If you’re reading this without having read part one examining Kevin Knox’s floor, I suggest you check that out first. There you’ll find all the requisite caveats and disclaimers that come before making player comparisons. I also provided a look at the “current state” of Knox’s game which serves as the baseline for these projections. Here, you’ll get none of that, just the good stuff. A reminder: this is predominantly a comparison of offensive games. However, I am taking simple box score stats into account, so rebounding is a consideration as well. Without further ado:

Honorable Mention: Joe Johnson

Some people snicker at the seven-time All-Star thing, but prime Joe Johnson was more than the brutish, jab-stepping Iso-Joe you may remember from his Brooklyn days. Using his age 27 season as indicative of his prime, Johnson averaged 21.4 points/ 5.8 assists/ 4.4 rebounds per game for the Hawks. He got his points shooting 43.7% from the field including 36% from three on five attempts per game. He also shot 82.6% from the foul line on 4.6 free throws per game.

What reminded me most of Knox was how Johnson scored his points. He was a crafty player who combined prolific (for his time) three-point shooting with an array of runners, pull-ups, and straight line drives. Johnson’s floater game particularly caught my eye. Take a look at his shot chart from that 2008-09 season:

That green area is one of Knox’s favorite spots on the floor:

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If you watch enough of Joe’s drives, you’ll notice some similarities in their shot selection. Check out these two drives and note the resemblance:

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They’re both comfortable taking shots across their bodies, off the wrong foot, at strange angles. Both players take their time getting to their spots, never in a hurry.

However, there are some pretty stark contrasts in their games as well (hence honorable mention). The biggest difference is their respective sizes and corresponding roles. Johnson was 6’7 and, though he was built like a tank, his game was more akin to an off-guard. Johnson’s ability to handle the ball was far superior to where Knox projects. Johnson also had the ability to run the offense and make plays for his teammates. During that 2008-09 season, Johnson averaged nearly six assists per game with an assist rate of 26.4% (compared to Knox’s current assist rate of 5%). Johnson never crept below double digits in that category for the entirety of his career. It’s unreasonable to think Knox will ever be the playmaker that Joe Johnson was in his prime.

Knox, on the other hand, is 6’9 and maybe still growing if his knee pain is the good kind. He’ll be asked to play the power forward position for significant stretches, and for him to reach his ceiling, his rebounding numbers will need to creep up towards 7-8 per game. It is highly unlikely that Knox will ever create offense for his teammates at Johnson’s level. But, he does project (at his ceiling) to be better than Johnson at getting to the free throw line (Knox’s current free throw attempt rate would be the fourth-highest of Johnson’s career) and at attacking and scoring in transition.

Not Honorable Mention: Carmelo Anthony

I know several people were calling for Carmelo Anthony as the ceiling comp. On the surface, I can see some merit to that. Melo was a big time scorer whose rebounding and assist numbers are in line with realistic Knox projections. But, I have qualms.

First, Anthony once led the league in scoring (28.7 points per game) while finishing third overall in MVP voting (2012-13). Even the most optimistic Knox fans don’t think he’ll ever be scoring champion or a top-three MVP candidate. Secondly, Carmelo was always a polished scorer. Knicks fans like to excuse Knox’s woeful shooting percentages (37% FG, 47.4% True Shooting) by citing his age (19). However, during Carmelo’s age 19 season, he averaged 21 points per game on 42.6% shooting from the field and 50.9% True Shooting. Finally, Anthony was always a jab-stepping, bully-balling, ball-stopper able to create fairly efficient offense for himself out of isolation. If Knox is going to reach his ceiling, he’ll be getting his points in a much different fashion.

Offensive Ceiling: Paul Pierce

Knicks fans’ knee jerk reaction is probably to cringe at this comparison, but if Knox wants a chance at a Hall of Fame career, he should watch heavy game tape of The Truth. Here are Pierce’s box score and shooting stats over the course of five years of his prime:

2001 – 2006 (5 seasons, Age 24-28)

Pierce’s Per-Game Averages: 24.7 points/ 6.8 rebounds/ 4.3 assists/ 3.3 TOs in 38.7 minutes; 30.2% Usage Rate

Pierce’s Shooting Splits: 43.6% on 18.3 FGAs/ 34.8% on 4.7 3PAs/ 80.3% on 8.7 FTAs

Career Accolades: Finals MVP (2008), 10x All-Star, All-NBA Second Team (2009), 3x All-NBA Third Team (2002, 2003, 2008)

The first comparison I’ll make is a big-picture one. I’ll preface this by saying Pierce is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Basketball Reference has him at a 99.74% probability of making it to Springfield, even slightly better odds than Carmelo Anthony. However, that status is the product of consistency and longevity, moreso than peak eliteness. Only once during his illustrious career did Pierce crack the top-10 in MVP voting (he finished 7th in 2008-09 when he was 31 years old). Yes, he won Finals MVP in 2008, but it’s hard to argue he was the best or most important player on that team. Kevin Garnett held that title. Pierce was a very good player for many years, but he was never a superstar.

