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Addressing the Brandon Knight hate

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There's been a lot of Brandon Knight hate among this here readership lately. Some of it is quite warranted, but some of it is just that there's no one else to blame for the Suns awful season.

Earlier in the year, fans had a plethora of targets for their angst. Coach Jeff Hornacek, Markieff Morris, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight took the brunt of it. Now Knight is the only one left of that bunch, which makes it seem like the eye of Sauron is bearing down on him with the heat of a thousand suns.

Does Knight deserve all the criticism?

Sure, a little of it. He doesn't smile much. He doesn't visibly rally the troops on the court, or say inspirational post game comments about doing better next time. He's got a hang-dog look that implies he'd rather be anywhere else than where he is after a bad play.

But possibly worst of all, Knight has a penchant for making the worst decisions at the worst times. When you're the subject of youtube video compilations of your dumbest attempts to dissuade ball handlers from the hoop, or centers from the dunk, you're going to be the subject of criticism.

This goes all the way back to school yards. If some influential people are laughing at you, and you just take it and walk away, you engender disdain from everyone else. Knight is like that kid on the playground getting pants'd on a regular basis and just slumping off to next period without fighting back. And we're the rest of the school left to wonder why he's being so dumb, or soft, or weak.

And now, understandably, Knight has emotionally distanced himself from his detractors and, after being traded twice already in his career, he can't commit emotionally to his teams either.

Just listen to these quotes about tonight's matchup against his former team, the Bucks. If you recall, he was devastated when they traded him away last year.

"I'm not even really thinking about it," said Knight to Paul Coro of azcentral.com. "It's just another game. I'm going to try to come out and get a win. That was so long ago. It really has no effect. It's part of the past."

I call B.S. on that one. Few NBA players admit their desire to put it on their former team, and Knight's no exception. He's pretending there's no extra emotion, but you know there is.

Unfortunately for Knight, he hasn't been able to emotionally commit to the Suns either. Some of that has to do with the common perception that he's been bypassed by Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker on the depth chart, leaving him no clear future in the starting lineup where he feels be belongs.

And some of that must have to do with not being accepted by the Suns fan base. The kid getting pants'd doesn't go up to the other kids on the playground to give them high fives. He just slumps off.

"It's just about me doing what I've got to do business-wise for the Suns and us trying to become the team that we know we can become."

Even now that Knight has returned to the lineup and has not made any serious mistakes (except that ill-advised 30 foot air ball in the final minute the other night), he's getting beaten up on Bright Side.

But is Brandon Knight really that bad a player?

Sure he's shooting a terrible FG% this season. He's shooting only 41% this year, and just 37% since returning from injury. He's posting a career high in scoring, but also in turnovers per game.

But he's been a very good all-around player too. Just Monday night, he posted his 5th 30-point game of the season, and has the Suns only triple-double this year.

Since returning to the lineup this month, Brandon Knight's all around game puts him on a short list of NBA players.

  • One of only 9 NBA players averaging at least 19 points, 5 assists and 4.8 rebounds in March. The others are Nicolas Batum, James Harden, John Wall, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Zach Randolph
  • Among those players, Knight is last in overall field goal shooting (37%) and fourth in three-point percentage (38%). Yes, Knight is shooting better from behind the line than anywhere else on the court since his return.
  • Among those players, Knight commits the 5th fewest turnovers per game (middle of the pack)
  • He also has the worst point differential of the eight (-5.6) and is the only one without at least one double-double, though he's not played as many games.

Among the Suns, since Knight returned to the lineup in March you might be surprised where he ranks on several fronts

  • One of best on team at defensive field goal percentage (holding opponents to 4% lower FG% than they shoot on the season)
  • Leads the team in passing frequency (17.1% of the time he touches the ball) and passes per game (56)
  • Knight also leads the team to a better offensive rating but a slightly worse defensive rating when he's on the court vs. off the court. This makes sense, considering his backup is Ronnie Price, whose skill set is opposite Knight's.
  • In most areas, Knight's presence on the court leads to better statistics (assist ratio, turnover ratio, eFG%, TS%, etc.) than when he's off.

I hope for Brandon Knight's sake, he has a very good game against the Bucks. Especially since he was dissed (is there any other kind of comment on Knight?) by his old coach.

"I wouldn't say we gave up a lot," Bucks coach Jason Kidd told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel earlier this season. "(Knight) was having a great season, and he's having a great season this year. But it wasn't we gave up Brandon. We had a decision to make between our backcourt.

"It wasn't Klay Thompson or Stephen Curry. We weren't going to max out our backcourt."

The Bucks' return on that deal was Michael Carter-Williams, who was terrible this season before suffering a season-ending injury. The Bucks have won barely more games than the Suns over the past year, so the only real winner out of that Knight trade might still be the Sixers, depending on how that Lakers pick turns out in 2017 or 2018.