Palace Knight

Pistons grab Kentucky guard, ‘a talent we couldn’t pass up’

Brandon Knight
Jesse D. Garrabrant /NBAE/Getty Images
The Pistons spent the weeks leading to the NBA draft last year convinced Greg Monroe would fall just out of their reach, until learning less than 24 hours before it that he would indeed be available to them.

They barely got a 24-second shot clock notice that Brandon Knight would similarly slip unexpectedly into their laps.

Who is Brandon Knight? The fourth straight point guard recruited by John Calipari who left for the NBA after one year. The first three: Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall. If Knight takes the baton from that relay team and matches their splits, the Pistons will have done very well for themselves in the 2011 draft.

The Pistons went into the night focused on big men – primarily on the belief that would represent the value of the draft when it got around to them. But when six straight big men were picked after Kyrie Irving went No. 1 to Cleveland – Derrick Williams, Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely and Bismack Biyombo – the Pistons couldn’t pass on Knight, a player they believed would go no lower than No. 5.

“We had targeted big guys initially, and if they were gone we were going to take the guy with the best value,” Dumars said, looking as thoroughly pleased as he did while discussing the Monroe pick a year earlier. “At the time of the eighth pick, the guy with the best value on the board was Brandon Knight. At that point, it was a talent we didn’t think we could pass up.”

Knight oozed All-American qualities as a high school player in Florida, where he was just the third player ever to win Gatorade national player of the year honors as a junior, following up as a senior by winning Gatorade’s national male athlete of the year. In his one year at Kentucky, he packed in enough classes to qualify as a junior.

“We think the kid has upside – we think the kid is tremendously smart,” Dumars said of Knight, only 19. “He has one of those incredible work ethics – hours and hours and hours in the gym, totally dedicated – and what we feel is probably the most high-character guy in the draft. We were a little excited in the room.

“He might have been the most impressive guy in terms of the interview process in Chicago (at the May draft combine). Just kind of an off-the-charts guy. One thing he told me, has nothing to do with basketball, but after this freshman year he told me had 90 hours already at Kentucky.”

The Pistons continued the theme of picking up high-character, intelligent players in the second round, when they took Duke’s Kyle Singler, a polished, four-year college player whom vice president Scott Perry said was rated the highest player left on their board over big men like Jordan Williams and Keith Benson.

Knight admitted a little disappointment at dropping to eight when he expected to go No. 3 to Utah, but he said in Chicago and reiterated Thursday how comfortable he felt with the Pistons after their May meeting.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I think I’m meant to be in Detroit, so I’m happy being drafted by them. … I got a great connection with them and a great vibe from them and I think that’s a big reason why they picked me.”

Knight has been adamant throughout the draft process that he sees himself as a point guard, where he played at Kentucky, and Dumars said he can play both spots but that the Pistons see him as a point guard capable of playing off the ball, as well. Dumars said he’d already talked to Rodney Stuckey about using them virtually interchangeably.

“I think we’re going to put the ball in his hands and allow him to play, allow him to make plays. We think he’s a kid that can play in the backcourt with the other guards we have. You allow a kid like this to grow.”

While the Pistons’ front-office staff had been focused on sorting out their preferences in big men in recent weeks, they felt comfortable they had a thorough working knowledge of what Knight offered. Dumars saw him play as recently as the NCAA tournament and every member of his staff saw Kentucky multiple times over the course of the season.

Pistons personnel director George David made multiple trips to Lexington over the course of the college season. Often he would go to watch Kentucky practices, in large measure because it was the only opportunity to see Enes Kanter, who wound up being the No. 3 pick for Utah – the spot a majority of analysts saw as Knight’s likeliest landing spot.

Among the names mentioned as comparable players to Knight are Chauncey Billups and Jason Terry. Dumars said the similarity to Billups is Knight’s 3-point range.

“The comparison is because he can shoot so well,” he said. “Chauncey can stand out there and shoot with the best of them and this kid, that’s what he does. He can really shoot the ball. He’s going to be one of those point guards, when you name the best shooting point guards, he’s going to be one of those guys.

“He throws his body in there. Big shots come, he’s not afraid to take them. He has the characteristics that we need to add to this team. A guy that wants to take whatever challenge there is. That’s the characteristics we want to add to this team.”

In addition to his 3-point shooting – he connected on 37.7 percent from the arc as a freshman – Knight displayed a flair for manipulating pick-and-roll situations at Kentucky and the panache to nail big shots. He made the game-winner at the buzzer to beat Princeton in an NCAA first-round game after going 0 for 7 in a frustrating performance to that point. He followed up with 30 points to lead Kentucky past West Virginia en route to a Final Four berth.

Unusual for a young guard known for his offensive acumen, Knight also digs in on defense. If he falls short of Rose and Wall as elite athletes, he’s considered above average athletically with a 6-foot-7 wing span.

“The one thing I can tell you about Brandon Knight,” Perry said, “there will probably be nobody in this gym any longer hours. You’re talking about a very smart kid, a competitive kid. He’s got a huge upside. He’s still very young, but he brings a skill set in the fact he can shoot the basketball and he has NBA-caliber speed.”