Brandon Knight isn’t an All-Star, but he might just be Milwaukee’s point guard of the future

“He is one of the hardest working players you will ever find. He is just tenacious in the gym. And I’m talking about every day of the year.”

That was a quote from Jim Paschke, the veteran Milwaukee Bucks TV play-by-play man. He said that about Brandon Knight on November 5th, while the Bucks were up 90-81 over the Philadelphia 76ers. As he waxed about Knight’s work in the gym, Knight took the ball to the basket.

I captured that quote because it’s a really good summation of Knight. You can look at him and tell he lives in the gym. He doesn’t have an ounce of unwanted fat on him. When he plays basketball, his quickness, speed, strength and leaping ability stand out, even among the amazing athletes of the NBA. You don’t turn into the man Brandon Knight is without hard work. You don’t work hard without accountability. Knight’s work ethic and accountability are reflected in what he’s able to do every night on basketball courts across the country.

When reflecting on Knight’s first four years against one of his chief rivals among young point guards in the Eastern Conference, Kyrie Irving, the growth and development in his game are apparent.

Irving has been playing at an All-Star level since his rookie year, when he finished the season with an average of 18.5 points, 5.4 assists and a PER of 21.4. Knight was a rookie that year too. He averaged 12.8 points alongside 3.8 assists and his PER was just 11.7.

After a below average start to his second season, Knight was shifted off the ball and then out of Detroit and onto Milwaukee. But Knight has kept getting better. His averages now? 17.9 points and 5.1 assists with an 18.3 PER. Irving (before last night’s 55 point game, hey great time to grab a guy’s stats, Jeremy): 21.3 points, 5.2 assists and a 20.3 PER.

Knight caught up. Truthfully, Irving is still better than Knight – see last night’s game for about all the evidence I’m sure you’ll need – but whose future would you be more willing to bet on? The guy who has gotten better every season or the one who came in as one player and basically remains the same player four years later? It’s rare a guy improves the way Knight has each season.

In this era of instant expectations and analysis that rules on a player’s future swiftly and aggressively, we don’t often see a player stick in a starting role for years while he learns how to do his job really well. There just aren’t many Mike Conleys – a guy who didn’t really blossom as a point guard until his fourth or fifth year as a starter and didn’t become an All-Star for another year or two after that.

It seems almost impossible that someone who works as hard as Brandon Knight isn’t going to get the most out of his abilities. But that doesn’t mean Knight is an All-Star yet. And while his hard work has paid off to an extent, sometimes it seems like the commitment he has to making plays sets him back a bit.

One thing that’s been gnawing at me all season has been his play late in games. As an observer, I can’t help but notice that it seems like he gets more aggressive late in games, but not with a lot of success. His attacks are that of a drunken man with a short temper who begins wildly throwing hands when he’s in a 2 AM argument. That’s a man who lacks strategy or balance. That’s a man who has a goal in mind – knock the other dude out – so he begins by throwing punches as hard and fast as possible, without considering that his drunk balance isn’t a good as his sober balance. That man ends up on the ground pretty quick.

Like that man, Knight often lacks patience and strategy late in games. He knows he can get to the basket, so he tries to make it happen, while often failing to account for how a defense may be treating drives into the paint differently in the fourth quarter than they did in the first quarter. It’s like he constantly drives to score, rather than to create an opportunity. On these drives he’s failed again and again. On what NBA.com/stats calls “Layup Shots” in the fourth quarter this season, Knight is 8-30, just 26.7% from the field.

For comparison’s sake, Irving is shooting 50% (10-20) on these shots. Another young Eastern Conference point guard, Jeff Teague, incredibly has only three “Layup Shot” attempts in the fourth quarter of games this season, and he’s missed all three. The majority of his shots have been a combination of “Floating Jump Shots” and “Driving Layup Shots”, both of which he’s shooting over 60% on.

Here are a few examples of Knight’s struggles:

Knight isn’t always out of control. Particularly on that drive against the Knicks, you can see how sometimes he gathers quite nicely, only to see the shot roll out. Those shots aren’t a problem. The drives against the Hornets or the Sixers or force into Spurs traffic or the high number of jump shot attempts that didn’t even make it into this layup video, it’s those that are Knight’s problem right now. He’s a still a little too “head down, get to the basket or get an open look for myself,” rather than, “how can I create the best possible attempt at a basket for my team?”

Look at the mastery of pace and control he displayed on his game winning layup against the Grizzlies earlier this season:

It’s totally cool when Knight drives into space or uses Milwaukee’s movement to his own advantage and gets a good look. Sometimes, that’s the Brandon Knight we see. And we’re likely seeing that good Brandon Knight a lot more than anyone in Detroit ever did. We’re also seeing him make more threes and turn the ball over less. He’s growing as a player, without question. But we’re not seeing the best of Brandon Knight often enough that his name should be discussed among the very best point guards in the league.

The best point guards are impacting their team in a positive way almost constantly. They’re finding teammates or finding the best possible shots for themselves. They understand space and pace in a way that few do. Knight isn’t there. He’s not crucial to his team’s success on both sides of the ball the way that the league’s best point guards are.

The net ratings (how a team performs with a player on the court on offense and defense added to how a team performs without that player on the court on offense and defense, per 100 possessions) of some of the league’s best point guards all dwarf Knight’s.

