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Don’t ruin Brandon Knight by looking too closely at his stats right now

Advanced stats make basketball better.

Advanced stats help prove two of my favorite Pistons players of all-time, Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer (yes, yes … I loved Laimbeer as a player even if I think the reasons so many fans want him to coach the team are flimsy ones), are also two of the most underrated basketball players of all-time.

But there are two other players who I’ve always loved watching: Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. Every proponent of advanced stats out there will give you layer after layer of evidence suggesting those guys are two of the most over-rated basketball players of all-time. I don’t care. Still love them.

Which brings me to Brandon Knight. Other than Greg Monroe, the only thing Pistons-related I’ve enjoyed watching this season is Knight. Unfortunately, as far as the advanced stats go, Mr. Knight is not a favorite. Ben Gulker of Detroit Bad Boys and I had a friendly back and forth on Twitter yesterday about Knight’s production, or lack thereof. Some of Ben’s very reasonable points:

As a 21 year old rookie, Rodney Stuckey assisted teammates and turned the ball over less than Brandon Knight: http://bit.ly/wEpOGI #Pistons

To stir the pot a little more: Walker Russell is currently a better PG than Brandon Knight relative to TO’s and assists

The conclusions to be drawn will vary by the individual. I think it says Knight’s ceiling is lower than most as a result.

Now, I also should give Ben credit here for forming these opinions based on evidence available before Knight had even played a NBA game. He was not a fan of the Knight pick, and a sleeper player in the draft who he (and many others, myself included) liked a lot before the draft, Kenneth Faried, is averaging 16.5 rebounds and 5.8 blocks per 36 minutes in Denver, numbers that would no doubt be welcome additions for the Pistons right now. Faried’s college numbers gave very clear indicators that he’d have success as a pro. Knight’s advanced college numbers weren’t good predictors that he’d have future success. Doesn’t mean one will succeed and one will fail, necessarily, but there was evidence that Faried would be a steal and evidence that Knight has issues to fix in his game, which is likely why he fell to the Pistons in the first place.

Yesterday, I spent a lot of time looking up stats of other point guards from their rookie seasons, to basically say, “See! This player looked mistake-prone and inconsistent as a rookie too and now he’s awesome!” I successfully cherry-picked some fun stats too — Steve Nash’s 10.8 PER as a rookie is only slightly less brutal than Knight’s 10.0. Knight is shooting the three at a much better percentage than John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul or Jason Kidd did as rookies. He’s turning it over less than Kidd, Nash, Rondo and Rose.

I could also cite this passage from John Hollinger about then-rookie Russell Westbrook’s high turnover rate:

Westbrook also is the youngest of the three, the best defender and the only one who had to change positions upon arriving in the NBA. All of which suggests he’s only scratching the surface of his potential — as does the fact that he has a higher turnover ratio than the other two, which, in a paradoxical twist of logic, is actually a good thing for a rookie. Historically, those with high turnover rates have had much higher rates of improvement in subsequent seasons.

Then I could cite this passage from TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott about why Knight should’ve kept shooting, despite Ben’s argument otherwise, even though he was missing 3-pointers against New Jersey:

Tal Neiman and Yonatan Loewenstein of the Safra Center at Hebrew University have done the latest significant research on the hot hand, which was recently published in Nature. They find that after hitting a 3, NBA players will make their next one six percent less often than they would after a miss. (And it’s not because they see their buddies in offensive rebounding position, either — their teams do poorly on those possessions as a whole.)

“These results suggest that players attempt too many 3pt shots after a made 3pt,” write the researchers, “and too few after a missed 3pt.” It’s part of a bigger body of research about how humans learn. We have a tendency to put too much emphasis on things that just happened. That last made shot sends us a strong signal we are great shooters.

But let’s be honest: I’m not constructing a well-thought-out argument from the above. I’m putting together mixed and matched pieces specifically cherry-picked to make it look like I have a point when I really don’t. Knight is having a poor season so far. There isn’t a statistical argument to be made otherwise. So my solution is simple: I’m not going to bother much with Knight’s statistics this season. That sounds like an ignorant statement to make, especially for someone who makes a passing effort to pay attention to many different stats when making evaluations. It isn’t going to get me anywhere with Knight though.

I like watching him play. I think he’s intelligent, I think he plays with toughness and I can’t remember watching him this season and thinking he wasn’t playing as hard as he could. He cares about what he’s doing on the court, and frankly, that’s an improvement over a lot of players the Pistons have ran out there the last few seasons. Ben is right though — there’s a very good chance that Knight’s ceiling isn’t “All-Star.” And it’s frustrating that Knight is already talked about in those terms — a couple writers who shall remain nameless have mentioned Knight and Isiah Thomas in the same sentence. Shame on them.

