Former Phoenix Sun Brandon Knight won the scoring title last month.
The 31 year-old, who last saw NBA action for the Dallas Mavericks in April 2022, emerged as the top scoring player in the Baloncesto Superior Nacional, a professional league in Puerto Rico, when its 2023 campaign closed its regular season in June.
Knight averaged 23.3 points on 46% shooting from the floor, and 38% from downtown, representing Piratas de Quebradillas until the team was eliminated in the playoffs late last month. He also was good for 5 assists per game, and 4.4 rebounds.
With the Suns heading forward with a newly acquired scoring machine combo guard in Bradley Beal, I thought it was high time to take a good look back on one of the defining acquisitions of the Sarver era.
The Suns acquired Knight in February 2015 as part of a three-team trade that Saw the Suns ship out a pick, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee to receive the then-23 year old guard from the Milwaukee Bucks. A product of the same one-and-done factory as Devin Booker at the University of Kentucky, Knight was averaging about 18 points and 5 assists per game for Milwaukee, with a respectable true shooting percentage of 56% driven by his 41% from beyond the arc.
Knight clearly needed to mature a bit in his game, as he was turnover-prone and his shot selection was often suspect, but he was generally agreed to be highly talented (the 8th overall pick in 2011) and highly intelligent (he graduated high school with a 4.3 GPA and attracted interest from both Yale and Princeton, and even taking a visit to the former during his recruitment process).
Knight struggled in his brief early tenure with the Suns, and a hoped-for playoff appearance didn’t materialize for the club, which finished 39-43. But there was hope that a full offseason with the team, as well as some other roster adjustments, would lead to better things next season. In Summer 2015, the Suns inked Knight to a five-year $70 million deal, a reasonably rich offer for that time in the league.
The Train Wreck Begins
Unfortunately, the 2015/2016 season turned out to be doomed from the start. With Knight starting, the Suns played sub-.500 ball through the first three months of the season and Head Coach Jeff Hornacek was fired. While Knight had some outstanding games (a 30 point triple-double in a blowout win over the Lakers early in the campaign, for example), he also had a number of stinkers. His turnovers too frequently matched or exceeded his assists, and his inefficient scoring wasn’t good enough to make up for his shortcomings as a defender and his poor care of the ball. In addition, a talented rookie named Devin Booker had arrived on the scene and rapidly made a case for surpassing Knight as the Suns’ second guard with Eric Bledsoe.
Knight was also best with injuries in both January and April, leading to him playing in just 10 of the team’s last 39 games. Despite averaging a rounded 20 points per game, Knight was already one of the most unpopular Suns with the fanbase. The Suns’ horrendous 23-59 finish did not help matters.
The end was nigh for the Brandon Knight Era in Phoenix. Earl Watson was named head coach after taking over on an interim basis for the fired Hornacek, and he quickly embraced a culture of not judging the team by the final score. That was a shocking thing for a head coach to say, as far as I was concerned, but it was arguably for the best because that team stunk.
Knight lost his starting job to Booker, and played poorly off the bench to begin the 2016/2017 season. When the tanking team shut down a perfectly healthy Bledsoe and asked Knight to share point guard duties with Tyler Ulis, Knight said his back hurt (nobody really believed him) and didn’t play for the rest of the year.
By this time most Suns fans had turned sharply on night, vastly preferring Booker and wanting the seemingly unhappy Knight gone via trade.
Some hope remained that the enigmatic guard could get his act together and be part of the Suns’ future, but the final blow fell when Knight tore his ACL during the offseason and was announced to miss the whole 2017/2018 season. The Suns packaged Knight with Marquese Chriss and sent him off to the Houston Rockets for Ryan Anderson and De’Anthony Melton, and that was that.
He finished his Suns career with 117 games played, 64 starts, averaging 15/3.8/2.9, with a 51% TS percentage.
Better Luck This Time?
There is good reason to expect that the Suns will get better results from Beal than they got from Knight, though on the surface there are some similarities to the transactions that brought them to Phoenix. Beal is a veteran all-star, with a 10 year track record of successfully integrating with many different teammates. Like Knight he carries valid injury and defense concerns, as well as underwhelming performance when handed point guard duties. But Beal won’t be asked to be the team’s go-to bucket getter, and unlike Knight will be able to benefit tremendously from the gravity of other quality Suns on the court with him.
So congratulations to Brandon Knight for finding a way to continue pursuing professional basketball, but and let’s try to forgive him for being so disappointing as a Sun. Reflecting on the dark past can serve to remind us what brighter days we’re seeing now.