Is Brandon Knight getting better?
It is one of the most important questions to the Detroit Pistons, as they see Knight as the point guard of the future. The floor general that will lead this proud franchise back to the promised land.
Others are more skeptical. Coming out of college, Knight failed to wow many, and I was dismayed that the Pistons drafted him ahead of Kawhi Leonard or Kenneth Faried. But, I told myself, he is only 19 and he has plenty of room to grow.
And if you go by the Pistons beat writers, Knight is blossoming into the player the Pistons are hoping for. Both the Detroit News and MLive have stories filled with praise for the rookie going through a baptism by fire.
Says the Detroit News:
For his first 19 games, Knight had only one game without a turnover, but in his last 19 games, he's had five such games. The often steep learning curve has been helped with the constant film work he puts in, along with on-court help from assistant coach Dee Brown.
"He's starting to see the floor and understand why you do things," Frank said.
On top of an already-steep learning curve, Knight had to adjust to the Pistons' pick-and-roll-heavy offense after playing at Kentucky, the offense is more likely to start with the point guard giving up the ball, then running off baseline screens to find a shot.
"So he didn't play like a traditional point guard," Frank said. "He was just a guard. And now, we're throwing a lot at him, because this is the next level, and this is what you have to learn."
And while those are nice anecdotes, I personally prefer the cold, hard numbers. The Pistons are now 38 games into the abbreviated 2011-12 NBA season and it is important that at this point Knight show progress in a few key areas.
After all, at this point he has played as many games in the NBA as he did in his entire college career. And since his numbers were less than immaculate at the collegiate level now would be the time to look for red flags.
Sure, these stories provide some anecdotal evidence that the coaches think he is improving, but what else do you expect them to say? And while to my untrained eye he seems to be making less mistakes with the ball, he also doesn't scream top-10 point guard to me, either. So what do the numbers say:
Mostly, the numbers say a few encouraging things about Knight. 1. He struggled mightily on the offensive end in the middle-part of the season, shooting 32 percent from the field and 22 percent from 3-point land. 2. His prolific turnover problems are trending downward, and has not coincided with a downturn in his (admittedly modest) assist numbers.
And if the middle-third of the season so far represents an outlier, he'd have the kind of offensive repertoire (long-range shooting, free-throw percentage) to be a very nice scoring point guard in the NBA. This season, Knight is attempting about four 3-pointers per game and aside from a rough middle patch is shooting about 41 percent on 3s. The only point guards shooting more than four 3-pointers and shooting more than 40 percent this season are Stephen Curry and Mario Chalmers.
His assist numbers are still below four, and looking through the past few seasons, it seems like most players that went on to become quality NBA point guards averaged in the 4.5 to 5.5 assist range at the very least.
In the end it is encouraging that most of the bad numbers are trending down and most of the good numbers are trending up. Hopefully, in the next 13 games, we'll have even more encouraging numbers to report. While his progress doesn't say superstar, it does show signs of improvement. And remember, he is only 20 years old.