Episode 22: Is Brandon Knight Hurting The Bucks?

In this episode, Nick, Jeremy and Preston recap a strange weekend in which the Bucks fell to the Pistons and beat the previously undefeated Grizzlies. Plus, a preview of Tuesday’s game against Triple-A OKC, and a lengthy discussion about a certain point shooting guard.

If you’re curious as to what we’re babbling about at the end, here’s what Serial is all about.

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  1. I don’t get all the Knight hate . He’s only starting his 3rd year and would still be a senior in college if he didn’t come out early. Look at what he’s had so far, a bad situation in Detroit as a rookie, a year with the Bucks under a terrible coach that even his own players were unsure of what he was attempting to do. This is possibly the first season he’s had to really get better. Now he has a hall of fame PG who has so far looked like a very good coach (albeit a tiny sample size) to learn from. I think cutting bait on a 22 year old with his athleticism and work ethic to see if maybe you could win a couple more games with an older player like Bayless who probably is as good as he will ever be is a long term mistake.

    I think you play him and take the lumps just like you do with Giannis and Jabari until you get a young point that through talent and potential takes that spot. Then he could be a really good 6th man. As for Marshall and Wolters, I like them but Nate only has so much upside given his physical tools and Marshall, who’s an excellent passer with good vision, is pretty bad at most other things, not to mention how slow he is.

    I think they should stick with him for the rest of this year and let him show who he is. If he can lower his turn over rate and keep his other numbers he’s putting up so far this year he could end up being a top 10-15 PG in the future.

    One other thing, I don’t know what you’re missing that leads other people to believe Giannis has star potential. He’s 19 and just starting to learn how to play on this level given where he was 2 years ago. His flashes can be jaw dropping. While I’m not saying he’s a sure thing, because no one is, with the right coaching and work ethic I’m not sure what he can’t do.

  2. So, listening to the podcast just now, I found myself getting all fired up to respond point by point to Preston’s takedown of Brandon Knight as a point guard. I personally am not a huge fan right now of how Brandon Knight is playing, in the sense that he is a bipolar combination of fantastic plays and infuriating habits, but I also will say that I don’t know how it will turn out. Obviously Preston feels he does know.
    I decided not to respond point by point. In fact, I’m not sure I’m going to listen anymore. I don’t like being trolled. I don’t want to listen to Hot Takes about how Jabari (who just played a fantastically efficient offensive game against Detroit in his SIXTH NBA game) is a “terrible offensive player.” Listening to Preston explain how we went from one stat to the next until he found the right numbers to support his prior conclusion was a tutorial on Confirmation Bias. Honestly I thought it was a joke. One man’s “serving two masters” is another man’s multitasking. That would be an interesting discussion if it was had in good faith. I know we all have PTSD from the Kohl/Hammond years. I sympathize. Still, let’s ratchet down the certainty and the hyperbole. Brandon Knight isn’t “killing the Bucks.”

    • Firstly, I hope that segment doesn’t turn you away from the podcast. I think one of our strengths is that we’re all relatively rational, objective observers of this team.

      I don’t recall many hot takes — and I certainly don’t remember anyone saying Parker is a “terrible offensive player.” He is not. He’s an incredible offensive talent who, like nearly every rookie ever, will probably struggle to score efficiently. That’s neither a hot take nor a criticism — just check out efficiency numbers on James and Durant their first season.

