Ultimate Gym Rat

Knight’s summer workouts a total immersion in goal to get better

Brandon Knight has the entire summer to work on his game.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
If you want to make it through a full Brandon Knight workout, you’d better pack a lunch. And maybe a sleeping bag.

At one hour, he’s just warming up. At two hours, he gives a little head feint so coaches who might tell him to call it a day bug out. And then he keeps going.

“It’s not typical-typical,” he says after a recent four-hour workout at the Pistons’ practice facility, “but for me, it’s typical. Normally, the coaches leave after two hours and I’ll tell them I’m leaving. And then I’ll stay for another one and a half. Just doing my own things, really. That’s how it kind of works out.”

To say Knight is focused on any one or two areas misrepresents his total immersion into becoming a better and complete basketball player. But since the season ended and he got back in the gym after a mere week of allowing his body to restore itself, Knight has worked exhaustively on ballhandling and passing with both hands with the goal of making his left every bit as steady and capable as his dominant right.

“Doing a lot of it each and every day,” he said, “trying to make sure the ball becomes an extension of my hand. It makes the game a lot easier when you can go wherever you need to go on the court.”

Ballhandling is one of Arnie Kander’s constant areas of concentration for all of his summer subjects, big men and point guards alike. To that end, Kander has devised another homemade device, made of PVC pipe, designed to force ballhandlers to stay low.

“It’s a great machine,” Knight said after giving it a whirl. “It teaches you to be low. It teaches you that in basically all the moves you have to do, you have to be low to get it under the PVC pipe without hitting it. It’s a great contraption and I’m sure it will help a lot of us to get better.”

Kander has found Knight an amazingly apt student who picked up the series of ballhandling exercises Kander imparted to him with sudden ease.

“All the sequences we’ve started, you can put him out here now and say, ‘Show me the 12 foundation exercises’ – bam, bam, bam – he knows all of them. He’s mastered them, so now I’ve added six more to that sequence.”

Kander recalls a scene from Knight’s rookie season, during a timeout that came shortly after a ballhandling gaffe.

“He gets the ball from the referee during the timeout and practices the ballhandling drill before the timeout ends,” Kander grinned. “It just shows his willingness to know he’s got to learn to stay low, quick, move his wrists inside and out, get better at the left side of his body compared to the right side of his body.

“Any little thing with (assistant coaches) Dee (Brown) and Steve (Hetzel) and myself, he’s so locked into it. He’s an incredible guy to watch the changes. He inhabits that stuff.”

During one workout late last week, past the two-hour mark, Knight disappeared with Hetzel and video coordinator Ryan Winters, reviewing tape for about 10 minutes of various pick-and-roll situations. They came back on the court for an intense half-hour, Knight going end-to-end and simulating pick-and-roll situations from one end of the court to the other, a series of three of them as he dribbled the length of the floor, with a different type of pass thrown after each of them.

“There are a lot of different varieties – the pocket pass, hook pass, reverse pivot, a lot of different ways you can pass out of pick and rolls,” Knight said. “For me to get better at each and every one of those things, I have to go through them on the court. That’s what we do. We spend a lot of time on each of them, so basically it’s not something I do in a game experimenting. I’m already doing it and I have those tools available when the season starts.”

Knight is also spending time in the weight room “just focusing on my body, just getting stronger and prepared for a longer season, being better defensively, being better at pick and rolls offensively and defensively. There’s lots of things I need to work on.”

That’s where his typical workout day starts, the weight room, some days focused on his upper body, the next perhaps his lower body. Then it’s ballhandling drills, which bleeds into work on moves and finishes with both hands at the rim. He hopes to get to the free-throw line more next year and knows strength and the ability to use both hands is critical.

Then he works on passing with both hands, working to improve a left that impressed Pistons coaches immediately in training camp last season but can get even better. Then shooting drills – 3-pointers around the arc, but also plenty of work at full-speed, pull-up jumpers in transition. When he’s pushed himself to the limit and needs a breather, he does so by taking an endless series of free throws.

He plans to spend most of his summer here, sprinkled with the occasional visit to his south Florida home and perhaps workouts in Los Angeles, where he spent much of last summer during the lockout, and on the University of Kentucky campus. Wherever he is, know this: Brandon Knight will never be very far removed from a gym.