He’s not as explosive as John Wall; he didn’t become the youngest MVP in league history, that honor went to Derrick Rose; he’s not praised for being a steadying force on his team like Kyle Lowry is in Toronto.
You probably haven’t been paying attention to Brandon Knight, but you should. But you know what? That doesn’t matter.
Knight knows what he brings to the table on a nightly basis – and so do the Milwaukee Bucks, arguably this season’s surprise team in the East. In the space of just four years, Knight has worked his way into being one of the top point guards in the East, and in a conference rapidly becoming devoid of point guards, he has earned himself a right to be included in any All-Star conversations.
It’s Sunday night in New York City, the Bucks have just easily beaten a depleted Knicks team, 95-82, at the Garden, and after the game a small throng of reporters is waiting for Knight to finish getting dressed. He’s the last man in the locker room, commanding the attention of the room. A ritual usually becoming of the star players of the league.
Knight, though, is taking his responsibility of leading a young group of guys, and his new-found attention, all in his stride. Despite his relative inexperience in the league, he’s still looked upon by the team’s young core (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker) to lead them through a grueling season.
“Definitely,” says Knight. “Definitely I’m a guy that as far as being a veteran and having a little more experience – not a whole lot, but more so than a lot of guys here, I just try to be a rock for our team. Not get too high, not get too low and use what Jason [Kidd] is teaching us to the best of my ability.”
It’s that ability, coupled with the trust and faith from the coaching staff, that has seen Knight reach career high levels in ’14-15. Through the team’s first 35 games he’s averaging 18 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists, and shooting the ball at his most efficient rate of his career as well. Knight also became the first Buck since Glenn Robinson in 2001-02 to record three 20-point, 5 rebound games in their first four games of a season, and the first Bucks’ guard since Sidney Moncrief in 1986-87. He’s led the Bucks in scoring a team-high 18 times, and in assists a team-high 17 times.
Pair those numbers with the team’s record (18-17, good for sixth in the East) and he is certainly in the conversation for an All-Star berth, according to head coach Jason Kidd.
“We’ll see how the voting goes,” states Kidd. “I think if you go on numbers, and if your team is winning, then you should always be looked upon.”
The Detroit Pistons selected Knight with the eighth pick in the 2011 draft – only one point guard was taken higher that year, Kyrie Irving at No. 1 overall – and for two seasons he proved he was capable of holding his own in the League. He started 60 of 66 games in the lockout shortened 2011-12 campaign, and put up some solid numbers while making the NBA All-Rookie first team.
Following the conclusion of his second season in Motown, however, Knight found out first-hand that the NBA is a business when he was traded to the Bucks in July, 2013. His numbers steadily increased his first season in Milwaukee, but it was the arrival of Kidd, one of the greatest floor leaders in NBA history, as head coach last summer that helped push his game to the heights achieved this season.
“He puts little tablets of wisdom in my ear all the time; not just me but all of us,” says Knight. “You know, [he’s] a great coach; a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge of the game. A lot of things that you wouldn’t think about he does. He does a great job instilling that in all of us.”
There’s been some bumps along the way (a recent eight turnover game at Charlotte sticks out) as Knight gradually becomes accustomed to being an extension of the coach while on the floor, but having an accomplished point guard as coach is beneficial.
“Well, he’s 23 years old and you want him to go through trial-and-error,” explains Kidd. “I think giving him advice about what I see could be different to what he sees. The biggest thing from day one is we want him to be successful, put his trust in the coaches and his teammates and you see that on the floor.
“Every quarterback has had interceptions, pitchers have given up home runs. It’s what you do after and I thought with that eight [turnovers] he didn’t stop playing. I just think that shows his growth.”
Antetokounmpo, one of the players the team will be leaning on in years to come, is in his second season playing with Knight. Now, as Knight continues to mature as a player, Antetokounmpo has has seen the drive Knight has to get better.
“He plays harder, he works harder,” says the Greek youngster. “He’s a great kid, great teammate. He takes on that challenge. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and he plays with a high motor.
“He’s an aggressive point guard, he’s a scoring point guard, so he’s always [helping me] find my opportunity [to score]. It’s nice playing with Brandon.”
So, with all the praise heaped upon him by teammates and coaches, does it bother Knight that he doesn’t get the praise his contemporaries in the East do?
“A lot of people don’t notice, but at the end of the day I just gotta keep doing what I’m doing and eventually it’ll come to pass. I can’t control what other people say, all I can do is go out and play each and every night and do what I do best.”
As he’s grown from a young role player into a legitimate leader Knight will be one of the focal points of a Bucks team headed in the right trajectory. With that the All-Star recognition will no longer be a quiet murmur, it will have grown into a loud roar. His focus is still on the team, though.
“My job is to come out and win games, however I can do that, that’s my job. All-Star things come with that, then that’s the icing on the cake.”