Bucksketball Podcast

Milwaukee’s newest combo guard: A break down of Brandon Knight

| August 1, 2013

Category: ROTATIONS!, The Off Season

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Brandon Knight entertains the very faithful Detroit faithful (Photo credit: NBA.com)

For starters, let me say that I like what John Hammond has done this offseason.  He didn’t bring back any huge mistake players.  He didn’t take on too much long-term salary.  He hasn’t succeeded — there still isn’t much talent on the roster — so much as he hasn’t failed yet.

But I still get the sense that he occasionally tries to overcompensate for recent mistakes.  Burned by injuries to Andrew Bogut in recent years, the Bucks spent far too much time with Drew Gooden and Jon Brockman playing out of position at center.  Swing the pendulum the other way and enter Samuel Dalembert, Joel Przybilla, then Zaza Pachulia (for $15.6 million) and Miroslav Raduljica.

Last year, the Bucks went until the trade deadline with one functioning shooting guard, Monta Ellis, who was secretly better suited to running the point.  But fear not, there will be 2-guards this year!  Milwaukee spent a fair chunk of cash to secure a starter, O.J. Mayo, and they’ve since added depth in Luke Ridnour.

And Gary Neal.

And Brandon Knight.

Holy convocation of combo guards, Batman.

One could make the case that all three can run the point.  Ridnour did it in past seasons before sliding over to play next to Ricky Rubio last year.  Neal was the instant offense playmaker for the Spurs, often with the ball in his hands.  Knight, too, was playing point guard before a midseason trade brought Jose Calderon to the Pistons, but Detroit took the 21-year-old off the ball for good reasons:  not enough completed passes and far too many turnovers. Which one will be the point guard this year?   It’s a reasonable question to ask and there may not be a highly successful answer in the multiple choices.

Aside from that, the Knight/Jennings swap makes sense for a lot of reasons.  The Bucks will no longer be asked to pay Jennings too much money for too many seasons. Knight is younger than Jennings (21 to 23), bigger (at least two inches taller), cheaper (two years left on a rookie deal), and more athletic.  But here’s the thing:  if not being enough of a point guard was a knock on Jennings, then it should be two or three knocks on Knight.

Knight hasn’t developed a point guard’s passing instinct yet.  He shoots too often.  He overdribbles, often leading him into dangerous spots. His pick-and-rolls need help too.  As Zach Lowe of Grantland noted:

He also has a troubling habit of short-circuiting pick-and-rolls before they have a chance to develop, mostly by pursuing his own shot. One maddening tic: Knight loves to go around a pick in normal fashion, only to immediately cross back over toward the middle of the foul line and attack from there. Getting into the middle of the floor is generally a good thing. But doing so 18 feet from the hoop at the start of a pick-and-roll creates some problems. It puts Knight right in front of his rolling big man, mucking up the floor and taking away the most important passing lane in the pick-and-roll. And by getting middle so early, Knight allows opponents to defend the play without tilting all five guys too far toward one side — the dramatic kind of contortions that stretch a defense to its breaking point. The floor has appeared so tight in Detroit over the last two seasons in part because Knight hasn’t been able to exploit the cracks that do appear.

The numbers bear it out.  Among starting point guards, Knight generated assists at a poor rate, and he ranked dead last in assist-to-turnover ratio.  Forget the point guards, even centers like Al Horford and Al Jefferson had better ratios.

Knight does however have a nice shooting touch in a way totally opposite what Jennings did — but with similar results.  Where Jennings had a beautiful release on a high-leaping jump shot, Knight shoots a split-legged shot that wouldn’t look completely out of place in a reel of 1940s set shots.  Where Jennings sometimes gets into trouble by falling back or to the side, Knight leans in and gets his momentum going toward the hoop.  The results are similar.  Jennings shot 40% FG to Knight’s 41%.  Jennings made 38% of his threes and Knight made 37%.

The chart from Vorped.com also shows that Knight struggled in the same place as the other Brandon: at the rim.  (The colors are a bit misleading here.  The green in close isn’t a very good green for that spot and the reds/pinks from three are actually quite decent when compared to league averages.)

