MILWAUKEE — At just 21 years old and 141 games into his NBA career, Brandon Knight was already labeled. He heard all of the talk, he knew his team’s plans no longer involved him at point guard, and he quickly found out they didn’t involve him at all.
In trading for Knight, the Milwaukee Bucks feel they’ve landed an extremely talented player who should have just finished his junior year of college, not one who should already be changing positions.
He’s their point guard of the present and the future and will be allowed time to grow as the team’s floor general.
“I don’t know where this, ‘Is he a point guard, is he a shooting guard?’ came from,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “He’s always, in my eyes, been a point guard. (He’s) a point guard that has the ability to score, and that’s a big, big luxury. At 21 years old he’s played a lot of games already in the NBA.”
On the day of his introductory press conference in Milwaukee, Knight was on the court at the Bucks’ practice facility at 7:45 a.m.
Concerned Knight would get consumed with his workout and forget about the press conference, Bucks general manager John Hammond kept calling over to the Cousins Center to make sure someone would get him over to BMO Harris Bradley Center in time.
Unlike many his age, Knight won’t exhaust any energy feeling sorry for himself or taking shots at his former team. Extremely mature in his body language and in what he says, Knight is going to allow his play do the talking.
“A lot of people do forget (I’m still 21),” Knight said. “A lot of the best point guards in our game didn’t get it overnight. Tony Parker didn’t get it overnight, Chauncey Billups didn’t get it overnight — a lot of players in our league didn’t come in and become an All-Star in their first year. It just doesn’t happen that way.
“It’s human nature to criticize. I know that I’m getting better and I know that I’ve improved this summer. I think a lot of people will see this upcoming year how much I’ve improved and how good the Bucks can be.”
Drafted by Detroit with the 8th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft after just one season at the University of Kentucky, Knight was faced with challenge of becoming a starting point guard with an offseason shortened by the lockout.
Knight went on to average 12.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists in his rookie season, shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 38.0 percent from beyond the arc in 66 games. After a full offseason of work, Knight was back as Detroit’s starting point guard at the beginning of last season, but things changed in January.
Detroit traded for point guard Jose Calderon, bumping Knight to shooting guard. Either the Pistons really thought they had a chance to make a playoff run, or it was a sign they were giving up on Knight.
“I thought individually I got better, but as a team we were up and down,” Knight said of his time in Detroit. “My first year was the lockout year, so I didn’t have much time to really get ahold of things.
“My time at the point guard position was about a year, total. I know that I got better from the beginning. There were just a lot of things that happened that were kind of questionable, but I just tried to make the best of it.”
Drew not only played the position for 10 years in the NBA, he’s also played a major role in the development of young point guards as a coach. In Knight, Drew sees the potential and is excited for the chance to help him grow.
“What he brings to the table is what a coach looks for at that position, the speed, the quickness,” Drew said. “The ability to make shots, the ability to get to the lane. The ability to make other people better.
“It’s going to be my job, it’s going to be my responsibility to elevate his game and to continue to teach him. Hopefully he’ll continue to grow.”
With the Bucks choosing to go with youth on their roster, Knight will have the opportunity to grow and get better. It’s exactly the fresh start he was looking for, and he’s embracing the opportunity Milwaukee is giving him.
“It’s exciting and it’s comforting at the same time,” Knight said. “Just to know that’s their vision. Now it’s my job to go out and play to the best of my ability and allow my hard work to manifest.”
Nobody knows if the Pistons’ impatience will come back to bite them or if they were spot on in their evaluation. Though he’s clearly motivated, Knight isn’t a kid who only feels like he’s been slighted. He understands the reasons why Detroit moved on and knows he isn’t close to the player he wants to be.
“I’m not going to sit here and say I’m perfect,” Knight said. “Me as a player, I work on a lot of things. I can improve defensively, pick-and-rolls I can improve offensively. I can be more efficient. Those are three things right off the top of my head that I’ve been working on.
“Even shooting at the free throw line, decision-making, there are a lot of places I can improve. I embrace that and I know I’ve taken steps this summer in those areas.”
Just as he heard he wasn’t a point guard, Knight will now have to deal with the prognosticators picking the Bucks to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Combining the chip on his shoulder personally with the team’s low expectations, Knight flashes back to his year at Kentucky.
The Wildcats were expected to be a good, but not an elite team in the 2010-11 season. Ranked 23rd in the polls just before the postseason, Kentucky was given a four seed for the NCAA tournament. Led by Knight, the Wildcats used their seeding as motivation and advanced to the Final Four.
“The team that we had, not many people expected us to do as well as we did,” Knight said. “I was a leader on that team with the way I played and the way I pushed guys. We were able to make it to a Final Four.
“It’s the same situation here. I plan to push guys, and I think we are going to be a lot better than people expect.”