LOS ANGELES — The preseason fears are being realized with Kevin Knox, the Knicks’ 2018 lottery pick.
The addition of a wave of free-agent veterans has cut Knox’s playing time, cut his growth and ultimately cut his confidence. Knox has lost his mojo.
The Knicks visit Los Angeles for two games — Sunday versus the Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers and Tuesday against LeBron James’ Lake Show. They’ll need extra firepower to battle the La-La Land powerhouses, and it’s likely not coming from Knox’s fingertips.
Knox’s sophomore-jinx-of-a-season in which he’s been quiet as a mouse hit its nadir in Phoenix on Friday, when the Knicks (10-25) were beaten 120-112.
With a push from former coach David Fizdale, the Knicks drafted Knox with the No. 9 pick over Villanova’s defensive specialist Mikal Bridges, who as a Suns rookie earned the “Dan Majerle Hustle Award.’’
In just 12:13 of playing time Friday, being defend by Bridges, Knox was 1-of-2 from the field for three points and four rebounds.
With swingman Reggie Bullock now added to the mix (he played 18:33 in Phoenix), Knox may become even more invisible.
The former Kentucky forward seems resigned to being a role player off the bench this season instead of a featured scorer.
Veterans such as Marcus Morris and Julius Randle lead the team now. Morris has been the starting small forward from Day 1 but is on a one-year contract.
The Knicks didn’t draft Knox to be a role player. They drafted him to be a star. Despite a roller-coaster rookie year, he showed flashes of brilliance. This season he’s more afterthought.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with it,’’ Knox said of being demoted to reserve status. “The bench is really important to our team providing energy. That’s what I’m trying to be — a good defender, rebounder, play with energy to get my team that spark. Offensively will come and I’m not trying to rush it. The most important thing for me is coming in and giving energy, steals, blocks and make winning plays on the defensive end.’’
Some scouts believe the Knicks should clean out some veterans by the Feb. 7 trade deadline to give players such as Knox and Allonzo Trier some breathing room.
Knox, benched on a few occasions by Fizdale before he got fired, is playing 19 minutes per game and averaging 7.7 points on 38.4 percent shooting.
In fact, the Knicks’ past three lottery picks — RJ Barrett, Knox and Frank Ntilikina — are each shooting 38 percent.
The trio was glued to the bench in the fourth quarter in Phoenix. It was another shotmaking clunker for Barrett (3-of-10, 1-of-6 on 3-pointers).
If you were to judge Friday who has the better future between the two franchises, the Suns would get the nod. They were powered by young superstar Devin Booker (38 points) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (29 points).
Ironically, Knox had been compared to Booker, also a Kentucky one-and-done player, especially because both were 18 when they were drafted.
Last season, Knox was part of the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend. That honor won’t be coming this season.
Interim coach Mike Miller indicated Knox is in an experimental phase where they are trying to get him to expand his offensive repertoire. However, Knox looks a little lost in figuring out his moments.
“We have encouraged him to be more versatile,’’ Miller said. “He shoots the ball well but we want him to be doing the other things. He’s more versatile now. He’s cutting more, he’s playing off the dribble. He’s shooting the ball with a little runner and floater, pull-ups, get to the basket more. His skill package dictates he can do more than just catch and shoot stuff.’’
Knox claims to be all for it, even if it’s taking a step backward to advance two steps forward.
“I want to be able to score on all three levels and not just be a 3-point shooter,’’ Knox said. “I can score by getting to the rack. I have to keep working at getting to my spots so I’m not just floating on the 3-point line. [Miller] is always telling me to be aggressive and make sure I get to the basket. I’m a good shooter but I don’t want that to be the my whole game.”
Last season, Knox emerged as the No. 1 option following the Kristaps Porzingis blockbuster in late January. While Mitchell Robinson enjoys coming off the bench to get in a good groove, Knox is finding his way in the offense.
“It’s one ball, but everyone gets shots,” Knox said. “Everyone’s getting their shots and enjoying the offense. It’s one ball, but a lot shots to go around.’’