Suns Squared: What’s Wrong with Brandon Knight

Saying Brandon Knight is having a bad season is an understatement. But why has he been so bad?

One clear takeaway from the season so far is that Brandon Knight hasn’t been good. Recently, his bad play has lead to many calling for the Suns to trade Knight. One of the most referenced stats is Knight’s plus-minus number which is -233 (according to statmuse.com) which is good for last in the league at this point in the season.

With that in mind I want to investigate how this year’s stats compare to his past and then explore a possible reason why.

First off, let’s look at Knight’s advanced stats throughout his career. I put together a year by year comparison of True Shooting%, WS/48, DRE/Min, and Box Score Plus-Minus. The results as seen in the table below are very much troubling. I also included a final line that shows the difference between this year and Knight’s career averages in each category.

Season (Team)

True Shooting%

WS/48

BPM

DRE per Min

—————

2011-2012 (DET)

—–

0.511

—–

0.029

—-

-1.9

—–

0.058

2012-2013 (DET)

0.511

0.022

-2.1

0.062

2013-2014 (MIL)

0.523

0.055

-0.9

0.11

2014-2015 (MIL/PHX)

0.542

0.106

1.1

0.15

2015-2016 (PHX)

0.522

0.043

-0.3

0.099

2016-2017 (PHX)

0.483

0.01

-4.5

0.056

Compared to AVG

-0.037

-0.038

-3.4

-0.038

It is easy to see how badly Knight’s advanced numbers are so far this year. The scariest part is the fact that all the numbers are career worsts, even when compared to Knight’s rookie year, given that rookie years are usually the worst for players because they are adjusting to the NBA game.

To go a little further into the numbers I want to breakdown Knight’s 2014-2015 year into stats from Milwaukee and stats from Phoenix.

  

2014-2015

True Shooting%

WS/48

BPM

DRE per Min

MIL (52 Games)

0.556

0.124

2.2

0.169

PHX (11 Games)

0.472

0.016

-4.5

0.045

Although the Phoenix performance was a small sample size at only 11 games, it proved predictive of the rest of his time in Phoenix. These statistics are quite different from the stats Knight was putting up in Milwaukee. If Knight had kept his level with a full season with the Bucks, then the numbers from that year would be career bests. Instead, Knight was traded to Phoenix and then saw a regression in all of his numbers.

The change from Milwaukee to Phoenix was a big shift, Eastern to Western conference arguably meaning much more difficult competition at PG. Also, Brandon Knight went from the starting PG to sharing the position with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. The PG competition is where the biggest difference emerges, as Knight was put into a position to share the floor with other ball dominant players.

An imperfect way of looking at this change in role is the percentage of time spent at each position when on the floor. basketball-reference.com has a feature for individual players that breaks down how much time the players spend at each position. Here is a look at the chart for Brandon Knight throughout his career. I Included the splits for the 2014-2015 year in the chart.

PG%

SG%

SF%

2011-2012 (DET)

90%

10%

2012-2013 (DET)

91%

9%

2013-2014 (MIL)

89%

11%

2014-2015 (MIL/PHX)

88%

12%

2015-2016 (PHX)

43%

55%

3%

2016-2017 (PHX)

46%

53%

2014-2015 Breakdown:

PG%

SG%

SF%

2014-2015 (MIL)

100%

2014-2015(PHX)

32%

68%

The chart makes it easy to see that once Knight got to Phoenix, he went to spending the majority of his time playing off the ball as a shooting guard, rather than playing his natural position of PG. This is clearly one of, if not the biggest factor in Knight’s regression and seemed to be proof of his lack of fit in Phoenix.

One last way to break down the difference is by taking a look at the most used lineups featuring Knight and who else is on the floor.

Of Knight’s ten most played lineups so far this season in Phoenix, 6 of the 10 feature one of Bledsoe or Booker, two players that are more ball dominant. 3 of those 6 also feature both Bledsoe and Booker regulating Knight to 3rd option status. Comparing that to his last season in Milwaukee, in Knight’s ten most played lineups he never played next to another true PG like he does now playing with Bledsoe. 7 of the 10 lineups in Milwaukee featured Knight playing with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is now ball dominant and is often listed at the PG, but in 2014-2015 Giannis wasn’t at that point yet.

Knight has shown throughout his time in Phoenix, especially this year, that he is not nearly as effective when playing off-ball. It is likely that Knight will continue to struggle the way he has if not given the opportunity to play more on-ball. In Phoenix, that would mean leading bench units with less ball dominant players on the floor.

If Knight is traded, a move to Washington or Philadelphia for example would give him the opportunity to run point the majority of the time on the floor, whether it be with bench units or starting lineups.

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