Brandon Knight was the right pick, but far from a perfect one for the Detroit Pistons

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NEWARK, New Jersey – When the Pistons drafted Brandon Knight with the eighth pick, he went through the usual hug-and-kiss routine with the family and friends at his green-room table, but a key element was missing: a smile. He shook hands with David Stern and forced a few teeth to show while posing for pictures. Then, on a night nearly everyone in his draft class joyfully lapped up the experience, Knight meandered through his interview circuit with terse answers and a frown.

You’ll read quotes today from Knight about how excited he is to join the Pistons, and I’m sure the words will be correctly transcribed. But seeing the text won’t convey how dejected he looked and sounded.

It’s nothing personal to Detroit. Knight, who worked out only with the Cavaliers (No. 1 and No. 4 picks), Jazz (No. 3), Raptors (No. 5) and Kings (No. 7) certainly expected to get drafted before the eighth pick. And the Pistons must’ve figured they’d get a player who fits more of a need. So, I doubt either side is thrilled. But that doesn’t change two truths:

The Pistons made the right pick. Detroit is the best landing spot for Knight.

Knight was the best player available. None of the tall players who seemed like they might be available at No. 8 – Tristan Thompson, Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely and Bismack Biyombo – slipped to the Pistons’ pick. Frankly, none of them should’ve.

For Knight, it’s simple: if he fell any further, he would’ve lost more money.

So, it’s up to the Pistons and Knight to make this imperfect partnership work. Neither side needed each other, but they’re better off together just because of what they could accomplish together. Now, Knight and the Pistons must take the steps to ensure they find success.

Managing expectations

As obvious as the resemblance was, Joe Dumars has typically shied away from comparing Rodney Stuckey to Chauncey Billups. Stuckey has clearly been living in Billups’ footsteps in Detroit, anyway. Why add to that pressure?

Apparently Dumars doesn’t have the same desire to protect Knight.

“Chauncey can stand out there and shoot with the best of them, and this kid, that’s what he does,” Dumars said. “He can really, really shoot the ball. … He’s going to be one of those point guards that when you name the best shooting point guards, he’s going to be one of those guys.”

Let’s slow down. Way down.

The first step is understanding why Knight fell. By my count, he was the eight-best prospect for the Pistons in this draft. Getting him with the eighth pick is fitting, not a blessing.

I suspect many fans are happy with Knight because he’s not another European like, gasp, Darko. Fans with that simple-minded view will likely compare him to previous John Calipari point guards John Wall, Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose. But if those three are the bar, Knight won’t clear it.

There are plenty of reasons to like Knight. He’s talented, smart,* hard-working, athletic and long – a special combination. How many players possess all five of those attributes and fail?

*Awesome story via Kevin Bull of the Detroit Free Press:

Knight, who attended Pine Crest School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., visited Yale before landing at Kentucky.

"He could go to any school in the country without bouncing a ball," David Beckerman, his prep coach, told the Kentucky Advocate-Messenger in 2010. "He has a 4.3 grade-point average at the No. 1 academic school in Florida. He could not bounce a ball and go to Harvard. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime player, but he’s also a superb student."

There’s just one problem: he wasn’t very good at playing basketball last year. He hit some big shots and showed raw talent, and he’s young. I’m certainly not writing him off. But that doesn’t change the fact that Knight wasn’t that good last year.

Here’s how the he ranked among the 22 point guards in DraftExpress’ top 100:

  • Points per 40 minutes, pace adjusted: 14th
  • Assists per 40 minutes, pace adjusted: 15th
  • Offensive-rebounding percentage: 16th
  • Defensive-rebounding percentage: 10th
  • Steals per 40 minutes, pace adjusted: 23rd
  • Blocks per 40 minutes, pace adjusted: 7th (seven-way tie)
  • Turnovers per 40 minutes, pace adjusted: 17th (three-way tie)
  • Personal fouls per 40 minutes, pace adjusted: 13th (five-way tie)
  • 2-point percentage: 17th (tie)
  • 3-point percentage: 12th
  • Free-throw percentage: 13th
  • Assist-to-turnover ratio: 18th
  • Points per play: 15th
  • Free-throw attempt per field-goal attempt: 16th

That’s the résumé of someone who should have the expectations for him dialed down, not up, like the Pistons are doing. It didn’t stop with the Billups comparison, either.