The Pistons have one player right now — Monroe — who is a franchise cornerstone-type talent. They have two other youngish players, Stuckey and Jonas Jerebko, who are credible rotation players. Knight is a prospect. He’s talented, but so is every prospect. Physical tools are not an indicator of future success. He’s smart too, and hopefully that’s enough for him to take advantage of some of those physical gifts and become a good player. The Pistons have a tendency to set the bar too high for their young players (see: Stuckey/Chauncey Billups comparisons by the organization), and they are in danger of doing that with Knight, so I can understand the frustrations when the narrative of the team — that they’ve found their point guard of the future (and maybe an all-time great PG if those damned Isiah comparisons are to be believed …seriously, stop it!) — clashes with the statistical reality.

I don’t know how good Knight is capable of being. I hope he’s really far from a finished product right now. But my bar for him is exceedingly low. He came out of college needing development. He had no summer league or training camp. He was thrust into the starting lineup and huge minutes faster than the team wanted him to be because of injuries. There is a good chance he’s going to have a brutal season statistically. It’s important to be realistic and not set expectations for him too high before he’s even achieved minimal success. But it’s also OK, at this point, to be satisfied with subtle, incremental improvements — he’s turning it over slightly less (though still too much) and getting more assists (though still not enough) than he was earlier in the season. His jumper is streaky and a work in progress, but he’s shot from three at a decent percentage this season. I love advanced stats. I think it’s impossible for any writer who eschews using them to do a credible job covering a league that increasingly is using them. But as a fan, I can also shut off that reality and temper my expectations for Knight. It makes him much more fun to watch.

31 Comments

  • Feb 3, 20123:46 pm
    by jake

    Reply

    “He was not a fan of the Knight pick, and a sleeper player in the draft who he (and many others, myself included) liked a lot before the draft, Kenneth Faried, is averaging 16.5 rebounds and 5.8 blocks per 36 minutes in Denver, numbers that would no doubt be welcome additions for the Pistons right now.”
    faried’s played in 4 games, averaging under 10 minutes per game. stop trying to make him out to be some rookie sensation that the pistons missed out on.
     

    • Feb 3, 20124:14 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Faried’s also a rookie on one of the deepest teams in the league. Yeah, his per-36 numbers are probably inflated. But the kid was a glass-eater in college. He’s really good.

      • Feb 3, 20125:45 pm
        by Max

        Reply

        He also plays the position Kenyon Martin vacated and he is basically being beaten out by Mozgov, Koufos, Al Harrington and the Birdman for time which is not the most imposing cast of players to compete for time with,

  • Feb 3, 20124:11 pm
    by danny

    Reply

    Yeah Stuckey was more efficient as a rookie; he also only came in in garbage time on a team 100X better than this one.

    Sorry, but anyone who uses that as an argument should immediately be ignored. You should find someone more challenging to argue with, Patrick.

    • Feb 3, 20124:14 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Ben is one of the best writers about the Pistons anywhere. His opinion on this is well-grounded in facts. He’s not saying he thinks Knight will suck, he’s just saying that he has quite a ways to go. He’s not even an average starting PG yet.

      I still love watching BK, but I don’t dispute that fact.

    • Feb 3, 20125:59 pm
      by brgulker

      Reply

      Starting at PG in the Playoffs against a very good Orlando Magic team does not equal garbage time.

      But why bother with facts?

      • Feb 3, 20127:15 pm
        by kamal

        Reply

        Mr. Gulker, Stuckey was passing the ball to a prime Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince and also an extremely polished Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess.  And he was just starting the plays.  he wasn’t orchestrating the offense.  He didn’t have to.

        Knight has WAY more responsibility than Stuckey had as a rookie AND during his second year.  

        You know that. 

  • Feb 3, 20124:21 pm
    by Steve K

    Reply

    I’ve come to a similar conclusion recently.

    While I like Knight as a player, he hasn’t exhibited anything through the first 24 games to say he’s the starting point guard of the future. 

    Of course, it’s WAY too early to write him off. But wanting Knight to be good and Knight actually being good are two different things.

  • Feb 3, 20124:40 pm
    by inigo montoya

    Reply

    I agree Patrick.  Statistics for a rookie on a subpar team really are not that meaningful.

    I think Knight will be good.  He has had some rough patches, but he will figure it out.

    He is relatively quick and can defense quick PGs, probably will shoot the 3 as good as Billups, and I love his floater in the lane.  Plus he shows he can rebound.

  • Feb 3, 20124:45 pm
    by Brad B

    Reply

    I think Brandon Knight has showed me he can the point guard of the Pistons just from a leadership standpoint. He also showed me that in certain points of the game he can take over. He might never be a pure point guard like Chris Paul or Deron Williams, but neither is Derrick Rose. I think if the Pistons had a couple of shot makers Knight’s assists could be up 2.5 more a game.

