Bucksketball Podcast

The Brandon Knight Rises

| March 10, 2014

Category: Stats and Stuff

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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.

The numbers:

Knight month month stats

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:

Knight-Shot-Charts

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.

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Jon Hartzell is a writer/producer at NBA.com who likes the Bucks.

Comments (23)

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  1. L says:

    “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.”

    While I am one to sort of agree with this point I do want to point out that you’re also someone who had this view too…

    “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.”

    Perhaps, its too early to write off B.Knight as someone who can’t run an offense as the point guard. Hell, within one season with L.Drew and I think more importantly N.Van Axel’s coaching he’s improved every aspect of his game. I don’t know if it’s prudent to doubt that he can’t continue to improve his ability to run the Bucks’ offense as the Point Guard where his size is perfect and his defensive abilities plus willingness are put to better use. The growth I’ve seen this season leads me to believe that the Bucks can continue running B.Knight out at the PG position and ideally can develop a Point Forward (G.Antetokounmpo or J.Parker or maybe even J.Randle?) who can co-manage the responsibilities of running the team’s offense w/ B.Knight so that he’s not depended on solely to handle those duties.

    • Jon Hartzell says:

      It’s definitely a possibility he could become serviceable at PG. But it worries me that while he’s improved nearly every aspect of his game over the last few months, his ability to run point has remained poor.

      I’ll believe in his PG abilities once he shows an ability to improve them.

      • L says:

        Like I said I think ideally B.Knight wouldn’t need to be a true PG for the Bucks in the sense of a C.Paul or R.Rondo -lite type, but instead maybe more of an upgraded M.Chalmers or slight downgraded version of P.Beverely. Someone who can run the offense when needed, but more importantly someone who provides the valuable 3 and D tendencies from the PG position; basically, someone who can space the floor on top of being able to provide some penetration and scoring when needed on offense while paired with above average perimeter defense and an ability to physically give problems for many of the talented PGs in the league.

        I mention this because if the Bucks can develop G.Antetokounmpo to be an All-Star Point Forward or maybe one of the top Forward-ish draft picks who can handle the ball then they won’t need to rely as heavily on their PG to run the team’s entire offense.

      • Scrap Irony says:

        I hoped this article would finally shed a shining light on one of the two good things to happen to Milwaukee this season. Instead, it’s a subtle hatchet job on the Bucks’ best player.

        Knight has had a very, very good season. Period.

        It’s not just a good-job-for-a-weak-point-guard or a 12th-man-kind-of-good-season or even a back-up-who-had-to-play-major-minutes-because-the-Bucks-suck-good-season– it’s a good season for any guard.

        Look at the numbers.

        Knight’s PER as a guard (point, shooting, or combo) ranks 28th in the league. That’s in the upper half of all starters, Bucks’ fans. His estimated win added– even with the missed games and horrid October/ November– is 5.1, also 28th in the league. Again, upper half of the league.

        He plays a combo guard in the Buck lineup because he primarily plays with Nate Wolters and, now, Ramon Sessions. You dog his season with a nebulous claim about poor decision-making, yet the stats you cite indicate just the opposite. A 2.87 A:TO ratio (as Knight has put up in February) would tie Brandon Jennings (ironic, no?) for 10th among starting PGs and top all shooting guards. This despite season-long slumps (and inability to finish at the rim) from Ilyasova, Sanders, Butler, Mayo, Neal, and months-long funks from Henson, Ridnour, Middleton, Giannis, and Wolters. You try garnering more than five assists from that collection of “shooters” and see how well you do. At least Wolters has the advantage of having Knight to throw to.

        He’s not simply, as you write in the column, deserving of a roster spot. He’s been a gold mine and a deserving starter for almost any team in the league. In fact, the only teams for which Knight should not start are the Clippers, Spurs, Suns, and Raptors. That’s four backcourts that, according to Hollinger’s PER, shouldn’t give Knight as many minutes as he can handle. Every other team in the NBA would count themselves lucky to have him.

        When Jennings was dealt for Middleton and Knight, almost the entire fan-base was furious. Yet, that and the Giannis draft look remarkably good for the future of the team. Hell, you could argue they’re the only good moves the Bucks have made since drafting Larry Sanders. I told you all then that Knight had a chance to be just as good as Jennings.

