“I know, and anybody else can tell you, I’m one of the hardest workers on the team,” he told me in September. “I’m working on guys thinking I’m one of the more unselfish guys on the team. That’s going to come with time, as well. Guys know I have the Pistons’ best interest at heart. At the end of the day, I want the Pistons to win.”
Through six preseason games, here’s tangible evidence of Knight’s efforts to prove his unselfishness: He took nearly 12 shots a game as a rookie, but not quite six per game so far in the preseason.
That’s likely to change, of course. The Pistons’ interests are better served with Knight emerging as a scoring threat, both from the 3-point line and in the paint off of penetration.
Frank has spoken at length over the past three weeks about the growth of a young point guard and striking the balance between aggressively seeking one’s own scoring chances and getting teammates involved. It’s not a black-or-white environment, Frank says, but one of endless shades of gray.
“In the first four preseason games, it was really the flow of the game,” Knight said after Monday’s practice. “That definitely was my focus – it still is – to make sure I’m getting guys involved early in the game. But if I have layups, I’m going to take them. It’s definitely my job to get guys involved, get ’em going. When I’m in the paint, I’m always going to have guys open. But it’s definitely one of the things I’m going to keep doing during the season – get guys involved, get ’em going early and just try to get the ball popping. It starts with me on the offensive end.”
Knight perhaps began shifting gears, more closely approximating what fans can expect, in the first quarter of Saturday’s win over Charlotte. On three first-quarter forays to the rim, Knight scored on three tough layups, including one finish over 7-footer DeSagana Diop in which he drew the foul.
“It’s all reads,” he said. “If you get in the paint continually and you’re always kicking, kicking, kicking, they’re going to definitely know that you’re only getting into the paint to pass. So you’ve got to definitely be able to get in the paint and finish.”
Knight feels better equipped at both ends of that equation – the getting in the paint part and the finishing part. He devoted scores of hours to both ballhandling drills and weight lighting over the summer, and his added strength and greater ability to control the ball, he says, are paying off.
“I’ve been getting to the free-throw line a lot more the past few games,” he said. “The hand-to-hand combat with other guards, it’s easier. Staying in front of guys when they give you a bump, being able to take that bump. Fighting over screens. You can see (the effects of strength gains) in all aspects. It’s definitely helping.
“Finishing around the rim, it’s easier for me to take contact. A lot of times, I would take contact and it kind of threw off my balance. Now I have the ability to take contact, finish that shot and hopefully get an and-one. It’s definitely helped. The ballhandling, as well – being able to get to those spots and just be in control of the basketball helps. But definitely being a lot stronger allows you to focus more. When you get hit, it’s easier to go through those hits.”
“He’s made progress and he’ll continue to make progress, because he’s an unbelievably diligent worker,” Frank said. “Playing that position, you’ve got to get guys going. That’s part of the job description, and yet getting ’em going, you have to be aggressive. This league will figure out real quick if they see your tendency coming off is to pass it, they’re not going to rotate. They’ll play you for the pass.
“Brandon has an unbelievable work ethic, a great drive, and is very, very thirsty to get every ounce of his talent. He plays the toughest position in the league. As much work as he puts in, it will still take time. It’s that demanding a position.”
The Pistons put their faith in knowing that nobody demands more of himself than the guy they have playing that position.