MILWAUKEE — Laying on the ground at Madison Square Garden just two minutes into the season, Brandon Knight’s first year with the Milwaukee Bucks was off to an inauspicious start. Little did he know just how much that hamstring injury would set him back.
Even after he returned three games later, Knight wasn’t himself. The hamstring wasn’t right, and it was holding him back. But there finally became a time in early December where it was clear the young point guard was fully healthy.
Ever since, Knight has been a bright spot in what has been a dreary season. The 22-year-old has averaged 17.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.3 turnovers per game since Dec. 1, including a seven-game stretch in which he scored 23.7 per game.
"It’s tough to play with a hamstring (injury)," Knight said. "It affects your every move, every shot you take, every layup, explosiveness. It’s in the back of your mind that you don’t want to do anything to re-injure it. A hamstring (injury) is definitely something that can hinder your play. I’ve been healthy of late and I think it’s showed in my play."
Knight has one more year after this season left on his rookie contract and is eligible for a contract extension this summer. The Bucks didn’t commit to Brandon Jennings longterm at that point in his rookie deal and eventually dealt him for Knight and Khris Middleton.
This is an important season for both player and team, as Knight looks to establish himself and the Bucks try to determine if he’s their point guard moving forward.
"I think for Brandon, he’s proven already that he can score," Bucks general manager John Hammond said. "I think with him it’s just to continue to get comfortable at that point guard position. A guy that can run a team, he’s capable of doing that. I know he wants to get better at that.
"He just turned 22 years old. As he gets more comfortable at that position, I think he’s a real keeper piece."
Knight turned the ball over 3.6 times per game in November, but has cut his giveaways down for the most part. Outside of a couple of high-turnover games, Knight has improved at not playing so fast he gets to a spot on the court where he’s in trouble.
With the ability to be so explosive, Knight’s speed and quickness were hurting him for a bit. But Bucks coach Larry Drew, a former point guard himself, stressed probing the defense and learning to control the speed of the game with his young floor general and it’s paid off.
"I’m not going to take the credit," Drew said. "When you look at him, I think he’s just starting to really get a feel for what I want. He’s playing in an attack mode. He’s getting good looks at the basket, good opportunities. I just think it’s the combination of things. He’s just come out and done a good job."
There have been games in which Knight has flashed his talent and dominated. He scored 36 points on 13-of-25 shooting with nine rebounds against the Knicks on Dec. 18 and followed that up with a career-high 37 points with eight rebounds on 15-of-25 shooting against the Lakers on New Year’s Eve.
Knight has showed an uncanny ability to get to the rim and finish while getting fouled, an important part of a point guard’s game.
"I don’t think I have a problem getting by my man," Knight said. "With the personnel we have on our team, we shoot a lot of jump shots sometimes.
"So I try to be aggressive. When I drive it can lead to other things as well, not just finishing. With my ability to shoot the basketball and also my speed and quickness, I like to mix it up."
But for as much as Knight has improved offensively, Drew has praised the work he’s done on the defensive end on numerous occasions. Playing point guard in the NBA is challenging partially because of the numerous offensive threats you face at the position almost every night.
Knight hasn’t backed down from the challenge and has used his strength to be able to fight through screens.
"My main thing when I’m guarding a guy I know is going to shoot a lot, is making sure I’m making every shot as hard as possible," Knight said. "(Just) making sure he doesn’t get any easy ones to get his confidence going."
There was an obvious chip on Knight’s shoulder when he arrived in Milwaukee in July. He’d already been given up on by Detroit and was eager to prove he’s a starting point guard in the NBA. So far he has started to do that, but there’s still three months left for him to make his case to the Bucks.
"All the work I put in this summer, I think it pays off," Knight said. "But a lot of it is my teammates helping me, pushing me and encouraging me as well. I can’t take the credit for that.
"My focus really is for our team to get going. I know as an individual I will play fine because I work hard and I have God guiding me. I want our team to play well."