      As for Knight, it’s entirely possible I wasn’t clear enough on where I actually stand. I’m 100 percent fine with continuing the experiment with him at point guard. It just means, at least in the short term, that the Bucks will likely sacrifice wins. That’s what the on-off court numbers portray thus far. And that’s perfectly fine since this is a rebuilding team — but then the team should truly embrace the youth movement. Dudley, Ilyasova, Bayless and Pachulia are all playing more than Henson, Marshall and Wolters. Why? Almost certainly because Kidd wants to win games. But team data show us that playing Knight at point guard for 30 minutes per night isn’t helping. That’s where I see a conundrum — what is the franchise, from the management to the coaches, trying to accomplish? If it wants to win as many games as possible and establish a winning culture, that’s admirable — but playing Knight at point guard doesn’t appear to further that initiative in the short term. If it wants to rebuild and develop its players, that’s ideal — but why aren’t Henson, Marshall and Wolters playing, and why aren’t the younger players finishing out games to serve as learning opportunities? Like I said in the podcast, aside from drafting Parker and giving him minutes, what has changed from last year’s rotation? The veterans are playing substantial minutes, and some of the younger players are buried as a result. The team is obviously better — thanks to a new defensive scheme, effort, hustle and having Sanders back to patrol the paint — but what’s the franchise’s strategy for this season? It seems oddly unclear to me.

      As for confirmation bias, I just don’t see it. I was playing around with NBA.com/stats and noticed an odd trend between Knight and Bayless and their on-off court differentials. I then tried to figure out *why* Knight’s on-off court numbers are so dire. I couldn’t find any reasonable explanations in individual scoring or passing data — they’re phenomenal — so I looked at turnovers. He has a career-high turnover rate with a career-high usage rate, and the team has a higher turnover rate when he’s on the court. That’s probably a good start for explaining why the team is playing so much worse when he’s on the court. If his turnover rate declines, which it should, then I expect that his on-off court numbers should recover. I think the key question is this: Can he keep his turnovers low with a star-level usage rate? Alternatively, should he have a star-level usage rate on this team, especially when the Bucks are trying to develop Giannis and Parker? We’ll find out soon enough.

      Does any of this make sense? :)

      • It does make sense, I just think it seems predetermined. You wanted to try ” to figure out *why* Knight’s on-off court numbers are so dire,” which is a great thing to pursue, and the turnover numbers are relevant and no doubt contribute. At the same time, Jeremy began to point out, very sensibly, that on/off numbers are highly influenced by who’s on the court with you. Our bench units have been very successful across the board, and that clearly affects Bayless’ numbers more than Knight’s. It is a relevant point as well and can’t be dismissed based on the few minutes Knight gets with the second unit. Without question he is frustrating to watch at the point at times (pounding the rock, settling for long twos, leaving his feet without an idea what he’s going to do), but for Kidd and the Bucks organization, I think we should admire the scientific method their applying to figuring out what they have. Clearly Brandon has been given the green light to be the most “Brandony” he can be. He has improved his scoring, rebounding, and most importantly his assists. To me it seems a safe bet to think he’ll improve elsewhere as well. Maybe he’ll get there, maybe not, but it just seems strange to reject the possibility when progress is being made.

        My other major disagreement is with the idea that the Bucks must choose one arm of what I believe is a false dichotomy: either go all in to try to win games with veterans (winning culture) or play the young guys (develop talent). I don’t think any of us are jumping out of our seats to see Zaza get all these minutes, but he is a fantastic high-post passer to run the offense through, and every play that Giannis or Jabari or Knight for that matter gets to run an elbow action with him is an opportunity to learn one way an offense can run efficiently. That’s just one example. I’ve heard a number of times that starting Dudley has no upside because he’s not a developmental piece and doesn’t add wins. Isn’t his competent unexcetionalism a value in itself? In the great equation that is the Bucks current and future roster, Dudley is a known variable. He moves and passes intelligently, doesn’t require plays, and spaces the floor for others to operate, all of which helps the young talent learn to play (and be evaluated playing) in efficient NBA systems. Not only do I think we should not pick an arm of the dichotomy, I think rejecting the dichotomy is the point: to introduce the young talent to the veteran knowledge in actual game experience. The only way to do that is to mix the line-ups as Kidd has done.