  • Feb 3, 20124:46 pm
    by neutes

    Reply

    It would be cool if Knight did one thing well, but he’s bad at everything except 3′s, which he’s maybe average at. I agree with Patrick that when you watch him you almost think he’s doing good so long as you completely ignore the result of everything he does. Maybe it’s because we accepted the fact he would suck from the beginning so he can do no wrong. I’m not sure how long this leash will last though. Gotta say from what I’ve seen things are not looking good. We’re probably looking at a player that has a peak of average, which happens to be better than anything else in the backcourt, but he may not even reach it.

    • Feb 3, 20126:01 pm
      by brgulker

      Reply

      I agree with Patrick that when you watch him you almost think he’s doing good so long as you completely ignore the result of everything he does

      This is an excellent way to say it. Eyeballing Knight doens’t indicate he’s a net negative. Some nights, maybe, when he’s played his worse. But most of the time, he looks competent, and sometimes, he looks brilliant.

  • Feb 3, 20125:01 pm
    by frankie d

    Reply

    knight has shown that he is exactly what he was supposed to have been: a combo guard who would need to learn how to play the point.
    his problem, imho, is simply that he is trying to make the transition, and really doesn’t have the kind of coaching and preparation and mentoring that would make the process any easier.  
    stuckey was pretty much the same type of player, but he at least had chauncey to show him how to play the position for one year.  knight has no one.
    stuckey mirror’s chauncey’s style, when he tries to run the team, for the most part – which tended to be fairly cautious. he has an oddly reckless or sloppy approach, when he has to make decisions on the fly.
    stuckey is also an excellent ballhandler, a skill that is often overlooked.  he can bring the ball up against pressure against almost anyone, as long as he doesn’t really have to make decisions.  his size definitely helps in that regard also.  no one can bully him and try to body him off the ball.
    knight’s handle, as clyde frazier noted the other night, can be “very shaky” and “atrocious”. 
    knight’s numbers will not be great because he is still learning a new position, but, imho, it is pretty clear that he is an nba player, with real potential.  and unlike some young guys who also have “potential” knight shows a certain fire and determination that almost always means that he will reach that potential.
    one of the things i like best about knight is that he always raises his defensive intensity, the bigger the challenge. against deron williliams, against rubio, when he plays irving, you can just see his intensity level gear up a notch or two.  that tendency is  an excellent one and one that will serve him well in the future.

  • Feb 3, 20125:18 pm
    by Mike Payne

    Reply

    I do not like Brandon Knight one bit, but having him makes me like Rodney Stuckey.  Which I thought was impossible.

    • Feb 3, 201211:08 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Don’t do it Mike. Then the terrorists/Joe Dumars win.

      • Feb 3, 201211:13 pm
        by Max

        Reply

        You look more like you deserve to be called “hater” everyday.

        • Feb 3, 201211:19 pm
          by Patrick Hayes

          Reply

          Jokes man. It’s just sports. If we can’t have a good time, what the hell are any of us doing here?

          • Feb 3, 201211:34 pm
            by Max

            Ok, but seriously, Dumars gets treated worse on these boards than if he had run the Bullets/Wizards like Wes Unseld for 25 years or like Elgin Baylor ran the Clips for three decades and Dumars was a friggin HOF player for this team and won two rings, won a ring as a GM and has now missed the playoffs TWICE in a row.   He’s a terrorist!?!

          • Feb 3, 201211:45 pm
            by Patrick Hayes

            That’s overly dramatic. There are people who hate him and want him fired, there are people like yourself who think he’s the greatest visionary who ever gave Charlie Villanueva $7 million a year.

            Most people are in the middle. They realize he brilliantly built a champion with a series of shrewd moves and they also realize he’s made some key boneheaded moves that have the team where it is now.

            Also, his playing career has nothing to do with his GM ability. Should be looked at completely separately, IMO. What he did here as a player is untouchable and great and he’ll always have that legacy. As a GM, he should be scrutinized the same way any GM would.

          • Feb 4, 201212:16 am
            by Max

            I agree that it should be separate but I was trying to demonstrate how badly he is being treated given how other HOF players have been while serving as GM.   Criticizing some of his individual moves is right and logical but there is a level of vitriol from a lot of people in this fan base that is just puzzling to me and the fact of Joe’s playing career adds to my sense of puzzlement that he is so hated.
            I think the objective facts of the case would put Dumars closer to being a Jerry West GM than an Unseld or Baylor and he is being treated worse than any of them as far as I can tell and the “haters” are definitely acting as if his record was like to Baylor’s or Unseld’s when they were total failures from start to finish and presided over decades of losing basketball.

