Does Brandon Knight Have Early-Round Draft Value in Fantasy Basketball?
Brandon Knight appears to have finally found himself a home.
After being one-and-done at Kentucky and being selected eighth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons, Knight has not since spent more than two seasons with an NBA team. He was in Detroit from 2011 to 2013 but was then part of the trade that sent him to the Milwaukee Bucks and Brandon Jennings to the Motor City.
It seemed as if Knight was a great fit in Milwaukee. In his first season with the Bucks, he played in 72 games, averaging 17.9 points, 4.9 assists, 3.9 rebounds and shooting 42.2% from the floor, all of which were career bests. Last season, Knight was on his way to an appearance in the All-Star game with the Eastern Conference as one of the top guards in the East. Much the same as his first year in Milwaukee and under the tutelage of Jason Kidd, Knight was averaging 17.8 points, 5.4 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 43.5% from the floor. He was establishing himself as a leader, hitting clutch shots and distributing the ball. Knight was instrumental in making the Bucks one of the best stories of the first half of the 2014-15 NBA season.
There was every reason to believe that he would be part of the rebuilding program that has been progressing in Milwaukee. The only issue for the Bucks was Knight's impending free agency and the risk that they might lose him.
Then came the 2015 NBA trade deadline.
Knight found himself packing his bags, despite the significant contributions he had made during those 52 games with the Bucks. He got the call that he had been traded to the Phoenix Suns to join Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt, filling the void that was created after the Suns had dealt Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. Apparently, the Suns were willing to risk Knight's upcoming free agency in exchange for what he brought to the table.
From the start of the Suns' 2013-14 season, coach Jeff Hornacek and general manger Ryan McDonough implemented their two-point-guard lineup. Many believed that the system would fail, analogizing it to an NFL team attempting to play with two quarterbacks on the field at the same time. But in their first season under this system, they looked like geniuses. Despite just missing the playoffs, the Suns were one of the surprises of the NBA. Goran Dragic was the NBA’s Most Improved Player and Eric Bledsoe excelled until a knee injury sidelined him for 39 games.
Last season was another story for the Suns. They added Isaiah Thomas into the mix and between Thomas, Bledsoe and Dragic, the offense sputtered. There was a trickle-down effect, and the Suns struggled, both on and off the floor. They went from one of the "feel-good" stories of the prior season to one of the busts of the 2014-15 season.
The eventual trades of two-thirds of that backcourt led most to believe that they would be abandoning their two-headed point guard system, which morphed into a short-lived three-point-guard system.
But Ryan McDonough did not conclude that it was a system issue; rather, he believed it was all about fit. Apparently, McDonough had Brandon Knight on his radar for quite some time. This should not have come as much of a surprise given the value that McDonough appears to place on players coming out of the Kentucky Wildcat program (McDonough has added Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin and, most recently, Devin Booker during his tenure with the Suns).
Immediately following the trade, McDonough commented about the strength of Knight's work ethic and his basketball IQ. From McDonough's perspective and with the apparent support of Hornacek, the Suns landed the perfect complementary player to Eric Bledsoe.
Knight had to make considerable adjustments to his game to fit into the Suns' style of play. He was no longer the primary ball handler that he was with the Bucks. He had to work more off the ball in the Suns' offense. The adjustment did not come easy for Knight, and he struggled to find consistency with his shot. He shot over 40% from the floor in only five of the eleven games he played with the Suns last season. His overall field goal percentage with the Suns was 35.7% compared to that career best of 43.5% he had with Milwaukee before the trade. In addition, his assists were down from 5.4 to 4.5, his rebounds went from 4.3 to 2.1 per game, and even his free throw percentage dropped from 88.1% to 82.8%.
When assessing Knight's value, one could look at the drop in performance or you could look beyond the numbers. For example, consider Knight's performance with Suns on March 6th in a game against Orlando. He scored 28 points while only putting up 15 shots. He went 10 of 12 from the foul line and added 7 assists and 3 steals. Three days later, he came out on fire against the eventual NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, scoring 13 points in his first 13 minutes of play. He was five of nine from the field and two of two from beyond the arc. He was aggressive in leading the charge in a big game against the first place team in their division.
But what occurred in that 13th minute of play prevented us from really seeing the value that Knight brought to the Suns. He went down with an ankle injury which virtually ended his season. He did return for one game late in the year, but he went 1 of 10 from the floor in 22 minutes. Knight would eventually have surgery on that ankle at the end of the season.
Despite the injury, the Suns and Knight decided to stick together this offseason when he signed a contract extension despite being a restricted free agent. He committed to the Suns, and the Suns invested heavily in Knight when they agreed to a reported 5-year, $70 million deal.
Knight has loads of potential in this high-octane Suns offense. He can shoot, he can drive, he can create, he can get out on the fast break and make plays. His style of play fits what the Suns want to do. He seems to have great chemistry with Eric Bledsoe, who is becoming the face of the Suns’ franchise. While Bledsoe will likely assume the primary ball handling role on this team, the Suns' approach is that when Tyson Chandler or Alex Len or one of the big men lands a rebound, they will immediately make the outlet pass to either of their two ball handlers to start the fast break. With opposing defenses back on the heels, the floor will open for both scoring and assist opportunities for Knight.
With all this in mind, is Knight being undervalued going into this season?
According to our 2015-16 NBA projections, Knight comes in at 18th among guards, ahead of popular early fantasy draft picks like Gordon Hayward, Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Kyle Korver and DeMar DeRozan. He is part of an offense that might require him to become more of a jump shooter at times, which may lower his field goal percentage. Playing alongside Bledsoe, he may not get the bulk of assists. However, those potential dropoffs may be offset by his scoring, free throw percentage and steals.
The Suns are known for their offense and high point totals and they expect to be among the top in the league once again in many offensive categories. That could only help a player like Knight, who will absolutely have the ball in his hands often and will be relied upon heavily by the Suns.
Keep an eye out for the effects of that ankle injury early this season, as the Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro reported that Knight still does not feel 100%. But once he is, Knight will undoubtedly become that sleeper worthy of being snagged earlier in your draft.