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He may not be much of a point guard yet, but Knight does have the potential to be one of the  ”three and D” players that are desired are floor-spacing cogs among contending teams already flush with talent.  Knight shoots from long-range about the same as Jennings, but he defends much better than the old Brandon did.

If the team’s core identity going forward is Larry Sanders and defense, then Brandon Jennings had to go. For as badly as Monta Ellis was maligned for his soft defense, it was Jennings who was the hole in the bottom of the leaky boat. The Bucks were 13 points better per 100 possessions with Jennings off the court than on, and for that he had to go. (They were +3.7 with Monta on.) The Bucks couldn’t afford to pay him like a featured core piece if he wasn’t going to defend.

On the other hand, Knight burned two embarrassing plays into the memories of his observers: getting crossed up by Kyrie Irving in the Rising Stars Game and getting smothered by a DeAndre Jordan dunk.  Is he a bad defender? Not by a long stretch. Among Pistons players with 500 or more minutes, Detroit was a team-best +4.5 points per 100 possessions with Knight on the court.  And that difference was made up largely on the defensive end as they yielded 7.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with Knight playing.

The Bucks essentially exchanged their worst defender for the Pistons’ best.  Maybe Jennings will turn that around in Detroit, but he wasn’t going to do it in Milwaukee.

(In a related story, the Bucks version of Jennings would have toreador-ed both Kyrie and DeAndre.  The absent effort that spares Jennings a poster moment or two also hurts him on dozens of other plays.)

Probing a little further into the defensive numbers using Synergy, the Knight addition promises to help.

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Knight posts solid marks in isolation (0.72 points per possession) and in the low post (0.78 ppp) while not faring too badly on spot-up situations (0.99 ppp) especially on two-point shots (39.2% FG).  From the video, it looks like he generally uses his above-average athleticism and his 6’7″ to bother offensive players.

Here’s the other thing: Monta Ellis, Marquis Daniels, and Luc Mbah a Moute finished 7th, 14th and 15th in points allowed when defending pick-and-roll ballhandlers.  What did Ellis, Daniels, and Mbah a Moute have in common last year?  They all had Larry Sanders behind them.   (Detroit did not — they finished 29th among 30 teams in the same stat.) Expect that part of Knight’s game to improve in Milwaukee.

In summary, Knight is younger, cheaper, more athletic than Jennings, and he is miles of Brandon ahead as a defender.  But he’s not really a point guard by our traditional definition, at least not at age 21.  Where does that leave the Bucks?

It leaves them with a very different team than the one John Hammond tried to assemble at last year’s trade deadline. That team is in Detroit.

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About the Author ()

Husband. Father. Blogger. Retired mathlete. I covered Larry Sanders' "Three Thumbs Up" game as credentialed media -- and failed to see well enough to witness the thumbing as it happened. On Twitter, I'm anaheimamigos.

Comments (35)

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  1. Sfisch says:

    Thanks, K.L., for the excellent breakdown of our new Brandon.
    On the positive side, that Brandon Knight plays tough defense is a huge plus, and he might be developing into an outstanding shooter. If he has a good attitude, then we might have something.
    On the other hand, if he is two or three times less of a point guard than Brandon Jennings, well, we’re in big trouble. That’s not Brandon Knight’s fault. Along the lines of what Gman said very well in a comment for yesterday’s article, it would be a bad idea to force Knight into a role in which he is not comfortable as far as his talent and temperament. For the most part, we have to accept him for what he is, which could be a solid or even star player.
    So here’s the situation, and if I’m repeating myself it’s only because no one has provided any sort of explanation to assuage my exasperation: Rather than acquire two or three outside players to sensibly work into the team, the Bucks have gathered a gaggle of like nine of them — all of middling accomplishments, almost all centers or shooting guards — but none a standout point guard to facilitate them fitting together. How are we going to find time at shooting guard for O.J. and Gary and Brandon and Carlos? Can O.J. and Gary play any small forward? Can we bundle some of these guys to trade for a top point guard like Rajon Rondo? In general, where are we going with this shopping spree? Still trying to give John Hammond a chance, but right now this is confusion leading to futility!

