All it takes is one.
The league and basketball writing community are handing out their post season awards, with nary a Phoenix Suns player showing up near the top of the final tallies. But Brandon Knight did garner a vote from one well-respected national writer, Sean Deveney of SportingNews, as one of his top three Most Improved Players for the 2014-15.
From 2013-14 to 2014-15, Knight's primary numbers barely budged for the Milwaukee Bucks - roughly 18 points on 42% shooting with 5 assists and 3 rebounds per game - before being traded to the Suns at the trade deadline. But each number did tick up a bit, and he was able to improve as the Bucks transformed from one of the league's worst teams to one of the East's best. Knight was even in the conversation for the East All-Star team.
Suns fans barely got to see Knight play due to ankle issues though, so I asked Sean Deveney to share why he thinks Knight deserved an MIP vote and how he thinks Knight should fit into the Suns future plans.
I've been a fan of Sean's work on SN for many years now, so when I saw his name on the Knight vote I knew it was a legit vote from respected authority.
Dave King: You gave Brandon Knight a third place MIP vote (behind Hassan Whiteside and Jimmy Butler). What parts of Knight's game improved so much, in your opinion, to outpace the other improved players you didn't name?
Sean Deveney: I gave him a vote because I thought he really raised his overall game. He was much better as a point guard this year than he had been, and better overall --- a better passer and rebounder, a better 3-point shooter, a better leader. He put himself through a pretty strenuous offseason workout, he spent a lot of time working with Jason Kidd, and that paid off for him. You could see how Milwaukee dropped off without him (they lost 15 of 20 games post-trade). The numbers were not huge in terms of the improvement, but he was playing for a joke of a team in 13-14, and he was just at a much higher level this season.
DK: If I had a vote, I would never consider a second-year player such as Rudy Gobert in the MIP voting. My thinking is that second-year players have an unfair advantage of being allowed to showcase the skills they already had after adjusting to the NBA, rather than specifically those they improved since the year before. How do you feel about voting for second-year players in the MIP race?
SD: Never voted for a second-year player in my 15 years voting for these things. I don't really even like voting for third-year guys ... To me, those improvements are improvements of comfort level and playing time, not actually improving your game, making some adjustment or adding a new wrinkle. I've voted LeBron Most Improved before, when he's done specific things to make his game better, like adding the post-up game. Having said all that, I've always felt the award is ill-defined and thus, sorta dumb.
DK: Reading the tea leaves, one could conclude Knight was targeted by the Suns for a long time, dating even to last summer when Bledsoe was holding out and Dragic was coming up on his final year. There was a rumor of a Suns/Bucks trade offer that one or both teams ultimately declined. Did you hear anything in that regard, either then or more recently? Or do you think Knight was a last-second play at the trade deadline this year to salvage something out of an awful situation?
SD: The Bucks did make an extension offer to Knight. It was not a particularly big one, though, so you can debate whether it was serious. My understanding was that the plan was to see how this season played out with him, make him available if there was a deal that could make the Bucks better defensively and decide on whether to give him a contract or go for a sign-and-trade in the summer.
They were only going to deal him if it would help their defense -- the thinking is, long term, Jabari Parker will give them 20/game so they felt they could sacrifice Knight for D. When the deal for Carter-Williams came along, that cinched it. But it was going to take something big like that to make it happen.
DK: With Knight, the Bucks were already the league's #2 defense (points allowed per possession), so I'm not sure how much they could have improved. But I see your point. Kidd (a DPOY candidate for most of his career) wants the Bucks to be defense-oriented and the potential Knight/Parker tandem didn't fit that mold as a pair.
Sean, I tend to think Knight's personality fits the Suns from a leadership and play calling perspective more than Bledsoe, though Bledsoe is the more talented athlete. Do you see Knight as, ultimately, a full time point guard on a deep playoff team? Or is he simply the best of the lot on the Suns at the moment?
SD: Yeah, I think Knight is a playoff point guard, and I think you can pair him with Bledsoe. (Warning: I thought that about Dragic.) I think Knight has done a good job figuring out his role, as you said, he is a leader, he likes taking the big shot and he's a very smart player. I think he would be willing to play off the ball, because he's become a very good shooter.
But guys say all kinds of rosy things about sacrifice and sharing in training camp, and they say nice things when everyone's happy, but when you get a little adversity and the finger-pointing starts ... it comes unglued really fast. I don't need to tell you that, though, you just sat through a year of it.
DK: We are all highly curious how much Knight will accept the combo guard role next to Bledsoe, but I have to assume that he if he signs, he is smart enough to know what he's getting into. Especially after seeing it play out last year.
Next question, Sean. You mentioned in your April column on the Suns that Knight could command that 4 year, $48 million contract he wanted last fall, if not a bit more due to the rising cap. Do you think Knight is worth the money, to pair next to Bledsoe in Phoenix?
SD: I have no idea who is worth what anymore. This TV deal is going to set things sideways in 2016, of course, but it is going to make things weird this summer, too. You're dealing with the cap as we normally know it on one hand, but you are projecting something else altogether just one year ahead. It's like your rich uncle is on life support. Do you go ahead and buy the new house now?
But certainly, relative to a guy like Jrue Holiday (pre-injuries) or Ty Lawson, you have to put Knight into that category, and they're in that 4-year, $44-48 million range. With normal inflation, that'd be 4 years, $50 mil. But we don't know what normal inflation is in the next 2-3 years.
DK: Final question: if the Suns re-sign Knight, do you see a back court pairing of Knight and Bledsoe in a playoff-caliber starting lineup (assuming improved talent on the front line, which is the Suns biggest need)? Or do you think a re-signed Knight portends Bledsoe or he on the trading block within a year?
SD: I don't think they're a playoff team next year, even with Knight and Bledsoe. But that's because you need something in the front court. Knight/Bledsoe would be undersized at the 2-guard, but the 2-guard has changed. It's more of a specialist role now, you just need to shoot 3s. It's not the Jordan-Drexler-Mitch Richmond 1990s. It's JJ Redick-Danny Green-Wes Matthews time! So you don't need a 6-7 shooting guard anymore.
If you're the Suns FO, you have to sign Knight coming out of he mess that was last season. You can't give away that Lakers pick and then let the piece you got in return walk 5 months later. So, you sign him and see how it goes. And if goes poorly, you hopefully handle it much better than you did this year.
DK: Yep, we all agree that the Suns have to re-sign Knight, and that the final number will likely be higher than his current "worth" due to the pending TV deal raising the cap and contract numbers in coming years. Thanks Sean!
At least Brandon doesn't want to drag it out.
"If it can be quick and easy, that's the best thing," Knight said in April. "You don't wanna go through a fight or anything like that. Or you don't want to drag it out as well. Definitely don't want it to be anything that leads up into training camp."
He is already thinking about how badly it went this spring ("Things kind of went how they went, not how we wanted it to", and how a summer with the team will make a big difference.
He wants to be a leader for this team.
"When you start from summer and you move forward, it's definitely easier to be vocal vs. you know, coming in game 60," he said in April. "You start (the season) with the guys, you start in the trenches. It's easier to communicate with ‘em because you've been there from the jump."
Many thanks to Sean Deveney of SportingNews!
I hope this Q and A gives Suns fans another national perspective on Brandon Knight's worth to a team. He is a very good player who, like the rest of us, is still wondering how all this free agency will shake out.
"I like it here and I like the way I've been treated so far," Knight said in April. "Top-notch, class organization. I'm looking forward to a future with the Suns."