The dreaded 'eye test.' I can still remember the feeling of failure when my eye doctor asked me right off-the-bat to read the line that seemed just a little too blurry for me to answer confidently. I'd stumble through with an R N L T P (or was it another R?) and get the always generic vote of confidence, "Good. Now this line."
Whether you wear glasses or not, the 'eye test' comes up almost daily when Piston fans discuss 2nd year PGOTF (thats Point Guard of the Future for any newcomers) Brandon Knight. For those of us who waste time poring over stats looking for that glimmer of hope, the good and bad can both be found without much effort.
Instead of dealing with complex, sometimes fuzzy player metrics like Win Shares/48, PER, or otherwise, we'll look at the key stats for Knight across three samples - his rookie year, the last 25 games of last season, and the first 25 games of this season to see where Knight has improved or regressed. The question we'll try to answer is 'Have our eyes deceived us?' or is Brandon Knight really evolving into the point guard we've all been waiting for since Billups was traded away.
While Knight has been the focus of frustration for many fans this year, his first 25 games don't really justify that frustration (inconsistency aside). So far this season, Knight has drastically improved his 3PT shooting to levels that we haven't seen from our PG since Chauncey Billups broke 40% in 2008 and hit a career peak of 43.3% in 2005-06. Of course, calling out Knight's 3PT threat is stating the obvious as it was one of the few qualities fans saw in him from the start, but you cannot deny that a 45% 3PT threat at the PG position is exactly what this team needs if our primary focus will be Drumroe and an efficient interior presence on offense.
More importantly though, Knight has improved his FTA per game as well - up from 2.1 the year before to 3.7 through the first 25. This is arguably just as impressive given the eye test last year showed Knight had a tendency to shy away from contact or depend on a floater on his drives to the hoop and his paltry 2.1 attempts per game supported this concern.
In addition to improving his 3PT shooting and FTA per game (both contributing to a solid increase in his TS% to an acceptable level of 55.7%), Knight has increased his assist per game by roughly 20% vs. his last 25/rookie year. Given his usage rate went up less than 2%, and MPG stayed the same, this is a solid improvement for a player seen primarily as a scoring guard. Lastly, while we don't require rebounds from our PG, it's nice to see that Knight puts forth effort to secure the ball on the defensive glass averaging a solid 3.7 boards a game.
Turnovers. Not much we can say here. Given the slight increase in usage, an increase in turnovers is to be expected. But as pretty much everyone has stated before, a 1.31:1 A/TO ratio is in no way 'point-guardy'. So does his increase in turnovers negate the other improvements in his game? I don't know if the first 25 can give us this answer definitively. The team certainly hasn't improved drastically, but that can't be solely placed on Knight's turnover issues, especially when Greg Monroe is leading the team in turnovers per game.
The Silver Lining
Brandon Knight IS improving as both a guard and more specifically a point guard. For those of us who still don't think he passes the eye test, I challenge you to look at the stats and prove otherwise. We constantly question Joe Dumars willingness to draft with his gut, but how is Dumars gut and our eye exams any different? Both are based on subjective evaluations of players. To put into context the rarity that Knight's skill set actually is, only 7 players since 1946-47 have averaged at least 5 assists, shot 40% or greater from beyond the arc, and had at least 2.5 turnovers per game while playing starter minutes (and 3 of them are in the league today).
I believe that Knight's 3PT shooting is better largely because he's truly improved his decision making skills. He's shooting just as many as last year, but he's no longer launching because he's lost, but instead he intelligently waits for the pick and roll to develop. If Knight is capable of learning the nuances of the game as this development suggests, then I think we can confidently hope that his turnover issue is one he can improve on as well.
So is Brandon Knight failing the eye test or is it time we as fans look into getting a stronger prescription? The answer is certainly just as blurry today as it was at the start of the season, but if his first 25 games are indicative of future performance, and his high basketball IQ can improve his turnover issues, then we should all watch Knight's game with a bit more confidence that he can develop into exactly what this team needs.