For personal, team improvement, Knight knows what he must do
During his exit interview after the season, when Brandon Knight (right) was asked by Larry Drew what he needed to improve on in the offseason, the coach said the young point guard "hit it right on the nail head."
ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Larry Drew had a list of things prepared for Brandon Knight’s exit interview, but the Milwaukee Bucks coach didn’t need to get past the first question.
When Drew asked Knight what he felt he needed to improve on, the point guard said exactly what his coach was thinking.
"He hit it right on the nail head," Drew said.
Knight’s first year with the Milwaukee Bucks was one of personal improvement overshadowed a bit by team failure. But by posting career highs in every major statistical category, the 22-year-old took a big step forward in his third NBA season.
Acquired from Detroit along with Khris Middleton and Slava Kravtsov in the Brandon Jennings sign-and-trade, Knight was injured less than two minutes into the season opener against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Knight missed eight of Milwaukee’s first 11 games and admitted the after the season ended that he was limited by the hamstring until sometime in late December. That would make sense, as Knight turned it on around that time.
He averaged 19.9 points and 4.9 assists per game after the All-Star break in February, finishing as the Bucks’ leading scorer at 17.9 points per game. Knight also posted career best in assists per game (4.9), rebounds per game (3.5) and steals per game (1.0), shooting 42.2 percent from the floor.
"I know it definitely helped me take a step forward," Knight said of the trade to the Bucks. "It motivated me to work even harder. Everything happens for a reason. I’m just thankful and blessed because I know I benefited from it."
So where did Knight and Drew agree improvements need to be made?
Knight is dangerous off the dribble but also has shown an ability to come off a screen and score as well. While Knight will always be a scoring point guard, Drew wants to see improvement in the decision-making part of his game.
The question as to if Knight was a true point guard carried over to Milwaukee from Detroit, as the Pistons had already given up hope he’d develop into a true floor general. Knight played on the ball and off the ball with the Bucks, sometimes playing shooting guard with Nate Wolters running the offense.
"Everybody has seen the skill level and that he’s able to score, but he knows he has to get better at making decisions with the basketball, delivering pick-and-roll passes and seeing the floor more," Drew said. "A lot of that is really instinctive."
Another aspect Drew would like to see Knight progress in is his leadership ability. Knight expressed to Drew his desire to be Milwaukee’s leader and the coach wasn’t afraid to offer his advice as to how that can happen.
"In order to be a leader there are things that you just have to do, things you can’t be afraid to do," Drew said. "Sometimes it calls on stepping on some toes as far as your teammates are concerned. Not in a malicious way, but a way to get their attention to let them know you are running this club and you are going to dance to my song, so to speak. Leaders do that.
"They don’t mind stepping on toes; they don’t mind making sure everybody is marching to the same beat. That’s who he wants to be, and that’s something he’s going to have to work on."
It’s hard to remember just how young Knight is — a couple of months younger than NBA Rookie of the Year favorite Michael Carter-Williams. Had he stayed in school, Knight would just be wrapping up his senior season at Kentucky. Instead he now has three NBA seasons under his belt.
"The potential for him is high," Bucks guard Ramon Sessions said. "He’s very young. He’s learning how to play . . . He’s going to be very special in this league."
A tireless and relentless worker, Knight was always the last player on the court for the Bucks this season, oftentimes working with assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer for more than an hour after practice. He’s hesitant to talk about how much he improved this past season because his team won 15 games.
Instead, Knight wants to spend his summer making sure the Bucks don’t experience another year like they just did.
"Going through what we went through this year, as far as lack of respect from officials, teams — who wants to go through that?" Knight said. "I take it as kind of a slap in the face. I think we can use it as motivation. I’ll constantly remind guys of what happened this year. We’re going to get better."
Knight is eligible for a contract extension this summer, as 2014-15 will be the final guaranteed year on his rookie deal. If the sale of the team is approved, the Bucks could be under different management in the coming weeks, leaving the chances of an extension up in the air.
No matter what happens before the start of next season, Knight has at least put himself in the conversation to be in Milwaukee’s core moving forward.
"You would assume so," Knight said. "But you never know as far as the decisions that are made. You don’t know until it is in writing. I’m ready to be wherever I’m wanted.
"We’ll see how it goes. I haven’t even thought about (a contract extension) yet. My job is to continue to work hard and continue to improve as a player. That’s really my main focus. All of those things, whether they do or don’t happen, whether I’m here or anywhere else, it will take care of itself."