    • Ted says:

      Confusion leading to futility is a good way to put it. I also share your concern about the way this roster has been constructed, perhaps there are a few more moves to be made but as of right now I dont think this team could even win 32 games.

      On the bright side there are several very promising SF prospects in this upcoming draft. I doubt the Bucks will be bad enough to get Wiggins or Parker but perhaps getting Glenn Robinson III would not be out of the question

  2. L says:

    I believe that Hammond thinks L.Drew and his staff will help coach B.Knight into being a much more effective PG, but that’s yet to be seen.

    Can B.Knight become sort of a J.Teague-lite on offense? I have my reservations but given time and further experience, a good attitude and work ethic from the player, plus proper coaching maybe he can get there; just don’t expect it to fully occur this year.

  3. Sillybilly says:

    Solid write-up. Thanks

  4. Steve says:

    Love the idea of a defensive frontcourt as well as a backcourt.

  5. apdamico says:

    Van Excel will have his work cut out for him, but I’m sure he’d rather mentor Knight over Jennings.

  6. BOB says:

    MARK MY WORDS!! Rid and Neal will be playing point and Mayo and Knight will be the primary shooting guards… Wolters will be playing BOTH the beginning of the season so he can get minutes and next year it will be him as the starting point.
    IMO this team is better then last year because they can play both O and D!! Larry will benefit most of all by the moves that were made this summer and we finally look like the future is near.
    We got rid of a CANCER (who was not signed) and picked up Knight and Middleton (who is going to surprise a lot of people)Which IMO is a step up! Hammond FINALLY did something right!! Lets hope Drew is a good as advertised and this group gels!! Nobody is mentioning the FREE cap space that has been done the last month… That is also a BIG UPSIDE for the next two to three years!! This team will be BIG= rebounding. Fast=more scoring options. And SHOULD be a really good defending team so WE ARE BETTER then we were 45 days ago…

    • bucks1988 says:

      im marking it because Hammond just stated in their press release that Knight will be playing PG. That means Neal will be playing SG. Sorry BOB but your probably wrong on this one i think. I dont really care who plays where as long as they are placed in a spot to succeed but ya

      • BOB says:

        Hammond did his job and made the trades… BUT i feel Drew will use the players as i said BECAUSE in the end that will be the best for the team… Rid is the true point of them all and Neal showed while at SA that he can play the point and finish when needed. Because of that i feel that’s how it will play out come game #1 I could be wrong but looking at what we have,,,, that’s what i see!

        • BOB says:

          It would not surprise me at all if Ish is traded or dropped? I think they are not done making moves….

          • L says:

            I could see them packaging E.Udoh & I.Smith or Kravtsov (preferrably Kravtsov over Smith) in a trade for a SF. Otherwise, maybe they simply ship E.Udoh off to a team in need of a serviceable front court player (perhaps b/c of injury in preseason) for a draft pick (probably a 2nd rounder).

          • L says:

            To carry this thought further -

            I wonder if the Wizards have any interest in moving Trevor Ariza.

            Or if we could move those players for more future draft picks and then sign James Johnson to minimal deal in order to provide depth at the 3 for us next season.

          • Sfisch says:

            Ish is probably the only true point guard on the Bucks, and he looked great in Summer League. At this point, I think he’s a backup for 15-30 minutes per game, but has the potential to be a very good starter. Ish might be the one and only guy on the Bucks who is a natural at the point, suited physically and mentally to be a facilitator, with all the creativity and craftiness that this entails. Time will tell the extent of his leadership, but I sense that he has a fair amount of it already, and more to be tapped.
            Also, I think Ish has the form to become a good shooter if he concentrates more and focuses his eyes on the rim. He was about ten times faster moving the ball up the court this summer than Nate. As for Luke, it was interesting to read above, from KL Chouinard, that he is more of a two guard who can also somewhat run the point — and this is pretty much the same with Gary. Also according to KL, Brandon Knight is way behind Brandon Jennings as a point guard.
            If this is the case, then we better be careful to hang on to Ish the Fish — quick, slippery and darting all over the floor. If we’re willing to be so patient with guys like Giannis and Nate, remember that Ish is only about 24 without much of an opportunity so far. My call is that he has a big upside.