          • Feb 4, 201212:19 am
            by Max

            And you can add Willis Reed’s long tenure as Nets GM to the list.  I used to attend Nets games and Willis would walk out into the stands and meet the fans during a period when the Nets had been just awful for a decade and the fans treated him enthusiastically and well.   Laser offered 1000 dollars for someone to bash Dumars head in.  That’s the difference .

          • Feb 4, 201212:48 am
            by Max

            BTW: Dumars is the greatest visionary that ever gave Charlie V 7 million a year because he’s the only one who did so………..joke.    I never liked Charlie V, tried to get behind him and would find it hard to muster up any enthusiasm ever again for him at this point so I don’t just agree with everything Dumars does, but I also didn’t really have anyone I wanted him to sign out of that free agent class and I don’t think it’s really that big a deal.   You see, and this is not about drinking kool-aid, Dumars has built up equity with me and I’ll make an analogy.  If I were a Boston fan and they started to stink next year after Garnett and Allen come up the books, I would pretty much have Danny Ainge’s back for several years because after his first few years as GM, when it seemed like he didn’t have a clue what he was doing, he turned it all around one summer and put together a contender and by doing so, he created a degree of creditability that would take several years to erase.   People cry “bullshit” over Dumars’ comments of building up the talent base over years but that is what it takes and when GMs start a job, they generally do so by creating a five year plan.   When you have been to the top and the time comes to rebuild, I think the GM who has taken you to to the top should receive the same pass that any rookie GM would get but this fan base is not giving that to Dumars because they don’t understand what rebuilding looks like.

          • Feb 4, 201212:53 am
            by Max

            Ultimately, there are only a handful of men alive on this planet who have proven they can effect positive change as a GM in the NBA and Dumars is certainly one of them.

  • Feb 3, 20125:18 pm
    by Scout

    Reply

    The thing that really worries me about Knight is his assists. I can deal with some turnovers, as though are normal for a rookie point guard. However, his ability to create plays is kind of pathetic. No rookie point guard playing atleast 30 minutes has ever averaged as few assists as he does. You’d think he’d be able to luck into atleast 4 apg. That’s barely anything for a point guard.

  • Feb 3, 20125:44 pm
    by b-money

    Reply

    Jason Terry 2.0

  • Feb 3, 20125:54 pm
    by Max

    Reply

    I think Knight has been pretty reluctant to drive the ball and some of the drives he has made have been disastrous.  Still, I like his speed, shooting and sometimes, his defensive tenacity, but he has not made me think anything like all-star yet.   I don’t think his ceiling should even thought of however at this time because of he lack of a summer league and training camp and that rookie point guards can improve immensely.
    All of that said, I do think Stuckey and Knight are great compliments to each other and should be allowed to grow together as the backcourt of the future for at least next year and maybe the year after before deciding whether it will work or not.   Their relative sizes and skills are such that the other is strong where one is weak and over time, I do envision them as taking turns bringing the ball up and initiating the offense and I see nothing wrong with that.

  • Feb 3, 20128:31 pm
    by vic

    Reply

    Brandon knight is killing the game…

  • Feb 3, 20129:05 pm
    by Andres Vivas

    Reply

    Brandon Knight is a classy kid who works exceptionally hard and complements Greg Monroe perfectly as the new cornerstone of the Detroit Pistons. From a leadership standpoint, Knight and Monroe are everything you could ask for as an owner or GM in terms of re-establishing a team-first attitude in Detroit and I look forward to seeing them develop together over the next few years. The Pistons were extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to select either of these guys outside the top 5 and I can stomach a 4-20 type of season if they manage to find another piece in next year’s draft that fits well with this talented young nucleus (Jerebko, Daye).

    Just a few months ago, people were clamoring for another Kentucky product, DeMarcus Cousins, when stories circulated that he might be available at the beginning of the year. That is precisely the addition the Pistons should not make during this rebuilding process. Cousins reminds me of Antoine Walker with a larger build (lazy, bad attitude, immature, poor shot selection). When Joe D appeared so charmed by Cousins in the lead-up to the 2010 draft, I told my Dad I’d take Darko II and save the Pistons the long-term damage of introducing the next day as our new franchise player someone so obviously cancerous to team chemistry. Instead, he has drafted in consecutive years Big Ben and Chauncey 2.0. Monroe and Knight are different players with different demeanors, but they’re a positive reflection of Dumars and what he values and I hope that they define the culture around these parts for many years to come.

  • [...] season, I wrote a post called, ‘Don’t ruin Brandon Knight by looking too closely at his stats right now.’ I’m doubling down on that. I’m not going to predict that Knight is destined for stardom. In [...]

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