Pistons by Position: Point Guard
When training camp opens in two weeks, Brandon Knight technically enters his second season. But in many tangible ways, Knight’s rookie experience will carry on. Robbed of a real rookie season by the lockout, Knight is about to exit the off-season he would have experienced in 2011 – a Summer League in which he got to quarterback his team, long training sessions at the Pistons’ practice facility under the supervision of strength coach Arnie Kander and the aid of the team’s assistant coaches. His first real training camp and full complement of preseason games is yet to come.
“In a lot of ways, the growth process for him is such a different growth process than what is normal,” Pistons assistant general manager George David said. “And put quotes around the word normal. He was a freshman entering the league, he entered in a lockout year and he entered a little over a year removed from high school with a new coach who he met less than a week before a training camp that was much shorter than usual.
“This year, having a full summer to work out with our coaches, having a full Summer League with our coaches, having a full training camp with our coaches, it’s still going to be a learning process for us in determining his growth.”
The Pistons are bullish to the extreme on Knight’s future, yet are mindful of the fact that he’s still 20 and in his infancy as far as learning the nuances of the game’s most demanding position.
“The old thing in the league is you used to give big guys three years,” Lawrence Frank said. “The position that requires the most patience is point guard. And now that these guys are young point guards, with maybe one year of college experience, it’s going to be a progression. But Brandon is relentless with his drive to be as good as he can possibly be.”
To be sure, the Pistons’ optimism for Knight springs from more than their assessment of his talent. It goes to his character and his will, both exemplary.
“Great work ethic,” Frank said. “He’s going to try to get every ounce of ability out of him. He just has a great drive and pursuit. He’s a learner. He wants to know. He’s going to ask questions. He’s going to continue to get better.”
Becoming a proficient point guard requires the integration of countless facets of the game, tangible and intangible. As surely as Knight worked on his ballhandling, shooting and passing over the summer, he threw himself into the task of leadership that Frank challenged him to assume, as well.
“There’s a lot of intangibles that come with being the point guard of a basketball team,” he said as camp approached. “It’s not just the numbers, it’s a letter – whether it’s a win or a loss. As long as you’re pushing your team toward winning, no matter what your numbers, that’s the biggest thing.”
“One of the things we have seen in his growth from last year to where we’re sitting now, we’ve been extremely impressed with his growth in embracing the position of leadership,” David said. “To me, that has been the single most encouraging element of growth in Brandon from then to now.”
Knight didn’t enjoy the luxury of easing his way into the NBA regular season after being handcuffed by the lockout’s implications. Early-season injuries to Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon thrust Knight into the starting lineup in his seventh game. He never came back out – and isn’t likely to anytime soon.
If that constituted a hardship for Knight and an obstacle for the Pistons at the time, the payoff is coming, Frank believes.
“Without a doubt,” Frank said of whether the baptism by fire will prove beneficial. “When you’re building something that’s long term – you have to earn it – but you have to be able to see the big picture. You have to be able to understand that there may be many nights of short-term pain, but it’s for a bigger picture, a bigger future that you have to get to.
“With Brandon, the great thing about him for a guy who was one of the youngest players in the league, he had very few bad days. Not bad playing, but just his approach was outstanding. His spirit was great, his competitiveness super. He’s a special guy.”
David picked up on the same thread with Knight. For a young player absorbing some tough lessons in rapid-fire fashion, his confidence never appeared to waver.
“The thing that impressed me was how he handled it when he had a game or a practice or a quarter that didn’t go well for him,” he said. “For a guy as young as he is, in a pretty tough situation coming out in a lockout year, he bounced back quickly. He’s got a tremendous resilience, a work ethic that he puts a lot of trust in. His faith in his work ethic really helped him to be able to come back.”
Knight has gained 10 to 12 pounds this off-season, focused on gaining strength, and worked tirelessly both under Kander and back in his native Florida on improving his already-proficient ballhandling so his left hand is every bit as dominant and quick with the dribble as his right.
“It was a very productive summer,” he said. “I know I’ve gotten a lot better. I’ve gotten so much better, I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Behind Knight, Will Bynum returns and finds a greater opportunity for minutes than a season ago. With Ben Gordon traded to Charlotte, the ability to shift Rodney Stuckey off of the ball to soak up minutes at point guard when Knight needs to sit could be limited unless rookies Kim English and Khris Middleton are immediately ready.
“I see it as an opportunity,” Bynum said. “I’m definitely going to be ready.”
“Will didn’t have the type of season that he or we would have wanted,” Frank said, “but he’s worked very hard this summer. Will has shown he’s a very capable player. At his best, he can change a game with ball pressure, pushes, pick-and-roll decisions. That’s what we need him to be – to change the game.”