Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Knight is best known for being on the wrong end of one of the most memorable NBA dunks in years.
In March 2013, DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers flattened Knight with a vicious slam:
The dunk produced memes all over the internet, and Knight became the butt of the joke. Someone changed the intro of his Wikipedia page to read, “On March 10, 2013, Knight died in a game against the Los Angeles Clippers. The cause of death was determined to be DeAndre Jordan.”
When you type Knight’s name into Google, one of the suggestions that still comes up is “brandon knight dead”:
Knight was thefourth-best high-school prospect in the countrywhen he committed to Kentucky. He played only one year at the school, and was picked eighth overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 2011 NBA Draft. He was a mild disappointment in Detroit, averaging about 13 points a game over two years and never winning more than 30 games. And then the DeAndre dunk happened.
The following summer, he was traded from the Pistons to the Milwaukee Bucks, where he spent the 2013-14 season in relative obscurity on the NBA’s worst team.
This season, though, things have turned around. Knight is running a respectable Bucks team that sits in sixth place in the East, at 18-17. Knight, still only 23 years old, is having the best season of his four-year career, posting averages of 18 points, 46% shooting, 40% from three, four rebounds, and five assists per game.
The Bucks are the NBA’s most pleasant surprise, and Knight is a big reason for their success.
His career year is coming at the perfect time.
This past offseason, the Bucks didn’t offer Knight the contract extension he was eligible for, so he’ll be a free agent after the 2014-15 season. Milwaukee could offer Knight a qualifying offer of $US4.8 million to make him a restricted free agent so they can match any other offers he gets. Given his play this season, a reasonable price for Knight could exceed $US10 million per year, according to Grantland’s Zach Lowe.
The Bucks might go ahead and match any offer, despite a high price tag. Jason Kidd told the Journal Sentinel earlier this year that Knight was a huge part of the team:
“He’s a piece we want here. You talk about his work ethic, the way he approaches the game, he’s a professional, on and off the court… I want everyone to have the ultimate goal of winning and being financially set. Our job as coaches is to help them achieve that goal.”
Knight still has some sizable deficiencies in his game, but his year-to-year improvement is reason for hope. He’s been criticised for his weaknesses in seeing the floor — Lowe notes that Knight “will too often mistime his passes, throw them a foot or two out of reach, and dribble his way into ugly turnovers” — and questionable shot selection.
But Knight has improved his assists per game, assists percentage, and true shooting percentage each year he has been in the league. His teammate Khris Middleton said Knight’s “a scorer, but he can find guys open. He’s a lockdown defender.”
Kidd told Grantland that Knight will be fine if he focuses on his strengths:
“We all want guys to do everything, but sometimes something just doesn’t develop. But we shouldn’t get caught up in what a player can’t do. We need to focus on what he can do, and when Brandon does that, the floor will open up for him. The game will slow down.”
Still, Knight can’t seem to shake the perception he’s the butt of a joke. Earlier this season he had another embarrassing moment when he lost all body control in midair:
In November, Knight missed a wide-open layup to win the game against the Nets, and the same old Brandon Knight jokes came out:
But Knight’s play has been better than all of his embarrassing moments. In that game against the Nets, he later hit a game-tying three-pointer to send it into triple overtime. In the third OT, he assisted on two Bucks baskets that gave them the lead for good, and finally iced it with two free throws.
The Bucks are rebuilding around two promising young players in Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. If Knight continues his strong season, he could become a part of that young core going forward, get a lucrative free-agent deal, and erase the memory of those bloopers in the process.
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