Bucksketball Podcast

Brandon Knight believes he is a starting point guard – stats, so far, do not

| October 7, 2013

Category: Media Day!, Stats and Stuff

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Brandon Knight and Caron Butler at Media Day

Brandon Knight (right) is eager to prove he can play point guard, but the stats say otherwise. (Photo credit: The Journal Times, Scott Anderson)

At his press conference in early August, Brandon Knight wanted to clear something up.

“I’m definitely a point guard,” Knight said. “There’s no question in my mind.”

Knight, the centerpiece of the Brandon Jennings sign-and-trade, believes he is a point guard who is capable of playing off the ball — not the other way around. At Media Day, however, his defense of being a point guard revolved more around his peers than his own play.

“If you look around the league,” Knight said, “most of the point guards — quote-unquote point guards — on NBA teams are scorers. At this day and age, to be a point guard in this game, you have to be able to score the basketball. There are few point guards who dominate the game solely by passing the ball.”

He’s right. The air quotes are appropriate, too. “True” point guards (perhaps better described as  ”traditional” or “pass-first” point guards) are few and far between in the current NBA landscape. The new point guard model is embodied by the likes of Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. With increased athleticism and scoring ability, the position’s priorities are shifting from distributing and spot-up shooting to playmaking and scoring.

But here’s the problem: Knight, at least to this point in his young career, isn’t a quality score-first point guard. If you’re not an effective score-first point guard, you better be an effective pass-first one — and vice-versa. Right now, Knight is neither.

“If we were to look at stats, per se, most of the quote-unquote true point guards in the league shoot more than I shoot in the game anyway,” Knight said. “If you look at the amount of shots per game, most of them average more shot attempts than I do.”

Again, he’s not wrong, but Knight still took the 14th most field goal attempts per game (11.7) out of all qualified point guards (70+ games or 1,400+ points). The point guards who shot more are as follows: JenningsWestbrook, Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, Deron Williams, Ty Lawson, Greivis Vasquez, Chris Paul, Jeff Teague, Goran Dragic and Mike Conley. With a couple of exceptions, those players should be taking a lot of shots. Knight? Perhaps not so much.

Out of the 70 qualified guards (point guards and shooting guards) last season, Knight ranked …

  • 35th in assist percentage (21.3 percent)
    • Jennings: 19th (29.1 percent)
  • 60th in turnover percentage (17.3 percent)
    • Jennings: 28th (12.9 percent)
  • 54th in true shooting percentage (51.1 percent)
    • Jennings: 56th (51.0 percent)
  • 55th in PER (12.0)
    • Jennings 26th (16.1)

Knight also posted the 13th-highest usage percentage among qualified point guards. So, in essence, he’s a high-volume shooter who doesn’t score — or pass — efficiently. Sound familiar?

The most alarming statistics come from his pick-and-roll game. According to Synergy Sports, pick and rolls accounted for 27.4 percent of all possessions in which Knight was involved (highest of any play). As a ball handler, he committed turnovers on 20.6 percent, or one-fifth, of pick-and-roll opportunities (Jennings turned it over on just 14.5 percent). When Knight managed to keep the ball, the results weren’t much better. His .69 points per possession on pick and rolls, in which he shot 36.4 percent, ranked 133 in the NBA.

Transition offense proved to be just as frustrating for Knight. His .94 points per possession in transition opportunities ranked 276th in the NBA (Jennings ranked 200th). Knight, a respectable three-point shooter, was a bit more effective in spot-up opportunities, converting .99 points per possession (153rd in the NBA).

Can you guess to which Brandon these charts belong? (Source: NBA.com/Stats)

(Hint: They are in alphabetical order by last name from left to right.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does all of this mean Knight is a better fit at shooting guard than point guard? Not really. Knight shifted over to shooting guard at times toward the end of last season, following the Pistons’ acquisition of Jose Calderon, but his splits by position are quite a bit more favorable at point guard, according to 82games:

Like his predecessor, Knight may be better suited coming off the bench in the NBA as a spark plug combo guard. Even by “pure” point guard standards, Jennings is better — at least on the offensive end. Defensively, and on effort alone, Knight should be a vast improvement from the undersized guards of last year. Knight, who is listed at 6-3, 189, was noticeably bulked up at Media Day and said he added a “good amount” of weight over the summer.

Knight is also regarded as an intelligent and hard-working player. He is equally confident in his intangible qualities, including what he refers to as “instinctive” leadership.

“I don’t have a problem being vocal,” Knight said, “but I’m also a guy who can lead by example.”