        • I think you make a good point, Patrick, about playing veterans with the young guys. The question to me is how many veterans do you play, and how much, and when? When John Henson and Khris and Nate are being crowded out by the vets, or when there’s too much of vets at the end of games when younger guys could be gaining valuable pressure experience, then I’m more than a little concerned — and I think this is happening.
          Even if our vets play really well, even if they are a good influence on our younger players, even if one or more of them might even be a significant part of the future of the team, the key focus should be, I think, on developing our young guys as the nucleus for a fantastic future for the Bucks. We should keep the vets who understand this and are willing to buy into it. The young guys are primary, the vets important but complementary.

      • Preston, why can’t Kidd be trying to balance developing the young guys with also developing a winning mentality? I’m not sure why it has to be one or the other. In this comment, you’re making it sound like we either need to sacrifice all of our wins in order to let the young guys play, or don’t play any of them so that we can win as many games as possible. Why is the current philosophy where everybody plays, we win a decent amount of games, and the young guys get enough minutes to develop their games not a plausible plan? I think Kidd has pretty much done exactly the right thing.

        I’d probably prefer less Ilyasova and more Henson, but I understand the roles of Zaza and Dudley. Dudley is just a decent team player that only needs to touch the ball every once in a blue moon to make his impact on the court. He’s struggling with his shot right now, but he plays smart, isn’t the sieve that Jabari is defensively, and he’ll likely start hitting his open shots again at some point. Zaza is easily our best combination of screener and passer, which appears to be something that Kidd’s offense stresses a lot. Zaza is not good enough at the other facets of the game to be a key piece, but in a developmental year, I think having a guy like Zaza that can run the offense the way Kidd wants it run is a very important piece to have as Kidd tries to teach Larry, Henson, Jabari, and Giannis how to screen, seal his man at the high post, and make good reads. These are all areas that those guys struggle with, so it’s important to have someone like Zaza that is good at those two things to teach them his ways and hopefully make them better players in the process.

  3. Two things:
    1. I appreciate your response and all the work you guys do for us lonely Bucks fans. So thanks.

    2. Ugh. Egregious their/they’re mistake in my last reply. Awful.

  4. Great listen, minus the discussion being about some radio show called Serial instead of the breakfast food cereal at the end.

  5. This makes a lot of sense to me Preston, which might not be a good sign for you.

    I’ve been saying many of the same things of late in my comments, or at least trying to communicate them effectively. I say things along these lines so frequently, with so little positive response, that I get discouraged. At any rate, I’ve said so much so often that there’s not much left for me to say, which might be good news to many, that is if I really don’t say that much more in the future.

    I said in the recap after the Grizzlies game that I was conflicted because it’s been a lot of fun having the Bucks play with such enthusiasm and resilience and success, but also I’m really concerned about a couple of early trends, one of which is playing our veterans overly much to the detriment of our younger guys, the other about Brandon’s difficulties as a point.

    I want to stress that I’m high on Brandon as a scoring guard, just not at point. It’s not a knock at Brandon to say that he doensn’t have the knack for being the main director and distributor on the court — he can still be a very good starter, and perhaps even a star for the Bucks. At the very least, I’d like to see Kendall get some meaningful minutes at point alongside Brandon at shooting guard (even if Brandon continues to get other minutes at the point). I’d be happy to see Nate get some minutes, too, perhaps at both positions.

    All-in-all, I’m frustrated, because I see such great potential in the young players on our team, such promising talents and positive attitudes. It bothers me perhaps overly much that the development of these young guys as individuals and as a team might be hindered or even ruined by shortsightedness about short-term gains, or some other mistaken mishandling. The possibility that few people seem to be concerned about this is troubling me perhaps to a fault.

    This could be such an exciting season in the building of a truly special team, or it could be pretty much an unremarkable remake of mediocre seasons past. I’m trying to calm down about the possible consequences, but it seems to me that there’s an awful lot at stake.

    • I agree. Knight has proven himself as a player, as a guard, and as a second or third scoring option on a decent team. He just is not a PG, certainly lacks the innate talents of a distributor required to get the most out of our youth. He doesn’t push the ball, is poor at running the pnr, and really has no game to the left of his field of vision. He goes right, driving, shooting or kicking to the right. He hits the pop man going right, but if his man rolls left, he’s gone.

