How Brandon Knight ruined the Pistons’ offense, and why he had to go

Me at the Detroit Free Press:

A lot went wrong during the two years Knight started for Detroit, and a large majority of it was not his fault, but his presence was particularly felt in one area:

Knight ruined the Pistons’ offense.

He didn’t do it singlehandedly, and the powers that put him in position to fail deserve more blame, but as far as players go, he’s the main culprit.

It largely went unnoticed, because the Pistons have been mostly terrible on both sides of the ball for so long — they’re the only team besides the Charlotte Bobcats with bottom-10 offenses and defenses each of the last two years — but Detroit actually had a better-than-NBA-average offense during their 30-52 2010-11 season. That offense wasn’t pretty, relying heavily on isolation play, but it was much more effective — ranking 15th in offensive rating — than the last two years, when the Pistons ranked 26th and 21st.

So what went wrong?

Dean Oliver developed what he calls “Four Factors of Basketball Success”: shooting, turnovers, rebounding and free throws. In the two seasons since 2010-11, the Pistons have rebounded better and converted more free throws, so those aren’t the issues. Their shooting got substantially worse in 2011-12, bouncing back a bit last season, and Knight played a small part in that problem.

But their turnovers got horrifically worse.

Detroit’s turnover rate in 2010-11 ranked fourth in the NBA. In the next two years, it plummeted to 28th and 27th.

On the court, that was Knight’s fault more than anyone else’s. He turns the ball over a lot, which isn’t terrible if a player is gambling to get high-percentage shots at the rim or set up his teammates, but Knight did neither particularly well.

For someone so smart — Knight was Ivy League material in the classroom — how could he play so foolishly on the court?

As Damon Bryant of Adaptive Assessment Services explains well, there’s a difference between Verbal/Linguistic processing in the brain and Visual/Spatial processing in the brain. Knight clearly excels at Verbal/Linguistic, the type of reading-and-writing skills that help someone excel in school. But Visual/Spatial — like seeing plays develop on a basketball court — is a different skill set, one in which Knight is lacking.

In other words, one of the key reasons the Pistons valued Knight — his intelligence — was too broad of a measure to mean he’ll become a good point guard. There are different types of intelligence, and the area in which Knight had proven to excel doesn’t necessarily translate to the type of intelligence high-end point guards possess.

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