        Right now, he’s not only just as good– he’s better. And at less than half the cost. Sure, it’d be great if Milwaukee could find the next Chris Paul in the draft, but Chris Paul’s are few and far between.

        Brandon Knight is the least of Milwaukee’s worries going forward. He’s a legitimate, above average NBA starting guard. No prevarication. No back-handed comments about deserving a roster spot. No two years’ out of date Zach Lowe claims about him being slow to see the whole floor.

        Knight, simply put, is a very good guard who earns every bit of praise given.

        • theXX says:

          I don’t think he is saying Knight didn’t improve or isn’t a good player. If anything, he did. As someone who has watched Knight play, I have to agree with Jon’s assessment. Some people just aren’t naturally good at running an offense. After almost 3 years, he hasn’t shown it. Who knows he could get better at i. This doesn’t, in any way, mean he is not valuable to the team or someone we can’t build with.

          • gregmag says:

            One of the many, many things I don’t know about basketball is this: At what levels of age and experience do most PGs top out in their PG skills? Let’s say Jon is right that BK is a bad PG (though I have to say, I usually trust numbers over statements like “he looks lost to me”). We know what BK is and isn’t doing well, we know how good / bad his teammates are, we know he’s 23 in his third year, we know he’s a high-character guy who works hard. Can we reasonably hope that his PG skills (however exactly we define those) will improve? Have other PGs like him improved like we’d need BK to improve before pronouncing him a good PG? Does anybody have data, anecdotes, or conventional wisdom about this question?

      • Ted says:

        ^^ Amen

  2. Justin says:

    no matter what you think of Hammonds past in-season trade history, he has been money this year in the trade department.. I mean getting Knight and Middleton for BJen and at essentially a third of the price for both of them was pretty savvy.. and then trading the worthless Neal for Sessions and Adrien has been pretty terrific.. I understand these are not translating to wins, but this team has tremendous fight in them

  3. thekid says:

    There’s nothing wrong with keeping a guy honest. Brandon Knight has done incredibly well but there are obvious improvements he needs to make. Some of them will happen just by those around him improving. Brandon literally has to put the team on his back night in and night out. He gets some help from Middleton and then once a month Ersan shows up, Caron when he was here showed up three times a month and the rest remain rather pedestrian with occasional glimpses. Pressure on offense and defense will be taken off when Brandon knows as he takes it up the court it isn’t solely on him to make sure points get on the board but rather he can hand it off and let the other four take a run at that possession.

    Brandon Knight may not quite be better than Brandon Jennings right now, but for his age and his salary, he is. BK will be a strong player for the Bucks in the future and that is about what we hoped for when we acquired him.

    • Scrap Irony says:

      Right now, Brandon Knight is better than Brandon Jennings. Look at their PER.

      When you add in defense (that’s virtually ignored in PER), it’s not close.

      As to “captaining” this team, you really have to understand:

      1) The Bucks are being captained by Nate Wolters AND Brandon Knight, not one or the other. Both are combo guards, and they share the responsibility of making the team better. When Sessions is in the game, it’s the same situation.

      2) The Bucks’ rank, at this point, 29th in the league in PPG. They are, however, 18th in the league in assists. Knight leads the team in assists by a wide margin. Were the players around him better, Knight’s assists would improve. Assists take two players– one to pass, the other to shoot. How many Bucks do you trust to shoot the ball?

      As to pointing out “obvious flaws” rather than writing a hatchet job, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

      Knight is not “utterly lost” running a team.

      Nor is he a “liability trying to run an offense”. (Unless you also think Damian Lilliard and Kyrie Irving are also liabilities running their respective offenses.)

      He’s not only a second-division starter; in fact, his numbers suggest that all but four teams could improve by using Knight as a starter.

      He’s obviously better than just a guy that’s roster filler.

      None of these are fair criticisms of the Buck guard. And, I’d guess, the OP knows it.

  4. LEN EDELMAN says:

    Been huge fan of Brandon Knight since his 8th grade year. Watched him all the way up in HS. Couple of things you guys are totally missing. First off he won Gadorade Player of the year two times in HS. This is the award for best student athlete. Pinecrest High School is the number 1 rated Private school in Florida and one of top in USA. The kid never got a B in his life. He is STUPID SMART!!! Probably has a 170 IQ. So when you guys say he can not run an offense it is not because he does not understand the plays. Get him some real players around him and this kid is making the ALL STAR team. Look what he did in High School (two state championships) and in AAU (National 17u CHAMPS and then at Kentucky (Final Four)!! NOTE: I am also big Miami Heat fan. We would trade Chalmers strait up for him all day!! My bet is Bucks are going to get a top pick in this draft and yes they will be better next season. However I would not be shocked if he opted out and signed with Miami after 2015. SPECIAL NOTE: Google images of BK in high school. He played with dread locks ALA Allen Iverson. Was much scarier looking then!!

