Quick Study

Knight’s on-the-job training showing rapid results for Pistons

Brandon Knight's quick learning is already paying off for the Pistons.
Andrew D. Bernstein /NBAE/Getty Images
The Pistons watched Greg Monroe’s game evolve in the manner of time-lapse photography over the course of his rookie season, adding new components virtually every week. They’re convinced there’s more to come, too. Lawrence Frank spoke last month of Monroe barely scratching the surface of what he can become.

They feel similarly about Brandon Knight.

It’s no surprise to them that Knight averaged three turnovers a game in December and January but cut that by more than half since. He’s committed 19 turnovers in his last 14 games, breathing to life the observation Joe Dumars made about him a month into the season. Tell the kid something once, he said, and the next time you see him you’ll know he’s worked at it.

“Not knowing him at all (until training camp opened), I did not know about his work ethic,” Lawrence Frank said after Friday’s practice. “I had heard about his character. And I didn’t know about his determination to, when he struggles with something, being relentless about trying to fix it. You don’t know those things until you touch the guy and that’s been two of the more impressive qualities he has.”

You can back up certain areas of Knight’s rapidly evolving game with numbers like the turnovers. Others must be taken on faith. Frank sees it.

“You see the consistency defensively,” he said. “When you’re going through the league the first time, as much preparation as you do, there’s still on-the-job training. You see how he responds the next time against the same opponent; that’s improvement. He’s starting to see what’s going on on the floor and understanding why you do things. That’s going to be a development.

“Kentucky didn’t play a high-volume of pick and rolls. They used it, but it was more dribble handoffs, so pick and roll – you see it. (Assistant coaches) Dee Brown and Steve Hetzel have done a great job of working with Brandon to continue to help him with the learning curve that’s required.”

Knight settled in as a starter in the season’s seventh game when Rodney Stuckey had to sit with a groin injury. Not long after Stuckey returned, Ben Gordon missed a few weeks with a sore shoulder. Knight and Stuckey are learning how to play off of each other and some nights they’ve been nothing short of brilliant, those games coming with greater frequency as the Pistons have put together an 8-5 stretch that coincides with Knight’s reduced turnover rate. In five of those 13 games, Knight didn’t commit a single turnover.

“Just being comfortable knowing what will and what won’t work,” Knight said. “Really, just learning. Knowing what will work in certain situations and how to go about it. That’s what has really helped me a lot.”

Frank watched all of Knight’s Kentucky videotape and saw that John Calipari didn’t use him as a traditional point guard, frequently playing him off the ball to take full advantage of Knight’s shot-making ability.

“He was moved off the ball a lot,” Frank said. “He may start it, but it may start with a dribble handoff or a pass and they’d run him off baseline screens. He’s just a guard. And now we’re throwing a lot at him because this is the next level and this is what you have to learn. Rodney, if you rewind to last year, the year before, it was, ‘Is he a point guard or not?’ They’re just guards. You can’t get caught up in position. It’s more about can you execute the different things you need to execute as a basketball player rather than as a point guard or not.”

Who winds up playing more point guard in certain games is influenced in part by the matchups. When Stuckey has such a decided physical advantage as he did against Charlotte’s D.J. Augustin in Wednesday’s win, it’s his show. And Knight is learning how to play off of him.

“Just make sure I’m creating space,” he said. “I don’t want to bring my man toward him to create help situations. I want to leave him with as much space as possible for him to get to the cup and create for us and himself.”

Frank says one of the things Knight has done to make him more efficient is play north and south more than east and west.

“He’s getting it – it takes time,” he said. “We want to be an attack team and there are times we do it. Charlotte was a great example of it. We don’t want to play east to west and a lot of times, when you’re a primary ballhandler, it’s your starting point. When you get pinned on the sideline, it limits your options. He’s starting to process all those things.”

The results are starting to show, too, not just in Knight’s statistical line, but in the NBA standings.