Joe D on BK7: ‘A Warrior’

Dumars sees Calderon’s addition as a boon for Knight’s progress

Joe Dumars wasn’t really worried about how Brandon Knight would take the news of Jose Calderon, the dictionary definition of a point guard, joining the Pistons in a late January trade. Dumars knows ultimately that Knight’s abiding interest is in winning. But he had a few good, long heart-to-heart talks, anyway, with the player who had occupied that position for virtually all of his first 100-plus NBA games.

“I said, ‘Brandon, just understand something. This doesn’t mean you’re not going to handle the ball any more. We’re going to get stops and rebounds and we’ll kick it out to you. You’re going to push the ball and attack, run drag screens and come off and, yeah, you’re going to do all of that. Trust me. You can have two guards in the backcourt who can handle the ball. It’ll work. It’ll work.’ ”

Between the first two injuries of his career that cost Knight games – a hyperextended right knee that sidelined him for three games in late February and a sprained left ankle that will keep him out of his fourth consecutive game at Miami tonight – the 21-year-old Knight has given clear signs that he could flourish playing off of the ball.

There was the career-high 32 points he put up in a win at Washington in his first game back off of the knee injury on a night Calderon amassed 18 assists. And the 24 Knight scored in a win over San Antonio before the All-Star break. Knight’s quickness and motor lend themselves to the off-the-ball movement that characterizes the play of top-shelf NBA shooting guards over the years, Rip Hamilton a relevant example.

“Initially, I think he didn’t know how this would work,” Dumars said. “A new teammate in the backcourt with you in the middle of the season, you’re sliding over to a new position, OK – how is it going to work? That’s a natural question to have and deservedly so. You want to figure out how it’s going to work.

“I’ve just kind of joked with him now. When he’s had some big games, I’ve just walked by and said, ‘Well, it seems to be working pretty good, huh, Brandon.’ And he’ll smile and say, ‘Yeah, I think it is.’

“What I’ve said to Brandon is what you’re going to figure out really quickly is that how easy and how comfortable and how good it is to play with another person in the backcourt that can dribble and handle and shoot and pass. And the responsibility is not on you 48 minutes a game to try to set this guy up and get him a shot. I said, ‘Trust me. You’re going to like that a whole lot better than always having to worry about setting everybody up.’ When you have somebody else who can do that, the game becomes easier.”

The differentiation in backcourt positions had only recently come to be when Dumars entered the league in 1985. He came to a Pistons team with a stacked backcourt: Isiah Thomas was already an All-NBA point guard and John Long and Vinnie Johnson shared shooting guard. Dumars, in fact, lined up at point guard in training camp, leading the second team and locking horns with Thomas in scrimmages. But he’s never bought into pigeon-holing if a player’s abilities translate to more than one position.

“It was a time where you’re just a guard – you play whatever position,” Dumars said. “That was something I was trying to explain to Brandon: ‘Don’t get caught up in labels. You’re a good guard. You play on the ball and off the ball. You should want to be looked at like that. You shouldn’t want anybody to pigeon-hole you, that you’re just this or just that. No. There’s a guard with the Clippers right now. He’s been a point guard and now he’s back to playing off the ball. You think Chauncey is worried that they’re not calling him the point guard? No, he’s playing with Chris Paul. And here’s a guy who won an NBA championship as a starting point guard.

“Good conversations with Brandon – good, long conversations,” Dumars said. “He was good. Great kid, great spirit. And I think he’s going to continue to embrace whatever the role is.”

Dumars was presented further evidence of the stuff that he sees separating Knight from the average player in the way he challenged DeAndre Jordan’s dunk in last week’s loss to the Clippers.

“I’m proud of my young fella,” Dumars beamed. “It takes a warrior’s mentality to go up there and challenge a 7-footer over the rim. Look, there’s not a great player walking that hasn’t gotten caught on the wrong end of a dunk. So be it. But this kid is a warrior. I talked to him about that. I told him, ‘I’m proud that you didn’t duck and get out of the way and run. You went up to challenge him.’

“And his response was, ‘It’s the only way I know how to play. I don’t know any other way other than to compete as hard as I can every night. So I got caught.’ And I said, ‘OK, understand this. You’re talking to one guy right here who’s extremely proud of you.’ Those are the type of guys you really want to suit up. The fact he tried to make a play to stop a 7-foot center is the type of guy that I want.”

At whatever position circumstances might dictate.

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