Playing Over Pain

Knight battles array of injuries as he adjusts to shooting guard

Brandon Knight has seen a fair share of injuries this season.
Dan Lippitt (NBAE/Getty)
The four horsemen of Brandon Knight’s apocalyptic season: plantar fasciitis, hyperextended knee, sprained ankle, broken nose.

For all of that, he’s missed seven games: three with the knee, four with the ankle.

“It’s always something,” he said, palming the hard plastic face mask he abhors but has been ordered to wear for the remainder of the season, “but normally it’s one thing. My entire college season, it was tendinitis. I don’t think I’ve ever had this many minor things added together at one time.”

They’ve all converged down the stretch of the season, too, with the plantar fasciitis that first flared last summer causing him stabbing pain again now. On Thursday, when the Pistons returned from their three-game road trip and before they headed back out to Minnesota on Friday, Knight and teammate Corey Maggette had their broken noses reset.

It wasn’t an easy road trip for Knight, who shot 5 of 20 as he battled through his battery of ailments and found himself being tested defensively by three players who held a significant size advantage on him: Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Boston’s Paul Pierce.

“Postup in Butler, postup in DeRozan, postup in Pierce,” Lawrence Frank said after Friday’s practice. “Some nights it’s a catch-and-shoot guy, some nights it’s a postup guy. It’s making that adjustment. That puts a lot of pounding on your body when they’re constantly posting you up and these are big, thick, strong-bodied guys. But Brandon had some real good moments. He’s dealing with some injuries. Shots haven’t been falling for him, but it’s still finding ways to impact the game that helps the team win and he’s had some positive moments in that regard.”

Knight said since returning from his left ankle sprain on March 23 – the same foot afflicted by plantar fasciitis, and an injury he reaggravated just a week ago – he’s struggled to find the rhythm he had when he first settled in next to Jose Calderon after the late-January trade that resulted in Knight shifting to shooting guard.

“I’m just trying to find a way to affect the game,” he said. “I’m not complaining. I’m just trying to find my rhythm again after playing with so many injuries.”

Just as the Pistons know there will be tradeoffs in playing with a big frontcourt of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, so will there be advantages and challenges in a lineup that includes Knight at shooting guard.

“He has to make them chase him,” Frank said. “He’s got to use his speed every night. You always have to play to your strengths. When people talk about the NBA is a game of matchups, it’s a matchup of strengths. His thing is get out in transition, baseline screens, got to make them work, got to make them exert a lot of energy, make these guys continuously turn their head and see what the hell did he go.”

The eternal question of what position best suits backcourt players, point guard or shooting guard, gets asked as often and loudly as ever, but Frank again did his best to reframe the argument, as Joe Dumars has done often.

“The term ‘true point guard’ probably has to be thrown out of the NBA vernacular,” he said. “Who is a true point guard? In terms of what most people define it, there are probably three true point guards in this league. Everyone else is kind of a hybrid. Brandon is just a guard.”

But Frank said Knight’s adjustment from one spot to the other was considerable, coming as it did not only in mid-season but because of Knight’s “repetition-conscious” nature, as Frank described it.

“All of a sudden we made the trade and throw him a curve. There has to be an allowance made for it. It’s a learning process. When you’re a young player and you’re trying to establish your niche, at the end of the day with Brandon, he’s just a guard. Whether you want to play him with the ball in his hands or off the ball, I think he’ll be able to show that he can do both.”