Knox, even at his absolute reasonable ceiling, is unlikely to ever sneak into the top-10 in MVP voting. It’s hard to envision given his projected limitations (namely creating efficient offense for others). But, there’s a world where everything lines up perfectly for Knox and he is an All-Star caliber player for several years. I’m not saying this is a likely scenario. And, even if he does reach that peak, it’s unlikely he would be able to sustain success for as long as Pierce did (few do). But, Knox could potentially get his offensive game to the point where he doesn’t have any glaring holes, which is part of what made Pierce so valuable. He could do a little bit of everything; he wasn’t an offensive liability in any way. That’s Knox’s path to success.

Projected Similarities

Pierce, like Knox, was not a nuclear athlete in his prime. Instead, he was skilled and deliberate. “Shrewd, clever, slick,” as Clyde would say. He, like Knox, scored a lot in transition, but even during fast breaks, he was never in a hurry. Here are a couple grainy clips of Pierce meandering his way to the rim in transition:

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Pierce was a master at using angles and his wide body to create space. In the half-court, he was always patient and methodical in getting to his shot. One word I would not use to describe Pierce’s game, though, is “smooth,” which at first gave me pause when making this comparison. Isn’t Knox a smooth player? Well, yes and no. His jumper is very smooth. Mechanically it looks far superior to Pierce’s, whose shot sometimes resembled a full body heave, like there was nothing repeatable about the motion. Knox’s jumper looks pure. But, as soon as Knox puts the ball on the deck, that effortless veneer vanishes. Many of Knox’s drives are herky-jerky forays into the paint:

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His finishes are often unorthodox:

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Pierce’s drives mostly fell into that “not pretty, but it got the job done” bucket. It’s not like he was an elite finisher at the rim either. He was able to maintain an efficient offensive game thanks to his ability to live at the free throw line. During that aforementioned five-year prime his free throw attempt rate was a robust 47.6%. For a 19-year-old rookie, Knox has a knack for getting to the free throw line at a decent rate (24.5% free throw rate), but he’ll need to improve immensely to get on Pierce’s level.


There are some some areas where Knox doesn’t project to reach Pierce. The first, as I’ve discussed before, is playmaking. In his prime, Pierce was assisting on about 25% of his teammates made field goals. He only fell to single digits in assist rate twice, his 38 and 39-year-old seasons. Knox has so much room for growth in that area, it’s hard to fathom that he reaches Pierce’s stratosphere.

The other two areas are less daunting. The first one is off-ball cutting. Pierce, similar to Knox, was a very good floor spacer, always dangerous as a spot-up man. But, he was also a worker off the ball, running his defender around screens and catching and shooting on the move. Knox showed the ability to do this at Kentucky. It was one of my favorite things about him as a prospect. But, he hasn’t been used in this way for the Knicks as much as I would have hoped this season. Also, Pierce was a smart cutter and was able to beat his defender when they fell asleep off ball. Knox has done this in spurts, but not consistently:

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The final area is in the post. Per The BBall Index’s talent grading system, Knox has graded out to a D+ in the post when compared to other wings. Pierce was an absolute maestro virtuoso (my inner monologue is Clyde) when posting up smaller wings. Granted, some would argue that the post-up is less important today than it was in Pierce’s prime. But, with all the switching that goes on today, the ability to punish mismatches is even more of an exploitable feature of the modern game. Knox will need to spend hours in the weight room putting on the muscle necessary to overpower guards and smaller wings. He’ll also need to develop a comfort in the post that we really haven’t seen much this season.

For Knox to reach his absolute offensive apex, he’ll need to continue developing his strengths (transition scoring, outside shooting, unorthodox finishing, getting to the free throw line), while also developing his weaknesses (playmaking, off-ball cutting, post play). If he commits himself to improving every year, there is a chance that he can reach perennial All-Star status. And, if he does, Paul Pierce will likely be the model.

Statistics from Basketball Reference

Graphic by Aidan Lising

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