Trading Brandon Knight is more about tomorrow than today

The Milwaukee Bucks were going to have to make an important decision this offseason.

Way more important than me having to decide whether or not to put a space in offseason. I could just go back and delete this paragraph and no one would be the wiser. The Bucks can’t just go back and erase contracts. Well … it’s been a crazy week. Typically they can’t. Exceptions to every rule, right?

But if the Bucks signed Brandon Knight to a four year deal worth more than $50 million this coming offseason, they would kind of be committing to an offense led by Knight for probably the next four years, at least the next two or three years.

Evidence does more than suggest that was an unpalatable idea to the Milwaukee Bucks.

It’s hard to argue that Brandon Knight wasn’t good this season. He’s shooting 44/41/88. He leads the Bucks in points per game (17.8), assists per game (5.4), steals per game (1.6), minutes per game (32.5) and shots per game (14.3). Had he been selected for the All-Star game, it doesn’t seem like people would have been too upset. For all intents and purposes, he was Milwaukee’s best player during this season, a season of redemption and revival. He’s a hard worker to the point that O.J. Mayo spent part of his in Florida working out with him to get in better shape. His work ethic and general high character also set a great example in a fairly young locker room. He’s a natural leader.

Yet he struggled as a playmaker. He leads the Bucks in assists per game, but also in turnovers per game at 3.2. Among players who average 5.4 assists per game or less, Knight is second in the league in turnovers per game. He often drives into the paint and appears without much of a plan other than, assuming he’ll probably find a way to get a shot up. He doesn’t appear to play selfishly in order to obtain stats, but rather because he seems to feel he’s the best scorer on the team and is almost unstoppable. Sometimes that thought would be correct. More often, it would be incorrect.

I don’t know if Michael Carter-Williams is the point guard of the future for the franchise that’s now traded away three point guards named Brandon. He has some similarities to a young Jason Kidd, in that he passes the ball a lot, occasionally gets triple-doubles and often misses jump shots. No question some of those are intriguing qualities.

While he too turns the ball over a great deal (4.5 per game), he averaged nearly eight assists per game for the league’s very worst offensive team. Sure they play fast, but only a handful of guys can make shots, so that helps to balance out potential speed stat inflation. He’s grabbing 6.6 rebounds per game, which could partly be attributed to his size. He’s 6-foot-6, which seems like a good thing for a point guard. It’s not unreasonable to suspect he may do more work in the post, ala Kendall Marshall, now that he’s arrived in Milwaukee. His size should be an asset in Milwaukee’s aggressive defensive schemes as well.

But he has some rather obvious flaws. He’s shooting less than 40% from the field this season and has made just 26% of his 333 3-point attempts as a pro. Hell, he’s made only 64% of his free throws this season. Shooting is a big problem for him. Flaws and strengths exist in every basketball player and are often pronounced in younger players. He’s a typical young basketball player.

What is absolutely certain about Carter-Williams it that he has two years left after this season and they add up to less than $6 million, which means he’ll have two more years to show the Bucks whether or not he is the point guard of the future and it’ll cost the Bucks probably less than half what Knight would have cost them next season alone.

Brandon Knight wasn’t able to definitely prove he was the right point guard for a future championship team in his season and a half in Milwaukee. Everyone agrees he made some strides this season, but it’s very clear he didn’t make enough strides that the Bucks felt comfortable committing to him long term. So rather than deal with his free agency by matching any offer he got and then trying to make the best of it or letting him leave while getting nothing in return or trying to work out some sort of sign and trade deal, the Bucks essentially hit the reset button with another young point guard now.

