It was miserable being a Detroit Pistons fan last year.
As if watching the games wasn't bad enough, we also endured far too many antics from whiny veterans who made the team a laughingstock. And because of a feckless front office handcuffed from actually doing its job, the poisonous culture stagnated without repercussion, ultimately costing John Kuester his job, perhaps costing Rodney Stuckey a long-term contract and permanently staining the legacy of Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince.
It remains to be seen how many of last year's disgruntled veterans will return, but it's clear that Joe Dumars was serious about infusing the locker room with high-character draft picks. The Pistons badly need a big man, but with the No. 8 pick Dumars opted instead for Brandon Knight, filling an important but less vital hole at point guard -- mostly because Dumars felt Knight was the best value but also because Dumars feels the young guard can be a positive influence in the locker room.
"We think the kid has upside -- we think the kid is tremendously smart," Dumars said, according to Pistons.com, of Knight. "He has one of those incredible work ethics -- hours and hours and hours in the gym, totally dedicated – and what we feel is probably the most high-character guy in the draft. We were a little excited in the room.
"He might have been the most impressive guy in terms of the interview process in Chicago (at the May draft combine). Just kind of an off-the-charts guy. One thing he told me, has nothing to do with basketball, but after this freshman year he told me had 90 hours already at Kentucky."
Ninety credit hours after one year is nuts, but considering he reportedly finished high school with a 4.3 GPA, I'm guessing he carried a good deal of AP credits. But I digress; was he the best pick?
Based on the team's current roster, yet another guard seems like overkill. But remember, for the first time in two years, Dumars is free to shake up the roster -- and if we're really being honest, very few members of the current roster will be around the next time this team goes deep into the playoffs. At this stage of the rebuilding game, you draft talent and fit pieces around it, not the other way around.
“We had targeted big guys initially," Dumars said, according to the AP. "We said if those guys were gone, then we’re going to take the guy with the best value. At the point of the eighth pick, the guy with the best value, the best talent on the board, was Brandon Knight. At that point, it was a talent that we didn’t think we could pass up.”
If Knight was the best player remaining on Detroit's draft board -- and it's not a surprise he was, considering he was a consensus top-five pick entering the evening -- it'd be crazy to pass on him simply because a handful of veterans at his position are currently taking up space and collecting paychecks.
Besides, after six straight big men came off the board before the No. 8 pick, it's not like there was a clear-cut big man left for the Pistons to take. The rest of the league seemed to agree: Knight kicked off a streak of five consecutive guards being drafted. (Can you imagine the fan revolt had Dumars drafted 6-foot-1 Kemba Walker or, gulp, Jimmer Freddette?)
The biggest knock on Knight is that he's a "combo guard" -- a label, for whatever it's worth, he disputes. Hopefully he can refine his pure point skills, but I can't hold his role in college against him: John Calipari relies on his point guards (think Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall) to carry a huge scoring load. He accepted the challenge with a record-breaking season, setting school marks by a freshman in scoring and three-pointers made. He led the SEC in field-goal attempts last year, finished second in makes and shot a respectable 37.7 percent on threes.
Nearly half of his shots came from beyond the arc, which helps explain his relative lack of free-throw attempts or why his overall field-goal percentage (42.3) doesn't jump out. (It doesn't excuse it, just explains it.) All in all he carried a huge load and took his team to the Final Four. A poor shooting performance (6-for-23) against UConn contributed to Kentucky's one-point loss, but his entire body of work until that point is what got them there.
DraftExpress predicted the best-case comparison for Knight was Chauncey Billups in his prime -- perhaps in part because of his shooting ability. Dumars sees the similarity. "The comparison is because he can shoot so well," he said. "Chauncey can stand out there and shoot with the best of them and this kid, that’s what he does. He can really shoot the ball. He’s going to be one of those point guards, when you name the best shooting point guards, he’s going to be one of those guys.
"He throws his body in there. Big shots come, he’s not afraid to take them. He has the characteristics that we need to add to this team. A guy that wants to take whatever challenge there is. That’s the characteristics we want to add to this team."
(Side note: Billups was also best described as a "combo guard" until coming into his own under Flip Saunders -- his first four years are eerily comparable to Rodney Stuckey's. Just goes to show that labels aren't permanent -- or perhaps even meaningful.)
Of course there's room for improvement -- how many 19-year-old prospects are a finished product? -- but the tools and work ethic are there for Knight to be a productive player, and with proper coaching, a productive point guard. I suspect it'll be quite some time before he has the green light to shoot from anywhere on the court like he did in Kentucky, and I'm very curious to see how he performs when tasked with creating for others. Off the top of my head, Stephen Curry is a much better playmaker in the pros than he was in college (certainly than as a freshman), mostly due to a change in roles.
According to Pistons.com, Dumars told Stuckey that he anticipates Knight will begin that process by sharing the court with Stuckey. "I think we’re going to put the ball in his hands and allow him to play, allow him to make plays," Dumars said of Knight. "We think he’s a kid that can play in the backcourt with the other guards we have.
"You allow a kid like this to grow."