Dumars said everyone on his staff spent time with Knight and watched him play, I think implying that not working him out doesn’t mean they aren’t certain of his high value. But were the Pistons around Kentucky so much to see Knight or Enes Kanter? I suspect the latter had more to do with it. Still, I trust Detroit had the appropriate amount of information to evaluate Knight. That doesn’t make Knight bust-proof, though. Does Dumars really have to hammer in how sure everyone in the organization is about Knight?

Dumars also brought up Knight saying in his interview with the Pistons that he had 90 credits at the end of his freshman year. Maybe that’s on Knight for fibbing or Dumars for exaggerating, but I can’t believe Knight has that many credits. He entered Kentucky with 21 credits and had nearly 60 credits through May 10. I doubt he added more than 30 credits since then. For the most part, that’s a harmless stretch. But, again, why up expectations?

Even Knight is working on sending Pistons fans into a tizzy. Before the draft, according to Kevin Jones of Philadunkia, when asked about players he admires, Knight listed Dwyane Wade, Steve Nash and Derrick Rose. Speaking with Detroit media, he answered the same question with Isiah Thomas and Chauncey Billups.

At this point, how many Pistons fans aren’t gaga for Knight? We could probably hold a meeting in an elevator.

As Patrick frequently notes, the Pistons have a bad habit of hyping their young players to an unhealthy level. Now would be a great time to stop. It would also be a great time to add more young players worth hyping. But first, that would require shedding the dead weight that overwhelms the roster.

Crafting the roster around Brandon Knight

In Knight’s post-draft press conference, someone began a question, “In addition to veterans, you’ve got a lot of young guys, guys like Greg Monroe and guys like –” The reporter paused, completed the sentence with an awkward “that are young players” and then finished his question.

Is it really that hard to name two good, young Pistons? Apparently it is, and that’s a problem. As Dumars said, Knight is just a quality piece. The Pistons need more of them, preferably ones who complement their new point guard.

I’m not suggesting the Pistons make Knight their franchise player. If you read the previous section, that much should be clear. But they should surround such a high pick with parts that would give him a chance to excel.

I know that won’t be easy like it would’ve been had a desirable big fallen to the Pistons. If they had drafted, say, Bismack Biyombo, a couple point guards (Darius Morris and Josh Selby) would’ve offered good value at No. 33. Then, all of a sudden, Detroit would’ve been on its way to assembling a balanced roster.

At least the Pistons have a starting point. A Knight-Stuckey-Austin Daye-Jonas Jerebko-Greg Monroe lineup is worth getting excited about. How many teams can post such a strong lineup that’s so young next season?

But behind those five players lies a wake of problems. To start, Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Will Bynum might want some minutes in Detroit’s suddenly more-crowded backcourt. Charlie Villanueva and Jason Maxiell are paid like players who warrant serious playing time, too. Also, are the Pistons ready to kick Tayshaun Prince to the curb if he doesn’t find the market elsewhere for a complementary wing on the wrong side of 30 as tempting as hoped?

And heck, the biggest question mark is already penciled into my lineup of the future. What happens now with Stuckey, a restricted free agent? Dumars said he spoke with Stuckey shortly before meeting with the media last night and gave no indication his plans have changed about wanting to re-sign Stuckey. At best, Knight’s presence lowers Stuckey’s salary. At worst, the Pistons overpay anyway and hinder Knight’s development. In the middle, Detroit let’s Stuckey walk away. All three are possible, as are a number of scenarios in the gaps.

The ownership change was supposed to give Dumars a chance to alleviate all these roster concerns, and he’ll get it in due time. But right now, it feels like the handcuffs are still on.

The draft dealt Dumars a difficult hand, because the best player available made the roster even more jumbled. But because he chose to take Knight, Dumars owes it to him to find a way to fix this roster and give him a chance to succeed.

A sad draft night – but a happy future?

I’m not jumping up and down about this pick, but I see avenues that will lead to it working if both sides take dedicated steps toward making it work.

Simply: Knight must get better, and the Pistons must get better for him.

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Tags: Ben Gordon Brandon Knight Richard Hamilton Rodney Stuckey Tayshaun Prince Will Bynum

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