Stepping Up

Pistons ‘couldn’t be happier’ with Knight’s Summer League showing

(Editor’s note: starts a six-part series profiling the players who participated in Orlando Pro Summer League and project to be a part of the 2012-13 regular-season roster with a look at Brandon Knight. Coming Wednesday: Andre Drummond.)

ORLANDO – Every waking minute of Summer League was a learning experience for Pistons rookie Andre Drummond. What did he learn about Brandon Knight?

“He’s like a church mouse,” Drummond grinned. “He doesn’t really talk much unless we’re on the floor.”

On the Amway Center’s practice court, where the Pistons played five games in five days last week, Knight was a prolific orator, alternatively barking out play calls, exhorting teammates to dig in defensively or pulling less experienced teammates aside for pep talks or tactical instruction.

As much as the Pistons wanted Knight to soak up game experience and have the ball in his hands – remember, Knight was robbed of Summer League indoctrination last year by the lockout – the Summer League agenda for Knight was as much about growing into leadership as anything. Lawrence Frank had that conversation with him as his rookie season wound down.

“I’m trying to be more of a leader, trying to talk to guys,” Knight said early in the week. “I’m going to be more of a leader, but I’m still young, still learning. I’m just trying to be a lot more vocal, trying to school guys, making sure we have the right attitude and try to coach ’em up as far as character.

“It starts right here. If I can’t do it in Summer League, it’s going to be tough to do it in the regular season. The biggest thing is right now, talking to guys who haven’t made the team yet, rookies, and doing the best I can as a leader to be vocal.”

Pistons management came away impressed with the way Knight attacked his mission of growing as a leader.

“It gave him a chance to lead and his transformation into a leader for us now into the regular season, this was the first step for that,” assistant general manager George David said. “It was the first time he had ever been in position where he was a senior member of a team. Think about it. When he was in college, he was a freshman. Then he comes to the Pistons in a lockout year and he’s a rookie. This Summer League was his first opportunity in two years to not only lead but be in a position that gave him an opportunity to lead.”

Surrounded by veterans like Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince during his rookie season, Knight was usually the one on the receiving end of advice. In the Summer League setting, he was on the giving end. Some of the turnovers charged to Knight were the result of missed assignments by teammates.

“We’re asking him to do a lot,” Pistons Summer League coach John Loyer said. “Brandon was able to play this year with a lot of veteran players that know where to be, know where to go. Now all of a sudden you’re asking him to be a point guard, not only to be your playmaker but to get the other four guys in the proper spot.”

On the third practice day prior to games, the Orange County facility where the Pistons had held their first three workouts was unavailable to them. They practiced instead at Vince Carter’s house and David chatted with Carter as the practice unfolded.

“Vince was telling me his situation was similar to Brandon’s,” David said. “His first year was a lockout. He had no preparation, no time to get ready. We were talking about his trials and errors that first year, very similar to some of the trials and errors Brandon had last year. Vince was able to do everything athletically to get by and Brandon was able to do everything from an explosive standpoint in terms of beating people of the dribble. Both guys were able to maximize what brought them there.

“This was an opportunity for Brandon to expand on that and to come in from a leadership standpoint. I saw a lot of things. Brandon set the tone for us in practice. He always had a positive spirit. If a call didn’t go his way or he had a turnover, he was able to move on to the next play.”

The way Knight interacted with his teammates during games wasn’t lost on Pistons coaches and management, either.

“We saw him with Andre in dead-ball situations, free throw situations, where if something happened the play before – one time Andre got called for a defensive three seconds – Brandon went over to explain what he had done,” David said. “That’s all of being a leader.”

The Pistons will be loaded with first-year players next season – Drummond, fellow 2012 draftees Kim English and Khris Middleton, Ukrainian center Slava Kravtsov, 2011 draft choice Kyle Singler – and will rely on veterans to ease their transition.

“There will be times in games where something may happen on one end of the floor with Kim English or Drummond or Slava and it may be away from our bench and they may not even know what the call was,” David said. “So Brandon and Greg (Monroe) and any of our veterans, Tayshaun, are really going to have to be aware of that and help those guys.”

Knight played four games – the decision to sit him in the finale spoke to the organization’s satisfaction with the strides they’d seen him take – and averaged 14.5 points, 7.3 assists and nearly eight free throws a game. After committing five turnovers in the first half of the team’s only loss of the week, Knight came back a day later to put up 17 points and 14 assists.

“That’s growing up,” Loyer said. “Brandon last year never got overly frustrated with himself. The next day he came in, was ready to go, and that’s part of the maturity process. He came in today, you could tell by the look in his eyes, was going to really do a good job of getting his teammates involved. He did exactly what he set out to do.”

“It was really a sign of progress for Brandon, a sign of him realizing there’s no time,” David said. “There’s not a week to get ready. It’s very similar to the NBA season. It gave him an opportunity to gauge his game. In some ways, we were looking for ways in which Brandon would come into Summer League and dominate against rookies and in other ways we were looking to see where he had holes in his game and how he worked and, in all of that, we could not have been happier.”

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