*Editor’s note: This piece was written by Behind the Buck Pass contributor, Justin Becker.
I don’t think I’m jumping out on a limb by saying the Milwaukee Bucks are an absolute mess. Sitting at 10-44, the team’s .185 winning percentage puts them at the very bottom of the horrible Eastern Conference. Larry Drew’s rotations are a mess, some members of the team seem to be giving up on him and the only thing to look forward to is the NBA lottery next year, right?
Well, there has been one constant about this team so far: Brandon Knight has tried to put the team on his back. Seemingly the only player Larry Drew trusts, Knight has been an upper-echelon point guard since the month of November ended. After averaging 9.6 PPG in November, here are Knight’s points per game in the following months:
It looks like Larry Drew’s point-guard-friendly system may have turned a light switch on in Brandon Knight’s head. Last year, Detroit wouldn’t commit to him at the point guard spot. I believe that may have stunted his growth some. At only 21 years of age, Knight was still learning the point guard position at a professional level; the position he’s been playing since he was little. Instead, Detroit committed to Jose Calderon as its everyday point guard and ended up trading Knight away at the end of the season.
Fast forward to this year and Knight is looking like a different player. While still not setting the world on fire with his shooting, he is starting to look like a true point guard. Jeff Teague took his game to the next level under Drew’s tutelage. In just two seasons, Teague went from 5.2 PPG to 14.6. Okay, so that was partially the result of almost a 20 minute per game increase, but his performance still improved. From 2011 to 2012, Teague’s minutes slightly declined and he still scored exactly two more points per game. Every year under Larry Drew resulted in Jeff Teague’s points per-36 minutes to rise and the final year was the biggest jump. Unlike this year’s Bucks team, though, two players accrued more minutes per game than Teague.
Knight’s outlook has been similar. Not only did Knight’s scoring improve, but his per-36 scoring is up over 3.5 points per game. He is becoming more and more effective. Controlling the ball, paired with consistent minutes, has been the elixir for this young player. Imagine if he could develop any consistency around him. One day he’ll be passing to Larry Sanders in the post (who now may be out this for the rest of the season) and the next day it’ll be John Henson. Sometimes he’ll have O.J. Mayo playing the two next to him and other times it’ll be Giannis Antetokounmpo. Ersan Ilyasova is the king of inconsistency even when he plays a large allotment of minutes. Part of the reason Knight has been so consistent is because his teammates are having problems developing consistency of their own. Actually, it’s amazing that his assists have been rising per month, just like his points, considering how hard it is for his teammates to find rhythm.
Thus far in the month of February, Knight has posted 6.7 assists per game. Starting with November and going forward by month, he averaged 4.7, 4.6 and 4.9 assists before this month’s outburst. At 22, it’s not inconceivable to believe he is just beginning his development as a point guard. Knight wasn’t the world’s greatest passer at Kentucky, averaging 4.2 assists in 35.9 minutes. How has Larry Drew improved his confidence? Minutes and a defined role; it’s simple. Handling the ball on just about every offensive play as opposed to playing off the ball has caused him to develop. Even though the team is horrible, Knight is getting his minutes in a lost season. Only 38.9 percent of Knight’s baskets have been assisted, which is by far the lowest of his career. This also means he has been the one doing the assisting. He has just always been a player who wanted the ball in his hand. For the first time in his career, his coach is allowing him to do so on an everyday basis and he is improving.
On a struggling Bucks basketball team, Knight is carrying the team on the back. He isn’t carrying the team to many wins, but who could? Instead, he is taking his game to new heights, giving Bucks’ management reason to be optimistic. At least amongst all the wreckage, the Bucks have one player (along with Antetokounmpo) that they know they can build around. Larry Drew might not be the right fit for this team, but he has been the right fit for Knight’s confidence. Unfortunately, Drew may be the next one out the door, and then we are back to square one. Let’s just hope Knight continues to learn and won’t revert back to bad Knight in a new system.
And if the Bucks ever put any talent around Knight, watch out. Who knows how high his ceiling can really be?