So far, we've done an in-depth analysis of offseason acquisitions Mirza Teletovic, Ronnie Price and Sonny Weems.
Brandon Knight may not technically be a new acquisition, but he may still feel new to Suns fans. Knight played only 11 games for Phoenix last season, and he didn't play particularly well either. He shot just 36 percent from the field on 13.4 PPG.
Understanding that Knight's performance in those 11 games may not be a perfect representation of who he is as a player, that stretch can still provide a lot of meaningful insight. For any of you Suns fans who became disinterested and disheartened following the Dragic/Thomas trades, this analysis of Knight's time in a Phoenix jersey could be a useful tool for projecting his impact with the team in 2015-16.
I looked at most of his 11 games with the Suns, but ultimately decided to use clips from three different games against the Celtics, Warriors and Nets. I intentionally chose games where he struggled as well as games where he flourished.
With that being said, let's break down Brandon Knight's game.
Brandon Knight is not afraid of big moments. He's not afraid of shooting, period. In fact, last season Knight ranked 9th in the NBA in "clutch" field-goal attempts. Clutch attempts are defined as any shot attempts that come within the last five minutes of a game with up to a five-point differential.
Knight shot 28-79, or 35.4 percent from the field in the clutch. Most of those attempts were obviously with Milwaukee. And although that seems like a putrid percentage, field-goal percentages in the final few minutes generally decrease as the proportion of isolation plays increases and the defensive intensity picks up. For reference, Chris Paul shot 26-77 (33.8 percent). Some players however, such as Phoenix's own Eric Bledsoe (33-75, 44 percent) had much more success.
Knight's fearlessness leads to some questionable shot selection. He is unquestionably a talented shooter, coming off a season in which he knocked down 39 percent of his threes. However, his attempts can make you cringe.
This first shot against the Warriors is fairly open, but it is at least a few feet behind the three-point line. Conventional wisdom would say that that is not a smart shot when the team is already down by eight in the first quarter. On the other hand, the Golden State Warriors are known for their suffocating defense and perhaps Knight felt that pressure before he even came close to entering the paint. He made the shot, so in the end there was no head-scratching and all was forgiven.
How about this second shot? Again occurring a couple of feet behind the line, Knight hesitates and then takes a somewhat contested three. He made it, again, and only great shooters make those shots. The question becomes how much free rein you're willing to give him.
Finally, here's the last shot against the Boston Celtics. This one is perhaps the deepest of them all, and Knight takes it with Isaiah Thomas' hand in his face. There's no question regarding his shooting ability, but once again he took a questionable shot with plenty of time left on the shot clock and with the team down by 10. Do those shots build momentum or do they kill it?
Brandon Knight is a career 36.5 percent three-point shooter. He's unquestionably a better shooter than Bledsoe and is likely about as efficient as Dragic. But as Suns fans saw plenty of times with Gerald Green, cold shooting streaks combined with poor shot selection can take the team out of games very quickly. Everything points to Knight being a smarter basketball player than Green, but one has to wonder whether he already deserves the green light on offense at all times.
Off The Dribble
Knight is surprisingly effective off the dribble and on pull-up opportunities. According to NBA.com/stats Knight took 6.1 pull-up attempts per game last season, ranking 28th in the league and wedging him right between Rudy Gay and Jrue Holiday. He connected on 38 percent of those shots, making him more efficient than Russell Westbrook (36.2 percent), LeBron James (35.8 percent), James Harden (37.3 percent) and John Wall (37.7 percent), among others.
Losing Markieff Morris either to a trade or a suspension will put a lot more pressure on Bledsoe and Knight to create, so it's essential that Knight can score off screens and create shots for himself. In this first clip he uses Len's screen on Curry to drive right and pull up for a mid-range jumper.
The same exact thing happens in this second clip, only against a different team. Len comes over to set the screen on Anderson, and although Brook Lopez switches onto Knight to contest the shot there's enough space for an open opportunity. Knight's foot is on the line but he'll take the relatively open mid-range jumper.
Finally, this last clip is an example of Knight taking over in the clutch. After battling with the Nets all throughout the fourth quarter and overtime, he hit a dagger with 17.5 seconds left to put the Suns up by four. He starts his drive with only about five seconds left on the shot clock, but that's plenty of time for him to lose Jack on the screen, dance around the notoriously slow Lopez and rise up for a mid-range shot.
All of these plays are very simple, but the simpler they are the better. The Suns do need some complex schemes to create open looks, but they also need players that are willing to attack a defender one-on-one and develop a reputation as an offensive threat. That used to be Markieff, but maybe now Knight can step in.
It wouldn't be a "two guard lineup" without a shooting guard that's capable of running the offense, right?
The truth is that Knight isn't an amazing floor general. His 2014-15 assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.75 ranked 67th out of 84 qualified point guards. 114 of his total turnovers, or 60.3 percent, were chalked up to "bad passes".
With that being said, he's a good enough passer that having both him and Bledsoe on the floor at the same time will open up opportunities for the offense. And not only that, but he can also run the offense when Bledsoe is on the bench.