Looking at this directly as a trade of Knight for Carter-Williams seems short-sighted (Also, literally inaccurate, as the Bucks also got Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee. But we’ll dive into them separately, as this is the main course). In the interim the point guard swap changes some things about this season, but the Bucks really traded a long term commitment for long term flexibility. Knight was the girl the Bucks were happy dating, but not the girl they wanted to spend the rest of their life with. And the bonus for Milwaukee is that Carter-Williams gives the Bucks the ability to be flexible going forward while not taking much of a step back this season. He’s capable of providing probably at least 75% of the on court value Knight provided and if things go well, maybe he can provide more than that.

This trade best primes the Bucks to build for the future while staying probably somewhat close to as competitive as they have been all season.

Personally, I don’t think this season matters all that much, but some people may feel like making the playoffs and staying competitive is valuable in the development of Giannis Antetokounmpo, which should be the ultimate focus this season. Not only does Giannis gets to keep playing games that matter, but he gets a point guard that will probably move the ball a bit more and maybe even create better shots for him. If the Bucks deemed continued short term success important, Carter-Williams makes a lot more sense than a draft pick, while carrying similar value.

So the salary cap doomsday clock is set back, as this season continues down the same playoff path.

A potential win-win scenario has played out and now the Bucks have a lot of time to decide what the future holds at the point guard position. They have tons of flexibility as far as their salary cap goes and have more players on affordable deals with upside today than they did last week.

That sounds like a team focused on tomorrow to me. That sounds like a strategy that I can get behind … for now. We’ve still got many moves ahead in the coming months and there’s a possibility that this season’s success could change the course of the franchise going forward. But if this trade deadline is any indication, it appears that it won’t.

Categories: This Is Apparently Where Things Are Going Now?

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12 Comments

  1. I just wanted to say that I really like your writing, and that I agree with your points here. I’m sad to see Knight go, but cautiously optimistic about MCW. If I’m being completely honest, maybe my favorite part of this trade is that we won’t sign Knight long-term

  2. Agree with pretty much everything you wrote here,Jeremy.
    I was completely shocked by this trade yesterday afternoon. And my first response involved my negative feelings about MCW (who I did not think deserved to be ROY last year), but by yesterday evening I was feeling this was a very good and creative move. And you really nail the reasons I feel so good about it. As my brilliant son Max said, it’s the anti-Redick trade!

    • I’m an idiot and it was late. Mea culpa. *checks to make sure this is the correct usage of mea culpa*

      Thanks!

  3. I’m a big backer of this trade, but as a matter of perspective, I would have hated it if we had traded for Goran Dragic, or Isaiah Thomas, or any other player who kinda looks like a point guard but tends to shoot the ball quite a bit and/or doesn’t quite have the knack for the subtleties of the point position. At least these are my impressions of Dragic and Thomas, and a lot of other guards in the NBA, based on my highly limited but best understanding.

    What we seem to have in MCW and Ennis are two pass-oriented points with lots of promise, and also a couple of years of reasonable salaries for each of them, which is time to see if one or both develops into a point guard of the future. MCW is already the reigning rookie of the year; while Tyler is a current rookie lottery pick who was deemed the best point guard in the draft after Dante Exum — so those are two guys highly worthwhile for a two-year tryout.

    As much as I like Brandon Knight as a player and a person, and even if he becomes and all-star for the Suns, it’s hard for me to see paying him $12 million or more per season. As Giannis and Jabari become more and more a part of the scoring offense, and also Khris and John and maybe others, I’m not sure how Brandon would adjust to less shots and even less touches. It may be that he grew up as a basketball player having incredible success as the man with the ball who carried his teams, and changing that might be a difficult adjustment for him. Also, for all his considerable skills as a passer and dribbler, and for all his outstanding personal presence as a leader, he just didn’t seem to have the more nuanced skills that go into the making of an elite point guard — which is not a criticism but rather just the way it appears to be.

    It’s really important to keep in mind Jeremy’s point that just about all of these young and talented and exciting players in the NBA have an important flaw or two that they need to correct or at least minimize over time. It will be quite interesting to watch whether our three new young guys have the right attitudes and aptitudes to excel in the NBA.

