Gearing Down to Gear Up

Kander’s summer plans for Knight start with working on altering tempo

Brandon Knight
Arnie Kander will help Brandon Knight with altering his pace over the summer.
Dan Lippitt (NBAE/Getty)
Arnie Kander sees glimpses of elite explosiveness in Brandon Knight – the transition dunks where he breaks from a pack and gets to the rim in a heartbeat, the dynamic drive for the game-winner against Toronto last season – and envisions the frequency of those instances multiplying.

He’ll start by slowing Knight down.

“I’m going to really work at his process for changing speeds,” the Pistons strength and conditioning coach said. “Slowing way, way down. Getting better at the task, but more importantly getting better at what’s between tasks.”

Think Chris Paul, perhaps, or Tony Parker. Knight is in their ballpark for speed and quickness, but just as not every pitcher who throws 100 mph is as effective as Justin Verlander, neither is a steady diet of full-throttle pace a recipe for consistently beating defenders off the dribble.

“The greats, they have incredible control, with the hesitation, holding the ball, lulling you and then exploding,” Kander said. “But if everything is intensity and high speed, you kind of wear yourself out, first of all, but also, defensively, it’s much easier to guard a guy who’s going at the same tempo all the time. Even if it’s really fast and highly athletic. But when things slow down, your body gets a little bit more in tune.”

Before Kander was a full-blown NBA training savant, he studied dance. Many of the movements critical to dancers, he finds, hold similar importance to athletes across many disciplines.

“Dance can’t always go fast,” he said. “You have to learn how to tempo a move to make the next move. But that’s every sport, outside of track and field.”

The first step for Knight this summer, in fact, isn’t just to slow down, but to come to a complete stop. He needed time off his feet, Kander said, to let the plantar fasciitis that pained him at various times throughout the season to finally heal. When it flared on him last July, it cost Kander valuable time with Knight, he said.

“He couldn’t really train his legs last summer because of the plantar fasciitis,” Kander said. And building leg strength will be a focal point for this summer. Kander believes Knight has the frame to add a similar amount of weight this off-season as last, when Knight gained about 12 pounds over his rookie season.

“Look at his frame,” he said. “This kid has wide shoulders, good legs. Most weight gain is in the legs. You want to support the weight from below, so having a summer where he couldn’t train his legs was a little bit of a setback. We’re not into body building, but we’re into functional training. So this summer, give him time to recover from the plantar fascia but then we’re into functional strength pretty quickly. He could put on another 12.

“He’s got the width. He’s got the bone density to support that. Some guys who are thinner boned, it’s going to be tough for them to pack on weight. If they do, they’ll lose it once they start to run. But he’s got a big chest on him, good-sized shoulders.”

Kander plans to get Knight out running, along with his teammates, on sandy trails and hilly courses, the benefits of which he explained when we discussed his summer plans for Andre Drummond recently.

Knight spent his first season and a half as the team’s point guard, then played almost exclusively shooting guard from February on after Joe Dumars acquired Jose Calderon in trade. With both Calderon and Will Bynum slated for free agency, it’s uncertain which spot Knight will play more next season. But it doesn’t alter Kander’s summer plans for him, in any case.

“He would have to get stronger even as the point guard,” he said. “Because I expect Brandon to dominate whether he’s playing the one or the two. Maybe physically at the two he’s not going to dominate the strength part, but it’s going to be high enough so now the strength matches so his speed takes over. If he’s the one, I want him to be stronger than the other point guard.”

Kander goes into the off-season knowing that Knight’s competitiveness, work ethic and ability to quickly grasp concepts will make for a productive summer.

“What will be a task for Brandon will be to get him off his feet,” he said. “Plantar fascia doesn’t do well when you’re constantly on your feet, so he’s got to really slow down in that process – honoring the work, but honoring the recovery and the rest. He’s an incredibly intelligent guy, so he’ll follow that. He’s a tough kid, but he listens.”