Leader in Training
It remains to be seen who from among the rookie contingent of 2012 draftees Andre Drummond, Khris Middleton and Kim English, 2011 pick Kyle Singler or Ukrainian free agent Slava Kravtsov will fight their way into the rotation or how much the newcomers will contribute in their first seasons. All but Kravtsov are part of the team’s Summer League entry and Knight has taken to heart the leadership role Lawrence Frank knows will be important for his evolution as the team’s point guard of both the present and the future.
“I don’t feel like a veteran,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m trying to be more of a leader, trying to talk to guys and trying to school guys. Just trying to be more vocal, making sure we have the right attitude and try to coach ’em up as far as character.”
The Pistons have brought in two other point guards to take practice reps and serve as Knight’s backups for the five games they’ll play next week, but he’s not here merely to practice and cheer on his teammates – as Greg Monroe, Jason Maxiell and Charlie Villanueva are – but to serve as the on-court extension of Frank and his staff. Knight will soak up the majority of minutes at the position in those games.
“It starts right here,” Knight said of blossoming into a leadership role. “If I can’t do it in Summer League, it’s going to be tough to do it in the regular season. The biggest thing is right now talking to guys who haven’t made the team yet, rookies, and doing the best I can as a leader to be vocal. I think I’m doing a good job so far. I’ve just got to keep it up.”
Knight’s rookie year was a blur, one he endured without benefit of the typical rookie’s summer. The lockout not only wiped out 2011 Summer League, but also prevented Knight from working with Pistons coaches or trainers. With a mere week of training camp and two preseason games under his belt, Knight was rushed into the starting lineup a few weeks into the season when first Rodney Stuckey and then Ben Gordon went down with leg injuries. He played every game despite suffering a broken nose in a January win over New Orleans.
He finished strong, inspiring confidence among the front office and coaching staff that they’d struck gold in the lottery for a second straight year after landing Greg Monroe in 2010. Now they hope they’ve landed a critical third piece in the 2012 lottery in 7-footer Andre Drummond, 18, who will be the NBA’s second-youngest player after Michael Kidd-Gilchrist when the season opens.
Knight is paying special attention to Drummond, of course, invested in his future for what he can mean to the team’s success. Drummond, more than Knight did, needs every minute of Summer League to spur his development.
“He’s just a guy that’s working hard,” Knight said. “He’s soaking up everything that coach is telling him and we’re telling him. It’s just a great experience for him. I’m doing my best to communicate with him as much as I can. He’s a sponge. He wants to learn. He’s a smart kid and I know he’s going to be a great player.”
Frank has been more observer than coach during Summer League practices. John Loyer, Frank’s chief offensive assistant, will coach the team in Orlando. But Frank chimes in a few times each session. In one of Friday’s practices, he stopped to ask point guard Malcolm Delaney how much he weighed.
“One-eighty,” Delaney answered.
“Andre, how much you weigh?”
“Two-eighty-five,” Drummond responded.
“Brandon,” Frank continued, “it’s on you to make sure you carry your man into Andre’s screen so we get the benefit of that 105 difference.”
On the next try, Drummond rattled Delaney’s teeth with a pick so jarring Delaney bounced off Drummond and into Knight, with both point guards coming away rubbing their shoulders.
“My defender got hit so hard, he grabbed me a little bit and pulled my shoulder,” Knight grinned. “That just shows with good coaching and his peers talking to him, he can do the right things and really help our team a whole lot.”
Knight learned to pick his spots as a penetrator over his rookie season, understanding when to pull up and when to launch runners instead of trying to take the ball all the way to the rim against imposing shot-blockers. It will be a luxury to have someone with Drummond’s length and athleticism as the last line of defense, giving Pistons perimeter defenders a little more leeway to press for turnovers.
“He changes shots, goes after shots,” Knight said of Drummond. “He gets a lot of ’em and changes a lot of ’em. That’s going to allow us to get more stops and also be able to get out on the break offensively.”
Knight likes what he sees of the three other rookies, as well.
“Great player,” he said of Singler, who comes to the Pistons off of a season in Spain following a four-year Duke career. “He got a lot of experience overseas and you can see the maturity. He knows how to play. Kim English, another guy who knows how to play. At Missouri, he was there for a while and understands the game, plays hard, comes to practice every day. And Khris Middleton, another good guy who knows how to play as well.
“The thing about our rookies this year, they know how to play and we’re going to appreciate the guys with the right attitudes coming in and trying to learn and trying to make everyone better.”
Spoken like a leader.