Brandon Knight is back in Detroit! Knight returns as part of the trade that saw Andre Drummond to to Cleveland. Knight was joined by John Henson (discussed here) and a future second-round pick that we shall never discuss again. Knight of course started his career in Detroit as the No. 8 overall draft pick in 2011, but has been gone for so long that you may hardly even recognize him anymore.
Who is Brandon Knight?
Brandon Knight is a 6-foot-2, 182-pound combo-guard. Hailing from Florida, Knight attended Pine-Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he had a truly legendary high school career. He led Pine-Crest to four consecutive state championship games and won two titles. He was the Gatorade National Player Of The Year in both his junior and senior seasons, was a four-time player of the year in his division in Florida, and finished second all-time in points scored in the state.
Knight attended Kentucky for one year of college where the accolades continued to pile up. In his freshmen season he averaged 17.2 points, 4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. He set a record for freshmen points in a season as well as 20-point games, was named first-team All-SEC and won most outstanding player in his region in the NCAA tournament.
After one year he declared for the draft and went to the Pistons.
Knight had some good numbers as a rookie and made the All-Rookie team, but it became fairly obvious early on that he wasn’t really cut out for starting NBA point guard duty as he struggled with efficiency on offense. After two seasons he was traded to the Bucks for the Swag King Brandon Jennings. In Milwaukee, Knight briefly found a comfort zone on a surprisingly decent Bucks team for a year and a half before getting traded to the Suns in a deal that netted the Bucks Michael Carter-Williams.
Knight put up good numbers in Phoenix in his first season but was hampered by injuries before being traded to Houston in a salary dump move after two years with the Suns. He rarely got on the floor in Houston before eventually being traded again in a salary dump move from Houston to Cleveland partway through last season. Knight played some with the Cavaliers last season but has played sparingly this year.
What’s his game?
Knight is a clear combo-guard in the most negative sense. At 6-foot-2 and slender, he is clearly the size of a point guard and can score, but he has always struggled as a facilitator and playmaker and, therefore, works best off the ball. Then on defense, even at point guard he struggles, and is basically chopped liver if you try to have him defend most shooting guards. At his peak a couple seasons ago he did manage to even out his turnover issues to competency, but even if he wasn’t turning it over a unacceptable amount he clearly lacked the vision to be a particularly good facilitator.
The bigger issue is that he’s always been a wildly inefficient scorer. Despite being a good shooter with a great handle, Knight has always struggled to get into the paint and rarely draws fouls. This has led him to be far too willing to take mid-range shots while not actually being that great at converting them. His career true shooting percentage is just 51.7% and his career high was just 54.3%. One of those numbers is bad and one is downright awful.
Right now it’s a bit tough to judge where his game is really at. The combination of being hurt and on teams that don’t care about him mean that he has barely played for two years and when he does play he is a low priority. The most consistent minutes he got was after initially being traded to the Cavs last season and he did alright.
In general, Knight is a good shooter and he seems to be moving alright despite all the injuries. He can lose almost anyone for stepback threes. If a big gets switched onto him he can cook them with crossovers, and even though he isn’t a good passer he has done good work in limiting his turnovers. He’s had some bad shooting stretches while coming back from various injuries, but he’s still a career 35% shooter from deep and when healthy he’s typically been better than that. On defense he mostly tries hard but is also mostly bad.
What will his role be on the team?
I have no idea. Derrick Rose is currently hurt but is supposed to be back soon. Same with Luke Kennard and Svi Mykhailiuk. Reggie Jackson is currently playing pretty well but there are talks of him being bought out. I’d think that if everyone stays healthy and they don’t buy out Jackson there won’t be many minutes for Knight at either guard spot, but if they do buy out Jackson or there are more injuries I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he ends up playing quite a bit.
When he’s on the floor he will probably serve mostly as a shooter and floor spacer with some secondary ball handling duties. Once again, if guys get hurt/bought out he could find himself with a larger role than that, but with what we expect the rotation to be after the all-star break he isn’t likely to get much.
What’s the upshot for the rest of the roster and the future?
Once again, I doubt his arrival changes much for anyone right now. I’d certainly hope that he doesn’t get any minutes over any of the young guys and he is not better than Rose or Jackson. There is a world where Rose misses another couple of weeks and Knight steps in and really plays well and earns playing time the rest of the way, but we will worry about that if it happens.
As for the future, like John Henson, in terms of guys to get back as salary filler he at least is young enough that if he did happen to play really well it wouldn’t be the worst thing if they kept him around for another year or so. I have a personal belief that Knight can play still but the numbers really don’t back that up.
Unlike Henson, even if Knight plays well the Pistons don’t project to have a gaping hole at guard next season. With Henson, even if the Pistons fully embrace the rebuild they will still need bodies up front so if they like him it would make real sense to keep him around. With Knight, even if he plays well and the Pistons decide they want to try and compete next season, they are already flush with guards so I’m not sure there would be much sense in keeping him unless he really has a major revival over the next couple of months.
Knight has been ready for his come-to-Jesus moment but just hasn’t been playing enough. The Pistons buy out Reggie Jackson, Rose keeps sitting out and Knight steps up to finally realize the potential people saw in him as one of the nations best high-school and college players. He fits in with the young guys and finds efficiency scoring, and plays so well that he becomes a long-term piece of the team and works with Luke Kennard as killer scoring guards off the bench for the next several years.
He actually is just washed but he gets a bunch of playing time anyways. Other guys are healthy, but Knight takes away time from the young guys to clang away mid-range shots and commit bad turnovers. So not only does he hurt young guys by inexplicably taking their minutes but his lack of facilitation even hurts the guys he shares the floor with. He leaves this summer after damaging the development of anyone and we all wish he’d never been back.
The bottom line is that Knight was just salary filler. The main thing is that there probably are not minutes for him to make any impact even if he is capable of doing so. The one thing is, I do believe he can play. Hitting step-back/pull-up 3s is a highly valuable skill in today’s NBA and Knight can hit those even if his wider numbers are sometimes ugly. I wouldn’t mind at all if things worked out to where he gets at least a short stretch of significant playing time, even if out of nothing but morbid curiosity.
But given that the Pistons already have plenty of guards, Knight is probably a very inconsequential addition, even less so than Henson. I hope he gets to play a bit to try and earn a new contract with someone this Summer for his sake, but nothing more.