Phoenix Suns: The Bright Knight Rises

Feb 23, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Brandon Knight (3) prior to the game against the Boston Celtics at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 23, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Brandon Knight (3) prior to the game against the Boston Celtics at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Eric Bledsoe was thrilled when presented with the hypothetical of playing with Brandon Knight, according to Phoenix Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby.

After last Thursday’s trade deadline, when Phoenix ripped off three trades in the last 10 minutes before the deadline, it became a reality.

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“We were real close especially back in college especially, you know we went to the same college?” Bledsoe said. “During the summer time we used to come back and play, so yeah we got a pretty good relationship.”

“I think we’ll make a dynamic backcourt,” added the 23-year-old Knight in his opening remarks at his first home practice Monday morning.

Despite being on his third team in four years in the league, Knight has made significant improvements every year he’s been in the league.

“Being comfortable, I’m always going to work hard that’s not an issue, being in a situation where people are confident in me, trusting in me and getting me the ball, and you know (Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd) just told me to play my game,” Knight said of how he made yet another leap this season.

A near All-Star in Milwaukee (Suns general manager Ryan McDonough thought he should have been), he certainly has the confidence of the front office.

While he’s not a better player than Goran Dragic is, and you could have a debate about him vs. Isaiah Thomas, Knight is a better fit than either of them next to Bledsoe. He’s three years younger than Thomas and five younger than Dragic.

McDonough stated that  going from “28 to 23” at the second guard spot was a significant factor in making the trades.

Knight boasts a higher three point percentage and a higher assist percentage than either of the two outgoing guards, which allows Bledsoe to focus solely on attacking playing next to his fellow Kentucky Wildcat. He’s also more comfortable off the ball than his predecessors, which should prevent some of the “there’s only one ball” issues that ultimately led to Dragic’s exit.

“Whether I’m on the ball, off the ball, even point guards get off the ball during the play. It’s really just about making plays as a basketball player,” Knight said.

Knight profiles as an excellent athlete and though he isn’t quite the savant at the basket that Dragic is, his 57 percent mark in the restricted area — thanks in part to his fabulous floater — isn’t anything to laugh at.

“That’s what makes him tough, he can get all the way to the basket and dunk it on you, he can shoot the three or he can shoot the midrange shot,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said.

Hornacek can be excused for being a little over enthusiastic about his young point guard, but Knight’s midrange game needs some work. Per, Knight only shoots 37 percent from that range and despite the inefficiency, he attempts over 25 percent of his shots from that area.

His reliance on his still developing midrange game is why he’s never shot better than 43 percent (this year) for his career. If he can eliminate those shots, he has a chance to be one of the most efficient guards in the league, exactly what Dragic was last year.

Knight boasts averages of 17.7 points, 5.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game, but his perhaps his most impressive stat is the 4.3 GPA he boasted in high school.

“He’s a smart kid, he’s picked up some plays yesterday and ran over the stuff, I was encouraged by the fact that he sat there and directed some of the other guys,” Hornacek said.

While it’s slightly concerning that Knight’s teammates needed his help despite being here literally months longer than he has, it’s certainly indicative of just how smart Knight — who at one point considered going to Yale — is.

In an interview with Grantland’s Zach Lowe when he first got the job, Hornacek talked about the benefits of the two point guard attack:

"“And in our set offense, depending on the plays we run, maybe it’s Goran one time with Eric off the ball, but Eric goes on the ball for another set of plays. We’ll have to get a feel for it.”"

Hornacek feels like the system will work the same way for Knight, allowing him to take turns going all out and conserving energy.

“It gives them an opportunity to figure out then, hey you’re going to dog one of their best players or point guards down the court  or then switch off and let the other guy do it,” he said.

The whole theme of last Friday’s post-deadline press conference and the deadline itself was moving back to the outstanding camaraderie that defined the success of last season’s team.

Bledsoe immidiatly noticed a weight off the team in Knight’s debut game.

“I think it went perfect even though we lost, we took steps in the right direction, you know everybody came out and played hard, I think that was the first time everybody came out and felt good about the game,” Bledsoe said.

Basketball often comes down to chemistry on and off the court as much as it does talent. While Dragic and Thomas were by no means bad guys, their mutual need for the ball led to tension and an increasingly disconnected team.

Knight comes off as the consummate professional and perhaps more importantly, there’s only one of him.

Anything that Knight contributes statistically (and his 20-point home debut provided suggests that could be quite a bit) is gravy, it’s what his presence means for his teammates that’ll lead to a happier team for the rest of this season.

Next: Goran Dragic: Top 10 Moments With The Phoenix Suns

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