No Fear

Gordon: Knight, like Rose, projects early air of confidence

Brandon Knight's assured playing style is a good sign for things to come.
J. Dennis/Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Ben Gordon had just finished his fourth NBA season when the Chicago Bulls beat long odds – a 1.7 percent chance – to land the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft. They spent it on Derrick Rose, who became Gordon’s backcourt partner for one season before Gordon hit free agency the following summer and signed with the Pistons.

But Gordon saw enough of Rose as a rookie to make for a valid comparison to the rookie point guard he’ll frequently play alongside in the Pistons’ backcourt this season, Brandon Knight.

Knight must claw his way a long way up the NBA ladder before he can be included in the same paragraph with Rose as a game-changing force, of course, but Gordon spots one critical similarity between them already: the 6 inches between their ears.

Mental makeup, Gordon says, “is everything. When I was younger, all the old-school guys used to tell me the game is 90 percent mental. And that’s true. When you have 400-plus of the best basketball players in the world, most of the game is mental. Because every single one of those guys is good, were all-stars in high school or the best player on their college team or the best player wherever they were at. That’s a major component of your success, especially early as a rookie.”

Knight went head to head with Rose over the final four minutes of Wednesday’s first quarter and played with the same aplomb he’s displayed since training camp began. He misfired on three shots in the first quarter, but all were quality looks at a juncture when the Bulls were contesting virtually every shot. He hit a pretty runner in traffic early in the second quarter and another in the third, pinning Rose to his left hip. But chalk Knight’s first NBA meeting with Rose up as a learning experience; he finished 2 of 9 for four points with a rebound and an assist in 22 minutes.

Rose was understated much of the night, after playing 44 minutes and expending great bursts of energy in leading Chicago back from 19 points behind in the second half to win, but he cranked it up in the second half and finished with 17 points and 10 assists to lead a balanced Chicago offense that saw five players in double figures. The Bulls racked up 31 assists on 40 baskets.

Gordon and Knight are frequent post-practice workout partners – both gym rats, the type of work ethic that gives Knight a chance to make the same rapid career strides Rose has taken. They engage in shooting drills with one another around the 3-point arc from corner to corner. Gordon has seen in Knight from day one of training camp that there was nothing about the NBA experience that appeared to intimidate him.

“There’s a certain air of, like, ‘I’ve been here before and I expect to do well,’ ” Gordon said. “He doesn’t really have that uncertainty of a rookie. I attribute that to his competitive nature and just how much he believes in himself and he definitely shares that same attribute with D Rose.”

Seeing the success Rose experienced under John Calipari as a Memphis freshman, in fact, contributed to Knight’s decision to play for Calipari at Kentucky, he said.

“I took that into account,” Knight said. “But it was moreso just knowing that under Calipari, I knew I would get better. I knew my team would have the opportunity to win games. The thing about most Calipari guards is they’re all competitors. They all hate to lose. I think that’s why a lot of players go to that school. Coach Cal wants to try his best to have an undefeated season. That’s what his goal is. He goes after guys that don’t like to lose and guys that get after it, no matter who they’re playing.”

Knight hadn’t played in a real game against Rose prior to Wednesday’s Pistons-Bulls tipoff at The Palace, but the two did work out together over the summer in Santa Monica, Calif., along with other NBA players, including another dynamic point guard, Russell Westbrook.

“It’ll be fun just to go out and compete,” Knight said. “It’s been fun so far, just playing against a lot of guards here in the NBA. I think it only pushes you to make yourself better.”