Things did not look good for Brandon Knight.
Acquired from the Detroit Pistons in July for Brandon Jennings, Knight was determined to make a strong first impression to fans in Milwaukee. Instead, he strained his hamstring in the first quarter of the season opener in New York and missed the Bucks’ next four games. Upon his return to the lineup, he struggled to find a rhythm, shooting just 34.4 percent from the field and averaging 3.0 turnovers in just 27.7 minutes per game over his first 14 games.
It was easy for a lot of people (myself included) to write the 22-year old Knight off as a flawed guard who would not be much of an improvement over Jennings. And even if he did surpass the insignificant mark left by Jennings, he would never be good enough to be placed in the Bucks’ proverbial “core.”
However, Knight, the 8th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, has improved nearly every aspect of his game since his initial struggle and now it seems likely he will be a solid contributor to the Bucks moving forward.
It’s clear February was an incredible month for Knight. He posted season bests in all but two of these categories and the two stats he failed to best, field goal percentage and steals, weren’t far behind his top mark. His field goal percentage is still not as good as many would hope, but despite this, Knight has drastically improved the value of his shots by taking them in more efficient locations:
The death of the mid-range! In shot-chart form!
Compare Knight’s February shot chart to December’s. He stretched his game out, away from the middle of the court and to the rim and three-point line. That’s some high quality shot maximization.
Knight has increased the percentage of shots he takes from 0-3 feet away from the basket from 25.1 percent in December to 35.6 percent in February, via NBA Wowy. The percentage of his shots from the mid-range area have reduced from 44.9 percent to 36.7. And his percentage of layups as shot type has increased from 22.2 percent to 32.8.
It has been an all-around improvement in where he takes his shots and it’s tough to imagine this occurred randomly. Knight has made a concerted effort to attack the basket and avoid the mid-range and he’s been rewarded with supreme results.
Looking beyond shooting, Knight has also drastically improved his assist and turnover rates. The assist rate calculates the percentage of a player’s possessions which end in an assist. The turnover rate does the same, but for turnovers. Knight posted his best assist/turnover ratio of the season in February, with an assist rate of 8.9 and a turnover rate of 3.1. This signals that beyond his effort to improve where he takes his shots, the game has simply slowed down for him and he has been allowed to make better decisions.
Despite this, Knight is still prone to looking utterly lost while trying to run an offense as the point guard. He appears to read the game much better off-ball. Hopefully the Bucks coaching staff will soon view him as primarily a shooting guard who can occasionally play point, rather than a point guard who can occasionally play shooting. At 6-foot-3, Knight is small for the shooting guard position. And this is a worry when thinking about how his career will progress. But he’s strong enough to body other guards and I argue he is much less a liability defending the two than he is trying to run an offense at the one.
Brandon Knight may never be an All-Star. He may never even be a starter on a contending team. But there are twelve roster spots on an NBA team for a reason and Knight has proven over the last few months that there should be one for him on the Bucks moving forward.