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NBA coaches name Brandon Knight to All-Rookie first team

Brandon Knight showed the Pistons enough in his rookie season to infuse Joe Dumars and Lawrence Frank with the confidence that he belongs on the marquee with Greg Monroe as pillars of the franchise’s future. His progress might have been obscured by the team’s 4-20 start that meant they got almost zero national exposure, but apparently NBA head coaches were paying attention: Knight was named to the league’s All-Rookie first team on Tuesday.

That might register as a mild surprise, given that Monroe was curiously relegated to second-team status a year ago and Knight finished eighth in Rookie of the Year balloting released last week.

But coaches are going to be swayed by more than statistics, not that Knight has to apologize for rookie averages of 12.8 points, 3.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds a game or his showings in the more arcane categories.

Coaches would have been more apt to notice what the box scores couldn’t tell them. With Knight, they had to admire the way a rookie point guard shouldered the burden of starting all but the first six games of the season – without the benefit of an off-season or normal training camp due to the lockout – and playing in every one of them. They probably noticed how he didn’t miss a game even after breaking his nose and how he discarded the fitted mask at his first opportunity, the fearlessness and the heart he displayed from day one, the poise evident even as he absorbed the tough lessons after rookie mistakes.

Knight ingratiated himself to his teammates in those early days of training camp, when he stuck his nose into every fray and showed the zeal of an undrafted free agent, expecting nothing handed to him despite his status as a lottery pick. As the season progressed, the Pistons saw Knight grow in every aspect as he soaked up the lessons that came with experience. Lawrence Frank expects his point guard to be able to recall every nuance of every play as a game unfolds and Knight was right there with his coach as the season wound down.

“You log the game as a point guard,” he said after torching Cleveland for 28 points and seven assists in three quarters of an April win. “You know exactly what a coach is talking about. You don’t have to watch film all the time. If he says, ‘You should have done that on this play’ – boom – I know exactly what play he’s talking about so I make a mental note and try to correct it when you’re in the same position the next game.”

“Brandon is an extremely smart kid – and not just 4.0 academic smart,” Joe Dumars told me after that game. “He picks up common sense things really well. There is nothing that can take the place of being out there and having to figure it out on the fly in an NBA game, NBA speed, when the lights are on. That’s when you learn and grow. That’s what he’s talking about. You have to be out there, you have to be in a position to make those split-second decisions and that only comes with experience on the court.”

Knight becomes the first Piston named to the All-Rookie first team since Grant Hill 17 years ago, a fitting parallel in temperament and character. Frank talked as the season wound down about his experience with young players growing as leaders in Summer League, where Knight will undoubtedly be the point guard and run the show for a Pistons entry that will include their 2012 lottery pick, two second-rounders and, quite likely, 2011 second-rounder Kyle Singler.

He’ll be in Auburn Hills for a good chunk of the summer, too, working with other pieces of the young core – Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko and Monroe among them. When training camp opens next season, Knight will be infinitely more prepared to run an NBA team than he was five short months ago. And he did that well enough that NBA coaches pegged him as one of the league’s elite rookies.