NEW YORK -- The Knicks' unveiling of their shiny new lottery pick three years ago went a little bit differently.
It was in late October, against these same Atlanta Hawks, when 20-year-old Kristaps Porzingis made his home debut. The rookie added the first ever play to his highlight reel, shaking Paul Millsap with a spin move to throw down a breakaway dunk. This 7-foot-3 forward with guard skills, who was supposed to be a long-term project, announced to the arena, the city, and a national television audience that he was ready to contribute right away. Fans wouldn't have to wait to start enjoying Knicks games again and hyping the living daylights out of the team's future.
Tuesday night, in a 126-107 win, the Knicks' latest lottery pick delivered a new message to fans with his play: Chill.
Kevin Knox did everything right. He took the ball to the basket with confidence, his shot selection was solid, and he was incredibly active on both ends of the floor. Yet despite all of this, he didn't have much to show for it. He had no momentous dunk -- although he attempted to throw one down and was denied the chance by Miles Plumlee -- and made just 4 of his 16 field goal attempts.
He looked like a 19-year-old kid stepping onto a spotlight court for the first time in front of 18,249 people in New York City.
"I was nervous," Knox said postgame. "The whole warmups, in the locker room, stomach going crazy."
Despite the jitters, and all the misses, Knox's debut was still a success. He proved to his coaching staff that he can do what is asked of him, take charge, and that he will play within the confines of the offense and not take foolish shots.
"I loved his aggression tonight, I want him to keep letting it fly," coach David Fizdale said. "I liked most of his shots. He was attacking. On a few of his drives, he took the extra dribble like we've been talking about. But he was active, he was engaged in this game and he was going after it."
He may see more shots fall in his second career game after the nerves depart. He might not. No matter what happens Friday, or Saturday, or on Christmas, this might take some time -- and that's okay.
Just because Porzingis rose to prominence almost instantly doesn't mean Knox should be expected to. The Knicks have the luxury of time on their side, and maybe -- finally, maybe -- have a fertile environment for growing above-average players.
Having veterans like Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Enes Kanter to take the lion's share of shots (yes, the fact that these guys are now veterans accents just how young this team is) will help ease the pressure on Knox that might be placed on other rookies like, say, Trae Young, who will be given the green light to put up more field goal attempts than Josh Smith could ever dream of.
Other players on this team will score and draw attention from the defense. Even Allonzo Trier was double-teamed on opening night, which means Knox can get to the spots he likes, and take shots he's comfortable with.
"There's no pressure at all," said Knox. "I'm really comfortable with my teammates taking shots because I know they can make them."
The neophyte is simply learning on the fly, which means there will be slumps and there will be hot streaks. New Yorkers will naturally overreact to each stretch, but there should be an element of patience present this season when it comes to Knox. Fans have shown an exceptional amount toward the team's general rebuild and the growing Frank Ntilikina, and that shouldn't stop now.
The build will be slow, but the payoff may be grand.