  5. Sfisch says:

    My hunch for Brandon Knight’s future is that he’s a either a mediocre point guard or a star shooting guard.

    • L says:

      I sure hope we won’t make him our starting SG down the road because I don’t want to see our team trotting out another undersized SG. Smart coaches will find ways to take advantage of the mismatch that can create if the other team has a SG with a size advantage there.

      BK is proving he can be sufficient enough running the team’s offense plus he has the tools to be a better than average defensive PG. The team just need to develop G.Antetokounmpo, K.Middleton, and/or one of the point-forward-ish picks in the draft to also handle running the team’s offense to take some of that responsibility off of BK and spread it out amongst the others too. For example, the Heat, Pacers, and Rockets are all teams which have approximately 3 or more players on the court at the same time who can bring the ball up-court and initial the team’s offense. I think that’s an ideal situation verses relying solely on one player.

  6. Larry says:

    Absolute great player, great person, hard worker. He is young and talented and is a pure upgrade from Jennings. Put any point guard into a new organization with young players with no chemistry and a new coach and tell me who starts out comfortable. It’s his improvement and desire to be better that is a rare talent in the nba. He has what most players don’t. All you analysis that have never played and just give stats are jokes. He will be the face of this franchise if given the trust and opportunity. I would love to see him on my team and I feel like any team without cp3 or Westbrook would feel the same. May not be a top 3 PG now but will be soon!

    • thekid says:

      Ok well Brandon won’t be a CP3 or Russell Westbrook and won’t be the face of the franchise, but he can be a very good player who is the third of a big three (meaning he can be the Sam Cassell (but better looking) of a Ray Allen Big Dog three group, while Giannis is preferably Glenn and we draft another Jesus Shuttlesworth. But also glad he is really smart, that does count for something. Not as much as athletic ability but definitely something.

  7. Joe says:

    As a big brandon knight fan since his college days I must say I’m glad to see how he has improved. He is definitely a player that can be apart of a future vision of this team. For now he makes it so that the Bucks don’t have to worry about a PG, and can go out and get players that championship teams are built around ie athletic wings and low post scoring big men

  8. matt says:

    Let me start out by saying I’m NOT a Brandon knight fan, NOR do I have a collection of NBA stats to pluck wonderful numbers. What I have are my eyes and ears. Both of those tell me he’s a huge improvement over Brandon Jennings. His on-ball defense is lightyears better than Jennings’ ever was, and his off ball communication on defense is just as good.

    His offense is a one man show right now, every guy he plays with at the moment is either developing or already reached a ceiling of mediocrity. I expect him to look lost at times because hey, that guy is supposed to be over there, where the heck did he go?

    This isn’t to say he’s perfect or elite at this point , because obviously he’s not. I will , however, say his improvement in the areas he can control is dramatic and as long as he keeps the desire to improve as his mindset, he will be the bucks starting point guard.

    So where does that leave us? Well, it looks like greek kid (who’s name I won’t attempt to pronounce or spell) looks about year or so from really breaking through as an elite type player, just needs seasoning. This year has been more about adjusting off the court than on it for him. Middleton, another player who has dramatically improved his game over the course of this year is just the kind of player we need to pair with the greek kid as the starting/backup 3 spot. Wolter’s is a year away from being a legit backup combo guard, but for the buck’s this year, right now, he’s fine. Ersan looks every bit the guy I thought he was when the bucks overpaid for him after his contract year. I’d feel better about him at the 2-3 million a year range. Now if there’s somebody who “looks” lost, its Henson. Larry is Larry, I believe he’s reached his ceiling, which is fine as long as we dont count on him to score. He’s a part of this bucks core as far as I’m concerned , just not for his scoring. OJ Mayo, pretty much the whole league knows he’s reached his ceiling as well.

