In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this edition, we evaluate William & Mary big man Nathan Knight.
Even as the NBA moves away from offenses built around post-up play, teams can never have enough forwards or centers with double-double potential on a given night. Nathan Knight fits this bill, as he emerged as a walking 20-and-10 big man and the best player in the Colonial Athletic Association as a senior during the 2019-20 campaign.
Knight checks in at a broad-chested 6’10” and 253-pounds. He was a four-year player and three-year starter at William & Mary, appearing in every single game over that span and starting all but two in his last three years. He amassed a career line of 23.2 points on a 57.9% eFG%, 10.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes.
Kenpom calculates his ORtg as 114.0 this past season, putting him at 7th in the entire country for players that qualify. During his junior season, he became the first player to average more than 20 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks per game since Tim Duncan in 1996-97. The obvious caveats about arbitrary cutoffs and level of competition apply of course, but if your name is on a leaderboard with Tim Duncan, eyes will open.
His senior year even saw him add a three-point shot to his arsenal, hitting almost 31% per attempt on 4 tries per game. For these accomplishments, he was named the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year in 2019-20.
Knight was among the most dominant forces in his conference by his sophomore year. He used his filled-out frame to carve out space in the paint on both ends and physically assert his will. At times, he looked like a man amongst boys. Opposing Colonial coaches are glad to see him graduate so they don’t have to build a game plan to counter him anymore.
His jumper stroke is pretty smooth for a big man who only recently added significant shooting range. Even though Knight was a career 28% shooter from three-point range, his clean mechanics and career 74% shooter from the free throw line provide confidence that his jump shot is at least respectable.
Knight is very nimble for someone his size and has polished footwork in both the paint and ranging out toward the free-throw area. He has a variety of spin moves going both left and right to get to the rim.
Knight can handle the ball to create for himself, with comfort going either right or left. It is a joy to watch him size up his opponent and take him off the dribble with comfort, as he does on two consecutive and almost identical possessions below.
Here, he just uses his overwhelming physical present to bully his way to the basket and finish with authority.
He is smart about when and where to post up, and excels in the early post up in slow transition opportunities. Knight can find and hit the open shooter when teams double him in the post with an on time and accurate pass. Similarly, the ball doesn’t stick in his hands when operating in the flow of an offense.
Knight doesn’t lack for fight when it comes to the offensive glass. It looks like he loves throwing his body around. A wise man one said “board man gets paid.”
Knight boxes out routinely and is as fundamentally sound rebounding on the defensive end as on the offensive end.
Even when he’s beat on defense, he can sniff out opportunities and time his jump to erase his opponent’s shots. Also, a 7’2 ¼” wingspan doesn’t hurt.
Knight can also provide help defense away from his man, like the play below with him slamming the door on a drive down the lane.
Despite his large frame, Knight never missed a single game, logging over 3,300 minutes on the floor. We’ve seen so many big men develop foot or lower body injuries compounded by their size that nag them throughout their career, but Knight doesn’t fall in that category.
He entered the NBA Draft process last summer before returning before his senior year, so NBA team representatives have seen his competitive drive and ability to work on his game firsthand already.
Knight is a slow-footed and at times plodding big man, and the league is moving toward more mobile and rangy big men. His game isn’t particularly fluid or aesthetically pleasing, and would best be an asset on a team looking to play a slow, below the rim brand of basketball, a style that is quickly going extinct in the NBA.
He would be an easy fit on a 2010-2017 Memphis-style grit and grind type of team. Knight even reminds me of Zach Randolph as someone who doesn’t possess a lot of leaping ability but makes up for it with his craftiness and leverage. The big difference lies in that Knight would rather play with his back to the basket than face up.
While he is a very good paint protector, Knight can be exposed on defense if he has to step out and defend in space. He shies away from showing hard while defending screens and chooses to drop almost every time, which will allow for NBA-level shooters to hurt him from long range.
In the below clip, Knight gets caught ball watching and loses his man on the back screen.
Knight can fail to secure his screens before slipping them and rolling to the basket. There is no issue with his motor or hustle, but these little things will help in fit into a broader spectrum of schemes at the next level.
Knight also struggles with foul trouble, as a career 4.1 personal fouls per 36 minutes metric shows. Here, he gets baited into committing the charging foul. It’s simply a mental error against a smaller guy.
All in all, Knight just doesn’t have elite athleticism that is required in the NBA. And even though he helped lead the Tribe to a 21-11 record this past season, Knight is hurt by playing in a mid-major conference that ranked 17th out of the 32 Division I conferences by Kenpom. In addition, he’ll be 23 by the time the draft eventually rolls around, surely a negative in the minds of many front offices.
Possible fit with the Hawks
A four-year small conference double-double machine who recently added a three-point shot may remind some Hawks fans of Mike Muscala, especially when considering that Atlanta hosted Knight for a pre-draft workout in 2019. Knight figures to play the center full time at the next level at 6’10”, although he could conceivably moonlight at the power forward position if his newly added ability to stretch the floor isn’t a mirage.
His productivity and efficiency may get him a look late in the draft, but Knight’s future probably resides in a different league for the time being. With the Hawks acquiring both Clint Capela and Dewayne Dedmon over the course of last season, the center position has gone from lacking to having many options. With Damion Jones entering restricted free agency, the Hawks could turn to the draft for a replacement but, even then, Atlanta does have 2019 second-round pick Bruno Fernando already on the roster.
I don’t believe Nathan Knight would be the ideal investment target for Atlanta. The Hawks used a post up to end a possession just 2.6% of the time, 6th-fewest in the league. Similarly, Atlanta was in the top 5 in pick-and-roll possession ended by both the ball handler and the roller. This is to say Knight’s game would not be a good fit for the club as he was infrequently used as a roll man.
I’m a sucker for four-year college players who are extremely productive, as they’ve worked on their game over that span extensively under the guidance of college coaches. If any team wants to zag and build a ground and pound scheme in the era of spacing, Nathan Knight would be a good second round selection for that roster.