          • L says:

            @Sfisch -

            Yeah, I agree that Ish is positioned as the best true PG on the team currently which is why I would prefer that they didn’t package him in a deal, but I also think that he would fetch more interest because of this fact and his summer league play. I’d actually rather see Udoh and Ridnour packaged together (maybe with a 2nd rounder) for a bit more prominent young player who can play the 3 like Jeff Green (highly unlikely), Gordon Hayward (unlikely), Martell Webster (unlikely), or Evan Turner (unlikely). Without the second rounder: Thabo Sefolosha (unlikely), Al-Faroug Aminu (unlikely), Wilson Chandler (unlikely), Jimmy Butler (probably unlikely), Jae Crowder (probably unlikely), Chris Copeland (probably unlikely), Quicy Pondexter (probably unlikely), Terrence Jones (maybe given his recent issues), Alan Anderson (probably unlikely), Dorell Wright (probably unlikely), Alec Burks (probably unlikely), Marvin Williams (maybe), Trevor Ariza (maybe), Michael Beasley (maybe), Nick Young (maybe). With a second rounder actually in return instead as well as… Austin Daye (maybe), PJ Tucker (maybe), Chris Singleton (maybe), Omri Casspi (maybe), Jeffery Taylor (sure?), Draymond Green (sure?), Quincy Miller (sure?) or Reggie Williams (sure?). Clearly, some of these players probably wouldn’t be the greatest fit for our team, but they’re all still young and therefore contain some potential for improvement.

          • Sfisch says:

            @L (and any others interested):

            What do you think of our new Khris Middleton? I understand he was projected as a lottery pick before an injury.

            I’m probably out on an island on this one, but what about Scott Suggs from the Summer League, at least as a backup? I won’t even go into my liking of Mike Bruesewitz as a sub, except to mention him as I just did.

            Anyway, I like L’s idea of trading for a more experienced SF to be a starter. What about either O.J. or Gary or Brandon or Carlos along with either Ekpe or one of our other big men (not named Larry or John)? Plus we do seem to have a plenitude of 2nd-rounders. It’d be nice to get a guy at SF with a good attitude who can create his own shot and play some defense.

          • Ted says:

            @Sfisch Idk if you are Scott Suggs and (or) Mike Bruesewicz’s agent or something but I can tell you right now with quite a bit of certainty that neither of them will be on an NBA roster this season.

          • Sfisch says:

            @Ted
            It’s like on “American Pickers” in trying to find a treasure that’s been overlooked.
            I really didn’t see enough of Suggsy or the Brueser to know with any certainty about their aptness for the NBA — especially as neither was given as much playing time as others — so I’m just going with my scant impressions. I know I’m just an amateur as a scout, but then again, the professional scouts aren’t always right. It’s all in good fun, though I am quite sincere that both these guys should get a good, long second look for the Bucks.

          • L says:

            @Sfisch -

            I’m excited to see what Khris Middleton can bring, but I’m not expecting him to be able to earn more than 18-25 minutes a game. Delfino will get 30+, maybe 35+, and I could see the team playing small by shifting a guard over to play the 3 too… not looking forward that.

            I don’t know anything about Suggs’ or Mike B’s games, but if they have anything worth considering then perhaps the best thing for the team to do is keep them in the D-league for developmental purposes and if an injury were to strike that position on the team they could then sign them to a 10 day contract. That might afford them an opportunity to show what they could do in the NBA w/o the team making a year long commitment to semi-complete unknowns.

            I don’t like the idea of trade OJ or Brandon. Carlos wouldn’t b/c he’s an integral part of the depth at SF. Neal or Ridnour I could see, but considering the pursuit the Bucks put into getting Neal I think Ridnour makes a lot more sense.

