Have Yourself a Knight: How Nathan Knight Rose to the Occasion in Memphis
by Cassidy Allen Chubb (@cassidymilan)
Next man up.
It’s the mentality the Hawks have long lived by under Head Coach Lloyd Pierce. A mentality that a lot of teams live by, but few players get the chance to step into that moment.
During the Dec. 26 matchup against the Grizzlies, one of the least expected players on the new-look Hawks’ roster was up - undrafted, two-way forward/center Nathan Knight. With less than a minute left in the first quarter, John Collins in early foul trouble and the Hawks shorthanded, Knight checks into the game. Six seconds later, he knocks down a three-pointer and earns his first NBA points. By the end of the night, he would finish with 14 points and three rebounds in just nine minutes.
“That’s the beautiful thing about the NBA– the pace is so incredible and every person’s going to get an opportunity with a season this long,” Knight said. “To make my first shot in the regular season as a rookie is a great feeling.”
Entering the game early on did come as a surprise to Knight, but he was able to knock down shots and make plays because he was prepared.
The main thing Knight focuses on when preparing for games is attacking everything at game speed. Whether he’s watching film with one of the coaches, getting extra shots up or doing drills in practice, Knight is giving it his all and making sure he’s efficient while doing it. And when moments like Saturday night come, he’s accustomed to that game speed and can step right in to contribute.
“When it’s time to perform, you don’t rise to the level of the occasion,” Knight said. “You fall to the level of trainings.”
Knight attributes his approach to breaking down scouting reports and being efficient in practice to studying Business Analytics at William & Mary. Efficiency is one of the biggest things that is preached in business analytics, so Knight applied those same textbook lessons to his performance on the court. He describes basketball as something people want to be efficient at, so when it comes down to attacking a scouting report and breaking down player’s roles, it’s about understanding how efficient a player is at what they do.
William & Mary has played a major role in Knight’s journey and has continued in his time with the Hawks. When Knight made his NBA debut against the Bulls Dec. 23, he became the second player in his alma mater’s history to play in an NBA game. William & Mary has had other players sign NBA contracts, but Knight is in elite company being one of just two in program history to clock in NBA minutes.
“It’s not something I can really put into words,” Knight said. “To have the opportunity to do that from a school like William & Mary really drives home the point that anything is possible."
Knight advises mid-major athletes to stay the course, know they’re where they are for a reason and to work twice as hard, because it’s difficult to reach the NBA from a mid-major school.
“If you’re a talented basketball player, if you give your all to your craft, the NBA will find you,” Knight said.
There are 72 games in this year’s NBA season and in Knight’s second game, he has already made a statement. The next time the Hawks hit the road, they’ll be playing in Knight’s home state of New York. They have back-to-back matchups against the Brooklyn Nets, a city close to his home, Syracuse.
He will be back home, but this time as a professional basketball player in the NBA.
“Honestly, it didn’t hit me until just now,” Knight said. “I’m really just trying to take this one day, one opportunity at a time. But yes, Brooklyn is close to home for me. I think more importantly, I’m just really excited to see where we are as a team - going up against a talented group like Brooklyn.”
While Knight is taking things day by day, he has the unwavering support of Pierce and his teammates. During the postgame interviews following the Memphis game, Pierce joked that he was only there to talk about Knight and if media didn’t have any questions about him, then he didn’t have the time for them.
All-Star teammate Trae Young said that Knight would be given the game ball for his performance if there was one given out that game.
Knight says all the support has been amazing and attributes the team’s success to the culture that was built before he got to Atlanta. There’s a trust that they have in one another and genuine joy in celebrating each other’s successes. It’s something they hang their hats on and will continue to build on throughout this 72-game season.