    The guys I keep as core parts for this bucks team going into the future are Knight, Larry, Middleton, Greek kid. Everyone else on this roster is either expendable or interchangeable with other mediocre NBA talent. I think Hammond’s new 3 year plan as I have pointed out in past posts is starting to take a shape we can all recognize.

    • Scrap Irony says:

      I think it depends largely on where Milwaukee ends up in the draft.

      If they can draft a Jabari Parker or an Andrew Wiggins, I’d insist the Bucks are far closer to a playoff win than anyone would recognize.

      Imagine an off-season scenario of the following:

      – Bucks draft PF/ SF Jabari Parker (Duke)
      – Bucks draft SG Jabari Brown (Missouri)
      – Bucks draft PF Mitch McGary (Michigan)
      – Bucks draft SF/ SG Jordan McRae (Tennessee)

      Suddenly, Sanders, Henson, and Pachulia can be a three-headed monster at center, with either Henson or Sanders offering the added benefit of moving over to PF in a big lineup. Sanders and Henson provide rebounding and (hopefully) shot-blocking/ defense.

      Ilyasova, McGary, and Middleton, can all play power forward and offer completely different things at the position. McGary has a ton of upside and offers rebounding and (perhaps) defense, along with decent scoring/ jump shot. Middleton is a good shooter/ slasher who struggles with bigger PF. Ilyasova becomes the de facto stretch four only. I’d love to see Parker as a point power forward, a la Paul Pressey. (Imagine that team flying up the court, with Giannis and Henson on the wings and Knight and McRae flying beside!)

      Parker, Giannis, and Middleton can play SF. Giannis is the likely starter and Big Dog (if not next year, then in the years afterward). Parker, too, could play here as part of an absolutely HUGE team that could actually be able to shoot fairly well, too. Middleton is the energy guy off the bench.

      Giannis and Knight could start at SG, though one of the newcomers could also surprise enough to start. Both McRae and Brown offer long-distance range and defense. Both are athletic and play best in an up-tempo game. (Which would be, IMO, the best use of these players.) Either offers high upside and interesting help for Knight and Wolters.

      PG would be Knight and Wolters, with Sessions a possible free agent signing (assuming he enjoys his time with the team this year). Other options include someone like Aaron Craft in the draft.

      The starting unit would have three possible high-volume scorers (Knight, Giannis, and Parker), along with a secondary scorer/ rebounder (Ilyasova/ McGary), and a defense-first defender/ rebounder.

      • L says:

        The top 3 I’d like to see the Bucks with the option to grab would be…

        A.Wiggins, J.Parker, or J.Embiid.

        If A.Wiggins, he challenges and likely wins the starting SG position over C.Delfino and OJ.Mayo; leaving G.Antetokounmpo and K.Middleton to battle for the starting SF position next year. The team’s length, size, and athletic ability is ridiculous with this lineup given J.Henson is allowed to play his more natural PF position alongside L.Sanders at C.

        If J.Parker, he challenges for the starting SF position and forces both G.Antetokounmpo and K.Middleton to get some of their court time at the SG position which gives the team the ability to put a starting unit on the court with extreme length, size, and athletic ability.

        If J.Embiid, he challenges for the starting C position over L.Sanders; possibly allows the Bucks to play J.Henson solely in the PF position as well as give L.Sanders some run there too. Most importantly it should help greatly lessen the role and need of playing Z.Pachulia. If K.Middleton is given the opportunity to become the team’s starting SG the length, size and athletic ability should once again be beyond awesome.

        • Scrap Irony says:

          I don’t trust Embiid’s back at all.

          Stay away from big men with injury histories.

          So sayeth Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, Bill Walton, and a million Trailblazer fans

          • jack schiro says:

            Brandon Knight is one of the better up and coming point guards in the league. His assist numbers are lower than most top tier point guards, because we have massive limitations from our supporting offensive players. B Knight is forced to take on a more proactive role in the scoring and is a Russell Westbrook type guard… Yeah I said it. This is the same point guard that on some sites was the top point guard in the country or a runner up right behind Kyrie Irving. Brandon Knight is blessed with oustanding speed/quickness, a super long and athletic frame, a good stroke, is an excellent defender and possesses the intangibles and high character teams salivate over. Knight is the point guard of the future and I would love to pair him up with Dante Exum, Parker or Wiggins. Can you imagine a starting five of Knight, Wiggins, Giannis, Henson and Larry? That’s a lot of length and athleticism. The bucks are back baby.