  7. Patti #1 says:

    Starting point guard will go to the player that best understands what Coach Drew wants.

    These guys are all coming from different teams/coaches/offensive plays, so there is much work to be done in training camp. Hats off to the vets that signed up for this. I picture the first scrimmage looking more like a game of dodge ball than basketball. It will all come together…hopefully sooner rather than later.
    Can’t wait to see this team play!

    Go Bucks!

  8. Patti #1 says:

    What’s up with “your comment is awaiting moderation”?

  9. Justin says:

    coach ‘em up Drew

  10. Kevin says:

    I think 1 more trade should be made. Id trade Ersan, Giannis or next years 1st and Kranstov and Ish for Kendall Marshall one of the Morris bros, C butler (expiring contract) My opening day starters would be…
    Marshall / Mayo / Butler / Sanders / Zaza!!! Main Backups….
    Ridnour / Knight / Delfino/ Henson / Udoh!!! Easily a 6th seed team!!!
    Comments

  11. bucks1988 says:

    I think the Bucks will be worse than we think because the majority of your games are played against your division. All of the teams in our division are potentially playoff teams. The Magic, Bobcats, Celtics, Sixers, etc. have another team in their division trying to tank as well so they might win some of those matchups

    • Ted says:

      That’s a very good point. Bucks are clearly the worst in their division so that will benefit them nicely in the stealth tank this upcoming season.

    • Kevin says:

      Good point, but there are also hella teams that will be balls deep in L’s.

      I have no idea how this season will go. I just hope larry continues to blossom

  12. Clark says:

    I’m loving the plan Hammond has put forth so far. He’s stacking our team with tons of young, gifted, but inexperienced players. THIS IS A PERFECT PLAN. Hammond just thru together a brand new team basically with a new coaching staff in the mix as well. It’s going to take the Bucks the full year to figure out how to play with one another and gain chemistry. We will not be a very good team next year. I’m set on the fact that we will be a lottery pick next year. But I think that’s what Hammond wants. Hell, thats what I want. The young guys will get their experience in this year, hopefully we will get a stud in Wiggins (or another talented SF), and then it’s time for liftoff with a young, gifted, talented, and defensive minded team. The deer are just mating right now…the FEAR is NEAR..lol but seriously

  13. Alex says:

    I honestly have to say, I am almost optimistic about this bucks team going forward. I wanted all three (BJ, Monta, JJ) gone. DONE! the found decent priced replacements for them and added both youth, size, and efficiency. If Giannis turns out to be decent, we have potential starters at all 5 positions that are all under 25 for the next few years. And yes I know Giannis will not be starting this year… I actually think this team is better than last years, mainly because I hated Monta and BJ. The only thing the bums me out is that I was actually hoping we where bad this year and had a shot at a high lotto pick. But Knight and OJ are both lotto picks that still have upside, and John and Larry are two pieces to build around. If we suck this year, next year we will have a great core of young players with the addition of another High draft pick. Say what you will but this is actually how you build a team in a small market, but acquiring young assets and hoping for the day you can trade for a Harden type player.

  14. happyfeethustle says:

    Im going to inject some positivity to this forum. By most media accounts- L. Drew was the driving force in Teague offer. I have strong suspicions that Hammond has made great effort to secure players that L.Drew wanted to fill out roster. Seems everytime ANY move is made, this site is filled with 2nd guess opinions and NEGATIVITY. “cant see how this team can win 30 games”. Who are you people…? Is the sky constantly falling in your world? Bad childhood…? Take some time to consider the possibility that this team , with good coach & assistants may just be young and fast enough -with solid frontcourt to be a great team. TANK TANK TANK…ive never ever,…..ever been on ANY team that wanted to lose- makes me f**kin sick to my stomach to even think about it.
    I say: Nice job with new faces,new talent, new possibilities Hammond!
    Get that squad altogether working hard for eachother Drew!
    Cant wait for 1st game of the season :) :) :)

    GO BUCKS GO