      He’s improved tremendously on his drives and he’s shooting better as well, but when he’s taking the lion’s share of shots the offense suffers. If someone else can take the ball up and make the first pass it can get a lot better, but Brandon only makes one good pass per possession and that just doesn’t work for a PG.

  6. I completely agree on the idea of playing the players that will have an impact on where this franchise goes. We have to see where Knight is headed in his growth. All Bucks starters are going to struggle with their on-court/off court numbers. This is a team where 11 players could argue for playing time. They are going to outplay other teams second units the majority of the time. I don’t think that’s an indication of Knight struggling, but more an indication of a starting five that isn’t extremely deep with talent yet.

    I agree with your points on playing young talent though. I can’t understand how Middleton isn’t starting. He could be a very efficient shooter for the coming years. I like the starting rotation of Knight/Middleton/Jabari/Ersan/Sanders for now. I wonder if they would be playing Ersan to increase his trade value. His contract is not terrible and could be a decent piece in someone’s mind if he can go back to his good shooting of the past.

    • Ya, you’ve hit the nail on the head, our starters can’t compete with most other teams starters and our bench may be the best in the NBA. Not sure what Kidd is up to with not pairing Knight with a secondary ball-handler but I’ll trust him for now.

    • Out of the 341:07 minutes played this season, Middleton and Ersan have played together only 15:53 of them, and I don’t think you’ll see them together much this year – I think it’s a little counterintuitive in terms of setting a high tempo, and I think Knight/Middleton is probably a poor guard pairing, especially since everyone seems to complain that Knight isn’t a “true PG” or whatever. I think Kidd will continue to use Dudley as a veteran presence on the court – I don’t think it’s that egregious that he’s using a guy that doesn’t take poor shots (just poor at shooting) and doesn’t really turn the ball over (1 TO per 36).

      There’s a balance between developing your young players through minutes, learning with/from veterans, and instilling a winning culture. I’m not convinced 5 extra MPG from Giannis/Knight/Middleton last year would’ve resulted in them being much better players now. While last year was a necessity, playing in a dumpster-fire of a season can’t be good for development, and I don’t think Giannis showed all that much improvement from mid-season to the last month. It’s crucial that the team finds the right balance to stay competitive while developing their core pieces.

  7. TheLastoftheBucksFans

    It’s not really a fair discussion when its clear through these podcasts that a certain person is very biased against Brandon Knight. The constant debate about his lack of skill is redundant. Based on who we have on this team, we need him playing and he’s going to play a lot. Some fair points were made about his turnovers, but the PER and improvement in assists show that he alone is not killing the team by himself. Bayless is a career backup, he is surely not the answer…especially with our forward-thinking team. A lot of times our offense struggles and the burden falls on Knight. I don’t know the stats, but our offense hasn’t been amazing.

  8. In regard to the Knight situation.

    In wins: 28 minutes, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 16 points, 48% FG
    In losses: 35 minutes, 7 rebs, 8.8 assists, 18.3 points, 37%FG

    Its hard to assess this as causative or reactive..interestin nonetheless.

  9. Stopped listening when you said play Bayless more and Knight less. You are CLEARLY a Knight hater. Start Bayless at PG???? He is similar to Knight but not nearly as skilled. Read all the stats you want to support your little theory but you sir are sick in the head. Lmao Let’s sub in our combo guard with a lesser combo guard! You should coach the Bucks my man

  10. Why even be a part of a Milwaukee Bucks podcast when you cannot get past your hatred of Knight? The whole idea of a podcast is to have fair discussion. I think Preston should start his own Podcast called Benching Brandon or Why Brandon Knight sucks. Your argument sounds similar to people who hate on Aaron Rodgers because he falters in big games. Why appreciate a crazy athletic highly productive young player when you can look at a few stats and completely write him off? Because Bucksketball likes to talk about negative things constantly and it’s been the same rubbish for 2+ years. I for one will not be following this any longer. See you guys on the bandwagon next year!!