Rookie Raves

Smart, hard-working Knight quickly opening Pistons’ eyes
Nearly 4½ hours after practice began Tuesday, Brandon Knight finally nodded to assistant coach Steve Hetzel. More than a full hour after practice had ended, the Pistons’ rookie gave Hetzel the OK to go break down practice tape and get about the rest of his day. Not that Knight was finished, by the way. He was still intent on working with Arnie Kander and taking some treatment after that – all so he could come back Wednesday and go at it again.

In just the first five days of training camp, Knight has been everything he was advertised to be – intelligent, talented and incredibly diligent. And he’s been more than that, too. He’s also opened eyes with his readiness to step into an NBA rotation. Lawrence Frank does his best to deflect every question about individuals at this point, but there is a general sense of excitement building within the organization that the Pistons did very well for themselves when Knight unexpectedly fell to No. 8 in last June’s draft.

In the 30 minutes of scrimmaging that Frank allowed reporters to see, Knight made at least three eye-opening passes and one highlight-reel move in the lane for a basket. His level of conditioning is apparent. His ability to knock down shots – everywhere from the rim to the 3-point line – was more or less anticipated, but his floor vision and passing ability, which he’s demonstrated with both hands, might speed up everyone’s timetable for Knight’s expectations.

“He’s shown the ability to make plays and he’s got an unbelievable work ethic,” Frank said. “The guys have instantly taken to him because he’s hungry, he’s thirsty, he’s not afraid. You’ve literally got to kick him out of the gym. He’s a sponge. If he continues to move in that direction, then he will get better quickly.”

One of the drills Knight worked on for 10 to 15 minutes with Hetzel involved carrying a basketball under one arm, like a football, while dribbling with the other hand, then switching dribble hands while shifting the idle ball to the opposite arm. It’s a drill Knight first saw first-year Pistons assistant Dee Brown show him at a basketball camp as a Florida high schooler.

“It’s just to get your reactions right,” said Knight, who two years ago was on his way to being named Gatorade’s national high school player of the year before spending one season at Kentucky. “If a guy is reaching for you, you can switch it and have your off-hand ready. It just really gets your ballhandling right and it helps me get a good feel for the basketball as far as being able to finish with my left hand, my right hand, doing that and making passes with both hands.

“When you’ve got guys pressuring you, you can’t be looking at the basketball or trying to figure out what you’re doing. You’ve got a lot of pressure on you. You’ve got to be able to handle it and also be able to look at what’s going on on the court with extreme pressure on you, so that drill really helps with that technique.”

It doesn’t matter what drill or task the Pistons have thrown at Knight, who just turned 20 on Dec. 2, it’s the way he embraces every nuance of the mission that has left everyone impressed with his maturity and dedication.

“There’s just something in me where I have to try to get extra work in, try to do something to make myself better, make sure I’m on the path to making my teammates better and making sure we’re doing what we need to do to make sure we’re making the playoffs,” he said. “No matter what the result, you can’t get there until you put this extra work in.

“It’s really just mental toughness, knowing that even though your legs might not be feeling great, you’ve got to go ahead and persevere. Once you give that effort, you’re going to see improvement and that’s really what it’s all about.”

“With his work ethic and intelligence,” Frank said, “he’s got a bright future.”