid-range jump shot or pass out to the perimeter to a teammate.

Knox is shooting just 36.8% on mid-range two point jumpers.

Knox chooses to shoot a tough, contested jumper when he had Quade Green wide open for a three (where Green shoots 45%) and PJ Washington who could have driven the lane since the defense had shifted to Knox’s side of the court.

Another play illustrates Knox’s penchant for pulling up in traffic. Early in the second half, Knox receives the ball in a similar position. Washington sets a screen on Knox’s defender.

Knox and Washington in pick and roll action.

As Knox dribbles he is picked up by Washington’s defender. Rather than drive the lane and look to attack the basket or dump it off to the rolling Washington, Knox opts to take another contested mid-range jumper.

Knox should look to attack here.

Calipari is starting to work in ways to get Knox the ball near the rim. An example of this came late in the first half. Knox and Tai Wynyard line up in a scenario where Knox would usually come off the Wynyard screen and pop out to the perimeter.

Knox and Tai Wynyard seal their defenders on the low blocks.

Instead, both players reverse course and post up on the low block. Wenyen Gabriel works the ball into Wynyard, but he is swallowed up and passes back out.

Gabriel finds Wynyard.

The Wildcats work the ball around when Hamidou Diallo sees that Knox still has a smaller defender posted up. Unfortunately, Diallo makes a bad entry pass into Knox. By the time Knox comes down with the ball, he is double teamed and is forced to pass the ball out.

Diallo makes a bad pass into the low block.

Even though this play didn’t work this time, look for Calipari to go back to the well. It is clear that Calipari is looking to put Knox into position to increase his opportunities at the rim, and Kentucky will be a better offensive squad as Knox becomes less one dimensional.

During the broadcast, Doug Sherman and LaPhonso Ellis discussed how Calipari frequently forces his players to expand upon their offensive game even when that isn’t necessarily what is best for the team. They cited Calipari forcing Randle away from his preferred back to the basket game to develop his ballhandling skills and now patented spin move. For both the benefit of Kentucky and Knox’s future NBA hopes, Calipari will use Knox’s poor performance against Monmouth to force Knox into creating his own shot, posting up smaller defenders, and developing some much needed aggression on the offensive end.

But in this case, Knox taking it to the rim is what is best for both the player and Kentucky. Knox’s poor performance against Monmouth still resulted in a win for the Wildcats and quite possibly a valuable lesson for Knox at just the right time.