Passing is pretty self-explanatory, so watch the few clips below. Hopefully that lob to Wright in the first clip is what we'll see out of Knight and Chandler often in the coming season. And in the third clip, he pushes the ball ahead with 23 seconds left on the shot clock to give P.J. Tucker a wide open corner three.
Slashing was critical to the Phoenix backcourt's identity last season. There's a reason that Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic became colloquially known as the "slash bros", a direct response to Golden State's sweet-shooting fraternity of splash.
Unfortunately, Suns fans can not hope for Knight to be the same slasher the Dragic was for the team. Last season Dragic averaged 8.2 drives to the basket per game. Of the couple dozen players with at least 8 drives per game, Dragic ranked third in efficiency with an insane 54.7 percent clip on drives.
Knight did plenty of slashing himself, averaging 7.5 drives per game with the Bucks. However, he converted on only 43.2 percent of his driving shot attempts. That's most similar to Isaiah Thomas (44.9 percent), Mario Chalmers (43.2 percent), Deron Williams (41.0 percent) and Gordon Hayward (43.3 percent). It also ranks a few points behind Bledsoe's 47.7 percent clip.
For Knight to be approximately as good of a slasher as Isaiah Thomas will still make him effective, and he must continue to be aggressive rather than settle for outside jumpers. It will also be interesting to see how well he pushes the tempo of the game, considering that the teams he has been on have ranked 26th, 22nd, 23rd and 13th in pace over four years.
He certainly has the talent to push the ball in transition and finish through contact. Below are a few examples.
Notice how in all three clips he wastes absolutely no time. He scores with 17, 20 and 15 seconds left on the shot clock respectively, and that up-tempo mindset will be key to the team's continuing success as an efficient collective unit in transition.
This is the part that's hard to sugarcoat. Brandon Knight's biggest flaw right now is probably his defense. He had a defensive RPM of -1.85 with the Bucks and Suns last season, ranking 382nd out of 474 total NBA players last season. That's well below average.
Here's the good news! The Bucks were able to conveniently hide Knight's defensive deficiencies last season, finishing 4th in the league in defensive rating. I believe that the Suns have the potential to do the same thing by grouping Knight with several elite defenders such as Bledsoe, Tucker and Chandler.
Still, that doesn't hide the fact that Knight can easily be exposed on defense. Let's look at some examples.
In this first clip, Knight simply gets caught ball watching. That will quickly become a theme of this section. Even though his assignment is technically Livingston, Knight is caught watching Speights and Morris match up just outside the paint. Knight is too far away to actually play help defense on Speights, but what he does do is open up a lane for Livingston. Livingston catches the pass from Speights already in the paint, performs an easy dribble move to shake off Knight and gets to the basket.
In this second clip, Knight simply gets caught for too long on a screen. That's understandable, as Barnes does set a strong screen for Livingston. But Knight overcompensates on the recovery, leaping into the air as if to perform some sort of chase down block. While Knight is in the air Livingston has plenty of time to take another dribble and go up for a dunk.
This third clip is an example of Knight allowing his opponent to blow by way too easily. Deron Williams is strong, but he's not the same athletic young man that he was in his Utah days. D-Will uses his strength to his advantage, shoving Knight to the side with his hip and performing a spin move to shake free. Knight recovers within a couple of seconds but lacks the lateral quickness to contain Williams' drive into the paint. This forces Len to come up on Williams and contest the shot, only he commits a foul. In general, force your big man to play two-on-one too much after a blow by and you will see a lot of easy layups and dunks for the opposing team. Chandler and Len may be good rim protectors but they can only do so much.
This next clip is another example of ball watching. Knight is in no position to play help defense on Anderson's drive, and yet he shifts into the paint and puts his back to Williams anyway. In the meantime Williams is craftily hovering around the perimeter. This inevitably leads to a kick out, and by the time Williams catches the ball it's too late for Knight to recover. The Nets get an easy three.
To demonstrate the same thing one more time, watch Knight against the Celtics. Here he simply gets caught up watching Evan Turner and Isaiah Thomas on the perimeter, allowing Avery Bradley to sneak into the corner. Bradley uses Brandon Bass as a sort of obstacle, and although Knight makes it in time to contest the shot he is just a little bit too late. In this instance the Celtics expand their lead to seven.
I should make it clear that I saw Knight play good defense as well, such as in the clip below against Jarrett Jack and the Nets. That is a textbook example of staying in front of your man and contesting a shot.
However, overall his defensive display was simply underwhelming. Hope for a better showing this season but don't hold your breath.
Brandon Knight is a talented offensive player who is going to have no problem scoring with the Suns. Unfortunately, whether or not he can mesh well with Bledsoe remains to be seen. At only 23 years old, he still has plenty of time to improve his game and reach his peak. Hopefully a lot of effort was put into his defense specifically this summer, because if he can be more effective on both ends of the court the Suns could have one of the league's most stifling defenses.