Knight Watch

Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight hopes to follow Rose-Wall path

Brandon Knight
Andy Lyons/Getty Images Sport
Editor’s note: starts a 15-part series leading to the June 23 draft with a look at one of the possibilities for their pick at No. 8 in the first round, Kentucky guard Brandon Knight. Next: Enes Kanter.

If there is anybody running an NBA draft who appreciates the value of a two-way guard who can both run a team and play off of the basketball, it figures to be Joe Dumars. That defined his career. If not for the fact that the bulk of it was played out alongside one of the game’s all-time best point guards, Isiah Thomas, Dumars might well have entered the NBA as a lead guard.

There isn’t unanimity that Brandon Knight will blossom as one of the next wave in what is shaping up as the NBA’s golden age of point guards. Some believe the Kentucky freshman is destined to find a niche in the Jason Terry mold, as a score-first guard capable of running his team in a pinch but best suited to playing off the ball alongside a classic playmaker.

A year ago at this time, Knight was considered by some who follow high school recruiting as the No. 1 prospect in his class. Among backcourt players in the high school class of 2010, Knight probably had at least as many supporters as Kyrie Irving – the presumptive No. 1 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers – to emerge as the top guard.

After a shaky start to his freshman year at Kentucky, Knight picked up momentum during SEC play and carried it into the NCAA tournament, where despite ups and downs he displayed a penchant for shining in big moments. He allowed the Wildcats to avoid a first-round upset against Princeton when he made the game-winning basket at the buzzer – after being held scoreless on 0 of 7 shooting to that point.

He followed up with a 30-point outburst as Kentucky bumped off West Virginia, a performance that really seemed to move the needle on his draft prospects and might have been the start of the process that ended with Knight – unlike freshman teammate Terrence Jones, projected as a top-10 pick since his huge November splash in the Maui Classic – deciding to leave Kentucky.

Knight could go as high as No. 3 to Utah, which traded Deron Williams to New Jersey at the February trade deadline and has been rumored to be lukewarm about a long-term commitment to incumbent point guard Devin Harris, part of the return package from the Nets.

More on Brandon Knight
College: Kentucky

Size: 6-foot-3¼, 177 pounds

Age: 19 on draft night

The good: Knight has good size and long arms for point guard and should quickly adapt to the NBA 3-point line with a fine outside shooting stroke. … Universally considered of high character and a high academic achiever.

The bad: Hasn’t displayed great court vision or natural playmaking tendencies. … Ran into turnover problems at Kentucky. … Lightest player at Chicago draft combine. He’ll naturally gain weight as he matures, but could struggle early in his career with physical point guards.

The skinny: For the Pistons to consider Knight at No. 8, they likely would have to be convinced that he would be a better option at point guard than Rodney Stuckey or would make a dynamic partner for Stuckey in an interchangeable backcourt.

Kentucky coach John Calipari made great use of Knight in pick-and-roll situations, a staple of the Utah offense since the John Stockton-Karl Malone days. But Utah is a huge wild card in this draft, especially if conventional thinking holds and Irving and Arizona’s Derrick Williams go 1-2.

“I wouldn’t mind going there,” Knight told reporters last week at the NBA’s draft combine in Chicago. “They always have a great group of guys. I want to surround myself with a good group of guys. I like the things Utah is about. I’d enjoy going to Utah.”

If Knight gets past Utah, his next landing spot could be Toronto at No. 5. If the Raptors take a big man instead – either Enes Kanter or Jonas Valanciunas would allow them to move Andrea Bargnani to his more natural power forward – then Knight could be a target of Sacramento at No. 7, though the Kings are a prime candidate to trade the pick for a veteran.

“There are a lot of good teams in the top 10 (of the draft),” Knight said. “I’m not sure where I may fall, but things look pretty good.”

Should Knight fall to the Pistons, would they be interested? They’d love to add another young piece up front to go with Greg Monroe, but if Kanter and Valanciunas are both gone, is there another big man they value highly enough to pass on a potential star at a position, point guard, that has gained increased influence as rules have changed in their favor over the past decade?

The more germane question, really, is do the Pistons see Knight as that type of player?

Knight said last week that he interviewed with the Pistons in Chicago and left the room with a favorable impression of their meeting.

“They asked me a variety of questions,” he said. “Family, how I started in sports, academics – a lot of different things. I like the Pistons. They’re a great organization. They seem like a younger team, in the middle, and I wouldn’t mind going to Detroit. It seems like a great place to be.”

One area where Knight draws consistently high marks is character. A standout student at Pine Crest Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Knight was Gatorade’s national player of the year in 2009 – just the third junior to win the award – and defended the title in 2010. He hit a game-winning 3-pointer for his team in the McDonald’s All-American game.

Calipari has recruited at a high level for the past several years, first at Memphis and then at Kentucky, and NBA evaluators will have to decide if Knight has more in common with Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall than merely being a Calipari recruit. Can he have similar early impact in the NBA as those players?

“Yeah, I believe so,” he said. “That’s my goal. That’s what I want to do with whatever team I go to.”

Knight is likely to be either the second or third point guard taken, after Irving, with Kemba Walker, star of NCAA champion Connecticut – which defeated Knight’s Kentucky team in the Final Four – the other contender. Knight’s greater potential and size – he measured 6-foot-3¼ to Walker’s 6-foot-1 – might push him farther up draft boards.

He isn’t the electric athlete that Rose and Wall are, but Knight will arrive in the NBA a better shooter than either of those two did. He shot .377 from the college arc, taking six per game, and averaged four assists, as well.

Scouts seem more certain that Knight’s shooting stroke will help him establish an NBA niche than they are that he’ll become a Rose-Wall type of dynamic point guard. If the Pistons see him more as the latter, then he’ll be on their very short list at No. 8 – if he makes it that far.