Player Offense Net Improvement Defense Net Improvement Net Rating
Stephen Curry 16.2 5.4 21.6
Chris Paul 18.9 0.8 19.7
Darren Collison 11.6 7.1 18.7
John Wall 3.8 12.9 16.7
Kyrie Irving 14.3 -1.6 12.7
Jeff Teague 8.4 4.1 12.5
Damian Lillard 12 -1.8 10.2
Russell Westbrook 9.5 -0.3 9.2
Ty Lawson 11.5 -3 8.5
Mike Conley 6.3 1.4 7.7
Kyle Lowry 3.1 -0.9 2.2
Kemba Walker 2.9 -4.9 -2
Derrick Rose -0.2 -1.9 -2.1
Brandon Knight -8.2 -2.9 -11.1

(Note: All numbers via 82Games.com as of January 23)

I mean, Knight’s not even close to ANYONE on this list. It’s hard not to consider the gulf, even if all other things are equal. If he was clearly better as a scorer or passer than other potential All-Star point guards, it’d be easier to look past these numbers, but he isn’t. He’s had a pretty good year, but he isn’t the leading factor in Milwaukee’s resurgence this season and he isn’t quite on the same level as other potential All-Star point guards.

Will he get there? I’m less inclined to bet against it this year than I was a year ago. That alone makes me feel like, All-Star berth or not, this season has been a success for Brandon Knight.

Categories: Stats and Stuff

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9 Comments

  1. Good to see Jeremy getting back to his boxing roots.

    In all seriousness, though, I seem to remember Russell Westbrook being on the bottom of these types of charts like 4 or 5 years ago, and now he’s clearly not.

    • I don’t know what this “boxing roots” means, but I find it intriguing. And yeah, I had a similar feeling about Westbrook. I watched him play the Knicks last night and definitely saw a guy with some similarities to Knight, though those similarities paled in comparison to the strong differences in overall athleticism and, as Zach Lowe might say, “holy shit how do we handle this guy” ability.

      • Exactly. He’s not going to follow the Westbrook career trajectory into becoming Westbrook, but his shooting touch and brute force might allow his to follow a trajectory that gets him somewhere around Kyle Lowry.

  2. I kind of disagree with BK’s placement in that chart being a huge indictment against him. We have a bottom 10 starting line-up with a top 3 bench so the results are kind of predictable. Why is Darren Collison 3rd on this list? Becuase Sacramento has a top heavy line-up with little contribution from the bench.
    Put it this way, if we replaced the current bench bunch of the Bucks with 5 D-Leaguers, what would happen to Brandon’s ranking? Conversely if we gave our bench to Sacramento, where would Darren Collison be? Not trying to sell BK as an all-star but that table is misleading imo.

    • Ehh. Giannis is only a -6.6 I believe, and he’s been a long term starter. Zaza is something like +11 and he’s started half of his games.

      And if Brandon was truly an All-Star, would the Bucks have a bottom 10 starting lineup?

      • Not sure, but certainly one guy doesn’t make a starting line-up, Kyrie certainly didn’t have much help his first 3 years. Not sure why Tony Parker isn’t on that list but he’s net -9.8 likely due to their talent being flatter than most team. Again not trying to sell him as an All-Star but that chart isn’t really representative of him, more of the talent distribution of the Bucks

        Anyway it’s not a big deal and I did enjoy the article

  3. Brandon Knight truly seems to be an impressive player and person. Whatever he can accomplish in basketball by hard work, in addition to his considerable talent, he’s likely to succeed.

    However, no amount of hard work can change what seems apparent to me: Brandon is growing as a potential all-star at shooting guard, but will probably always be below average as a point guard. This seems so clear to me that I’m scared that I might be missing something, that I might be way wrong.

    While allowing for a little healthy, doubt doesn’t it seem fairly obvious that Brandon Knight is not a point guard? What do others see? It’s no knock on Brandon to say that he doesn’t have the knack. There’s a lot to being a point guard that’s instinctual and intuitive and innate; that is, the position requires gifts that are largely inborn, and can’t be acquired by any amount of hard work. I’m talking about things like vision and control and timing and presence, delicate and nuanced abilities possessed by a rare few.

    Kendall Marshall has a lot of this, and should be treasured as an extremely valuable find for the Bucks. He seems to ply his craft of point guard with such subtlety that his mastery goes largely unnoticed and underappreciated. The Bucks should also be looking diligently for another player or two who possesses at least a goodly share of these precious gifts of court choreography, in large part because these guys make everyone else on the team better — especially a guy like Brandon Knight, who is so talented and smart and consciencious and coachable.

    I sense that the position of point guard has been in a cycle of underemphasis in the NBA. I’m not even sure if Kyrie Irving is best suited at the point. There’s a tendency to think that if a guy is a skilled dribbler and passer, and is generally a dynamic player, and is a certain size, that he’s automatically a point guard. I would differ.

    So to force Brandon Knight to play a position at which he is ill-suited seems unfair to him, to the team, and to the fans. If I’m right about this, Brandon at point is a formula for frustration. At the shooting guard, though, Brandon can be a top starter in the league, and possibly an all-star. I hope good coaching will bring out the best in him, because what I see in Brandon is a winner, and a keeper.

    • I go back and forth on whether or not Knight is a “point guard” or what that really means. I think he can be the team’s primary ball-handler, especially if he’s working with a back court mate that helps keep the ball moving. It’s hard to predict where Knight’s career is going to go at this point. He seems to be improving every season.

      I don’t think something like passing or vision is in born, but I think it develops slowly, from a young age. I would guess Marshall wasn’t a good shooter as a kid, so he learned how to find his teammates and kept getting better and better at it, even as his shooting and athleticism started to come around. It all starts from a young age, so most development is set in by the time guys get to the league. But I think Knight could still improve as he gets better at learning when to assert his top speed and when to lay off. When he has a better mastery of that, I think he may start looking outside of the paint when he’s inside of it.

      • Good call….saw some of that tonight, he played a very controlled game, couple of sloppy turnovers but he was really solid tonight…and I get sick of the “He’s not a PG” thing….