At 21, Knight, the eighth overall pick in 2011, is still plenty young enough to make a significant jump. He also admits there is still work to be done — a refreshing contrast to Jennings, who was convinced he played at an All-Star level the past two seasons.

“I think I’m a pretty decent defender,” Knight said. “I think I can shoot the basketball pretty well. But like I said, I know I can improve as an offensive player all around.”

For what it’s worth, Knight has head coach Larry Drew, who helped develop Jeff Teague in Atlanta, in his corner. At Media Day, Drew reiterated that Knight is a point guard, noting that he always viewed Knight as such when Atlanta faced Detroit the past two seasons. However, it sounds like Drew will experiment with moving Knight off the ball, too.

“Coach Drew has already said he’s going to have me off the ball a little bit – not just solely on the ball, because you don’t want to be too predictable,” Knight said.

But from general manger John Hammond to Drew to the player himself, the vibe is consistent: Knight will be the starting point guard heading into this season — and for the foreseeable future.

When the Bucks were ready to deal Jennings, they clearly felt the need fill his shoes with a comparable player. Maybe it was to convince their fans to move on, maybe it was to assure themselves it was the right step, or maybe it was simply to fill a subsequent need. Regardless, Knight will feel the pressure, both internally and externally, to excel at point guard.

At least it appears he is willing to embrace the challenge.

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About the Author ()

Preston is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is majoring in journalism and history. (Twitter: @pdschmitt1)

Comments (7)

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  1. L says:

    If he can become aggressive in attacking the rim and in-turn breaking down the defense through his athleticism then I think he will develop into a very serviceable PG for the team; though, he truly does need to work on his comfort with the pick n’ roll which I think will be of very big importance to the Buck’s offensive philosophy.

  2. Sfisch says:

    If Brandon Knight is enthusiastic about playing the point, then it sounds like a good idea to give him a fair opportunity. At age 21, there might be a lot of untapped potential.
    Still, I hope we trade two or three or our guys (especially as it seems we have too many players and too few minutes per game) for another point guard to complement Brandon — maybe a veteran in the mold of Andre Miller. With all of our new guys, we really need someone who can direct the show and distribute the ball. If Brandon is still an apprentice, it would be good to have another guy who is more experienced or more natural at the position. Luke is solid, but my understanding is that he is more of a shooting (two) guard.
    I’m excited about Brandon as a Buck. I’m hopeful he’ll find a good role with the team, and maybe even become a star. It would be good to give him a decent amount of time to develop at point, but then again, not to force the position on him if he just doesn’t seem to have the knack.
    Finally, I’m still in favor of pass-first point guards who are also able to score. Knowing when to pass and when to shoot is one of the challenges of the job. In general, being a point is an extremely difficult position that goes beyond skills into the realm of instincts and intangibles. There’s no shame in not having the artistic ability to flourish in that craft, and a guy can excel elsewhere on the court. It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out for Brandon and the Bucks. I’m rooting for success one way or another.

  3. DukeH says:

    Another stat that is interesting is that 61% of Knight’s shots came with 0-10 seconds left on the shot clock, Jennings and Ellis were at 41% and 37% respectively. I think it’s safe to say that Detroit tried to work through their young big men last season and when Monroe/Drummond couldn’t produce anything they kicked it out to Knight for a less than ideal shot attempt. Or maybe Knight dribbled the clock out, I don’t know, I didn’t watch too many Detroit games but 61% is A LOT of attempts and likely played a role in the numbers he put up last season.

    I’d like to see how he plays in Drew’s up tempo offense, I think he could put up similar numbers to what Teague did last season.

  4. william says:

    See, I think it’s unfair to judge him off his two years in Detroit, yes he created lots of turnovers. Yes, he had Greg Monroe. What he did not have was an Ersan Illyasova, Caron Butler, Carlos Delfino, Luke Ridnour, Gary Neal. All very strong consistent three point shooters. Tayshaun Prince and Jose Calderon he only had for a half season each. Kyle Singler is their third best three point shooter. That being said, I’ll let the season and new coach judge what this man can and can’t do. He’s 21, with a far better shot than Derrick Rose, less athletic(to be expected) however, he is athletic, every bit as much as Monta, if not more. I think Larry Drew can work something out over the next couple of years with him and Henson/Ersan to be a fairly lethal pick and roll/pop type of game.

    • william says:

      He could potentially have 3 extremely accurate three point shooters on the court, so if he can learn to drive better. I say the sky is the limit. OJ Mayo will flourish stat wise this season that’s for sure.