“It’s basketball. It’s basketball players. That’s who they are. You guys do all the labeling.” – Jason Kidd at Media Day
By almost all accounts, Brandon Knight had the best season of his three year NBA career last season. It could almost been seen as a breakout season. Career highs in points per game, assists per game, field goal percentage, free throw attempts, free throw percentage and steals. A significant jump in PER, a rise in assist percentage and decline in turnover percentage. He led his team in scoring and was one of the only players who consistently showed energy every time he was on the court.
And yet there he was, microphone in hand, sitting on a stage in front of reporters at Media Day, attempting to convince people yet again that he is a point guard. It was an interesting contrast to the previous hour, when Coach Jason Kidd used the aforementioned quote about us labeling players as he seemed to try and move the team away from traditional positional labels.
But “point guard” doesn’t even seem like a positional label for Knight anymore. It seems like it’s a part of his identity as a basketball player and it’s not something he’s at all ready to relinquish just yet.
Knight has been fighting this point guard battle at least since he’s been in Milwaukee, but really, for much longer than that. Coming out of college there were questions about just how true a point guard he was. After his rookie season in Detroit there were concerns about his long term future at the position. After his second season, when his point guard minutes were slashed after the arrival of Jose Calderon, the whispers about his real position turned into full-on conversations taking place directly in front of him. Last season the questions started at this introductory press conference and follow him until the season ended. But his responses never wavered, and they still haven’t.
He spoke with a sense of purpose and certainty. He was here to remind us all that he was going to be playing frequently this upcoming season and that he was going to be the point guard of the Milwaukee Bucks when he was playing.
“We got a lot of guys that can play,” Knight said when discussing Milwaukee’s current guard situation. “At the end of the day, we’re going to put the best guys on the court. I’m sure Coach Kidd wants to win, like we all want to do. So the best players will be on the court, and they’ll play. Like I said, I know I’m going to be on the court. I’m going to show it in training camp like I showed it last year like I show it all the time. ”
“I’m a point guard at the end of the day,” Knight said. “Like I said, I know I’m going to be on the court. As a point guard.”
He made sure to get that last little bit in there. His determination was evident on Monday. Perhaps he was spurred by a disappointment with the results of his past season. Last season was an opportunity knocking, pounding at Knight’s door. The point guard position was wide open in Milwaukee. Knight had the athletic ability Milwaukee desired and seemingly the type of character the organization lauds. He caused no trouble and set a good example on the court.
But he couldn’t quite put the position in enough of a grasp to make himself the clear point guard of the franchise going forward. He’s eligible for a contract extension before October is out, but discussions seem non-existent to very quiet. And since July, there’s been a great deal more talk about a point guard of the future who isn’t even a traditional point guard, in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Knight brushed off the impact those discussions may have had on him.
“It has nothing to do with me, my man,” Knight said when asked about Giannis-Point. “If that’s what the plan is, that’s what the plan is. At the end of the day I know I’m going to play and I know I’m going to be effective when I’m on the court.”
If the talk really isn’t bothering him, it may be because when Knight refers to himself as a point guard, he seems to have in mind a lot more than bringing the ball up the court and initiating an offense. When he was asked what he most wanted to improve upon over last season, he didn’t discuss his decision making or keeping his dribble alive or making the right pass in pick and roll scenarios. He immediately went into leadership.
“I would say getting guys to play hard every night,” Knight said when asked what he wanted to get better at after last season. “Finding ways to do that. For me last year, a lot of times, of course I’m going to play hard every night, but for me, I think great leaders find ways to make guys that sometimes don’t play hard every night, they find ways to make sure they’re tuned in. That’s the main thing for me. Making sure I get guys to come along with me on that journey to play hard every night for 82 games.”
“I think I already am (a leader). It’s just a matter of me doing it every single day. Making sure I’m showing by example and also doing it vocally as well.”
As well as Giannis can see over a defense or post-up smaller guards, he isn’t going to be much of a leader as a soon-to-be 20-year-old this season. Brandon Knight seems to have a very specific idea of what a point guard is. Maybe he’s conflating leadership and possession of the ball, but if that’s what a point guard is to him, then that’s what it is to him. He sounds like he wants to embrace the challenge of keeping the ball in his hands and getting his teammates to play better.
Later, he was asked what sort of advice he’s given to Milwaukee’s number two pick, Jabari Parker.
“Be yourself. Don’t read into what everybody has to say or everybody’s opinion. Just be yourself and go out and give 110% every night. Focus on getting better each and every day. Don’t pay attention to what’s being said around you. You can use it as motivation if you need it, but I would say try and stay away from that stuff and just go out every night and do your job. Do what got you there.”
I’m unsure if those were words that Knight really gave to Parker or if they are the ones he’s been giving to himself since he’s arrived in the NBA.