    I want to finish by saying that I really appreciate getting Jeremy’s take on this big trade — a rather historic event for the Bucks — and look forward to more and more comments and opinions from the staff at Bucksketball and the fans who gather here. As a big fan of the Bucks, it’s good to be able to come here for education and camaraderie, and I’m grateful.

    • I was very eager to see your reaction, Swisch. I thought you may find the trade promising, as both MCW and Ennis do seem like the type of point guard you appreciate. Does their style make up for the loss of Marshall? I’m sad to see him go, just from a personality standpoint.

  4. It was really painful for me to see Kendall go down with an injury in London, and it hurts to see him traded now.

    He really did seem to have a way about him as a person and a teammate that was really likeable. Plus, sometimes a fan just connects with a player’s substance and style on the court, and this was true of me with Kendall (perhaps like you with J.J. Redick).

    My major concern with Kendall was his quickness and ability to break down defenses off the dribble, but he has so much else going for him including creativity and craftsmanship, that I was excited to give him a lot of opportunity to become a big contributor to the Bucks, whether as a starter or a sub. Plus — I can’t help repeating myself — I just really enjoyed watching him play and the way the ball moved when he was on the court.

    I also can’t help but hope that maybe we’ll get him back someday, but to some extent I’ve come to terms that sometimes the Bucks and us fans have to let go of really good guys — in the overall best interests of the player, the team, and the fans. So I’m mostly okay with him going, and I wish him great success and satisfaction going forward.

    My major concern is when we don’t give our young guys (especially the ones we draft) much of a chance to develop through their ups and downs and show what they can (and cannot) do on the court, or when we aren’t smart about trading them for other players who are at least fairly likely to make a significant and lasting impact coming to the Bucks.

    Also, in order to go beyond developing a couple of superstars to the greater goal of forming a real winning team, I think it’s really important to take a personal interest in and gain an appreciation for all of our complementary players — also realizing that a Khris Middleton, or a John Henson, or a Kendall Marshall, might occasionally far surpass expectations, or perhaps become extremely valuable for the intangibles they might offer to the Bucks.

    I do tend to get wordy with these responses at times, but I’m trying to be careful to cover all the bases with my perspectives, and to be as fair as possible to the players, as well as to the staff at Bucksketball and the fans who comment on this site. I’m glad to be a Bucks fan (for reasons that are somewhat elusive for me to understand), and to have this forum as a way of sharing this quirky but sincere avidity (if that’s the word I’m looking for).

  5. Im of the opinion that MCW was a real steal in this deal, the mere facts that we got Ennis and Plumlee makes this deal almost unfair to the Suns and Sixers. Here’s my reasoning, MCW is coming off an offseason shoulder surgery, and didnt even start the season until i think the 7th game if I read correctly. He seems to be willing to battle through injury to be contributing on the court for his team. This probably speaks for his poor shooting, yet still being able to be more productive in other areas of his game. The turnovers I would say are as much on him as the guys he plays with, so the upgrade in talent around him, should somewhat limit his turnovers. (roughly 1 to .5 less to/game is my best guess)

    Once I learned of the financials of everyone involved I just about fell over dead, because in my lifetime Ive only seen one Bucks trade involving star young players that actually worked out better for the bucks (allen for marbury draft exchange). This is the kind of move that brings me back on board from passive to active bucks fan again.

  6. Excellent analysis, Jeremy. I have this gut feeling that trades like this are exactly what great teams do. It’s a gamble, in that MCW could turn out to be a false start. But I think great teams decide what they need and then go get it in exchange for assets they decide they need less.

    The one time this season when I thought you overreacted (I think this was you; please correct and forgive me if it was one of your colleagues) was in slamming the Martin-Wolters roster swap as a consequentially bad win-now move. It’s worth noting that the Bucks ended up dumping Martin in a heartbeat to help get two better young pgs than Wolters and a young big body to more than serve Martin’s purpose.