This piece was written by Behind the Buck Pass contributor Nick Pitner, who is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The Bucks answered their most pressing offseason question Tuesday, when they agreed to sign-and-trade the polarizing Brandon Jennings to Detroit in exchange for fellow point guard Brandon Knight, forward Khris Middleton, and center Slava Kravtsov.
In doing so, Milwaukee finally met their desire to secure a starting point guard at a value they are comfortable with. Knight, who is only 21-years-old, will earn just $5.5 million over the next two seasons with a team option for the third, making him an exceptional asset and a highly intriguing player.
At an early age, Knight drew the attention of NBA teams by dominating at Pine Crest High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he earned the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year award as both a junior and a senior. Widely considered a top-five prospect in the class of 2010, Knight scored the game-winning basket in the McDonald’s All-American Game before committing to play for the University of Kentucky.
Knight’s college career followed the same path as Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, and John Wall, as the highly-touted point guards all developed under the tutelage of coach John Calipari in consecutive years before turning pro after their respective freshman seasons. While short-lived, Knight’s time in Lexington saw him average 17.3 points, 4.2 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game en route to leading the Wildcats a Final Four appearance.
Like the floor generals before him, Knight was a lottery selection, as the Pistons selected him with the eight overall pick in the 2011 draft. In his first pro season, Knight averaged 12.8 points, 3.8 assists, and 3.2 rebounds, earning an NBA All-Rookie First Team selection. However, Knight’s numbers last season – 13.3 points, 4.0 assists and 3.3 rebounds – showed little improvement and, along with questions regarding his ability as a true point guard, caused Detroit to pull the trigger on Tuesday’s deal.
Now in Milwaukee, Knight figures to be the Bucks’ starting point guard this season and possesses unique attributes that should fit in well with the team’s current roster. While his shooting percentages dipped during his second season, Knight is still a career 37 percent three-point shooter. That ability figures to help a Bucks team that suffered through lackluster outside shooting from the Jennings-Monta Ellis backcourt last season.
A criticism of Knight is that he lacks the distribution skills necessary to be a starting NBA point guard. While his assist numbers leave something to be desired, Knight could be featured in more of a scoring role when playing alongside Luke Ridnour, a more proven passer. Also, Knight could highlight some of his strong suits, cutting and hand-offs, while playing off the ball.
Additionally, without Jennings guarding the opposition’s primary ball handler on a nightly basis, the Bucks won’t be subject to his dismal effort and risky tendencies. In fact, Knight’s 6-3 frame and outstanding athleticism ought to benefit Milwaukee greatly on the defensive end. The Pistons were 7.7 points per 100 possessions better on defense when Knight was on the court last season. Further, Knight’s size will enable the Bucks to compensate for their relative lack of height at shooting guard, given that O.J. Mayo is only an inch taller than Knight.
Another aspect Knight will have to improve is his play in the pick-and-roll, an area he has struggled to consistently execute effectively during his first two seasons. However, Knight, who maintained a 4.3 grade-point average in high school, certainly has the mental capacity to progress his development with more repetitions.
In all, the Bucks’ acquisition of Brandon Knight comes as a refreshing retool at point guard. The 21 year old is a great value, a likable locker room presence, and has encouraging potential on both ends of the court, things that cannot necessarily be said about Milwaukee’s last point guard named Brandon.