Two years ago the Pistons drafted Brandon Knight 7th overall with hopes that he’d become their franchise point guard.
The main concern with scouts before the 2011 draft was this: Would Knight be able to become a point guard, and not just a scoring guard masquerading as a one, like he was in college?
Well two years and a Jose Calderon trade later, Detroit seems to have set their sights on developing Knight as a scoring two guard. The point guard concept just hasn’t worked out. Knight is fairly turnover prone, and isn’t a good enough passer to make up for that.
Knight has been largely ineffective running the Pistons offense this season. The most frequent of any type of Pistons play this season has been the pick and roll. This year, in pick and roll plays the former Wildcat scores only 0.68 points per possession, a number that ranks him 119th in the NBA, according to Synergy. 27.7% of Knight’s plays alone come out of the pick and roll. Just from that number you can begin to see why his overall ppp is just a lowly o.85.
If you’re going to be a starting point guard in the NBA, you’re going to have to score and pass well out of the pick and roll. It’s as simple as that. And Knight doesn’t do either of those things very well. Knight’s main flaw in that area is his decision making. Often he decides what he’s going to do before the play actually happens and it turns into turnovers and bad shots.
In the videos below you see Knight make three poor decisions out of the screen and roll.
First, Greg Monroe comes to set Knight a screen. Knight sees nothing develop out of it so instead of resetting and trying again or working the ball around to Jerebko, Knight instantaneously throws up a contested 22 footer — otherwise known as the worst shot in basketball.
Next, you see Knight work a side pick and roll with Jason Maxiell. This is one of those instances where it seems like he’s made up his mind before the play develops. As Knight rounda the screen, Odom steps out to hedge, cutting off Knight and forcing him to turn his back to the play. As Chris Paul recovers onto Knight, Odom begins to drop back onto Maxiell. After turning back around — where he should have either reset or passed the ball to Greg Monroe at the top of the key, where he would then be in position to run a high screen and roll with either Knight or Calderon — Knight instead decides to force a tough pass in between 2 defenders to Maxiell. Thanks to his long arms, Odom is able to deflect the pass and create a turnover.
On this last play, we see more bad shot selection/decision making from Knight. After the Pistons play good defense on one end and force Al Jefferson into a long shot at the end of the shot clock, Knight dribbles up the left side of the court. Jonas Jerebko comes to set a screen and Randy Foye decides to go under it, and rightfully so, as Knight is a good 3 feet behind the three point line. After seeing Foye go under the screen, Knight immediately launches up a 25 foot three with 18 seconds left on the shot clock. Sadly, Brandon Knight isn’t Steph Curry, and shouldn’t pull the trigger on an extremely long 3 just because he has some space. Surely the Pistons could have worked for a better shot than that.
The type of plays come regularly from Knight, and they aren’t the kind of decisions you want to see from a player running your offense. Thus the change to shooting guard.
The numbers don’t show it much, but I’ve sort of liked some things I’ve seen from Knight off the ball. On spot up threes he’s shooting 37.2%. Again, not great, but not terrible, and definitely improvable. Also, he’s been excellent scoring coming off the cut in the 32 opportunities he’s had, at 1.41 ppp.
Albeit a small sample size, where Knight’s excelled this year is on scoring opportunities coming off hand-offs. He’s ranked 5th in the league on 1.27 ppp, per Synergy.
In this clip, Jose Calderon is placed in the left corner as Brandon Knight gets the ball to Greg Monroe on the left wing. Next, Knight fakes a down screen for Calderon then flares out to the corner. In order to make sure Calderon doesn’t receive the hand-off from Monroe with Mike James in a trailing position, Mayo and James switch. Calderon then proceeds to flash through the lane and through to the opposite corner as Knight receives a dribble hand-off from with ancient Mike James trailing him. From there Knight decides to attack the slow footed Kaman who is now worried about both Knight attacking him and Monroe rolling to the basket. Knight gets into the lane, pulls up and shoots a floater right over him.
As you can see, Knight is exponentially better playing off the ball . And now that the Pistons have a point guard who has historically been much more effective with the ball in his hands than Knight in Jose Calderon, Detroit doesn’t need Knight to have play the role of primary ball handler in their offense. This way you can lower the number of decisions Knight has to make on a game to game basis.The effects can already be seen by the decrease in turnovers per 36 minutes. He’s gone from 3.3 before the Calderon trade to a much improved 2.4 since then.
Knight may not be the Pistons starting shooting guard of the future either. He’s short for the position and may struggle to guard bigger two guards. In all honesty, he may be better suited as an eventual 6th man combo guard to give a them a scoring threat off the bench.
Whether or not the Pistons will be able to re-sign Jose Calderon and keep Knight at shooting guard is also yet to be seen.
But for now, Detroit made the right decision in trying to put Knight in a better position to succeed going forward.