Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Dark Knight

I know I wrote a post about rookie PG Brandon Knight a few months back, when the lockout was fresh, but so much has happened since then that he's almost completely dropped off the radar. With all the talk of incoming rookie PGs Ricky Rubio, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and even, dare I say it, Jimmer Fredette, many people have forgotten about the next in a line of great Calipari point guards; Brandon Knight. Really, the more I think about it, the more I can't figure out why. Let's take a look back at his amazing achievements to date and see if we can perhaps understand why he's dropped off the radar so suddenly.

Knight had an illustrious high school career, which was capped off with back-to-back selections as Gatorade National Player of the Year, joining only a handful of players (including Lebron James) to win it as a junior in high school. His stats for that junior year? 31.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 3 steals per game. Despite all this, he was overlooked as top player in his class in favour of players like Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Kyrie Irving and even Josh Selby by the time he graduated. It's possible that he peaked too soon, or that he didn't dunk enough (which is somewhat true) and couldn't stay on top in the AAU world we lived in.

With all the accolades of high school (including about every type of All-American you could imagine) behind him, Knight was set for stardom in following John Wall to Kentucky and succeeding Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose as Calipari-coached PGs. It was apparent from the get-go that the freshman was going to be a one-and-done, as he overcame his early struggles to quickly become a leader of the young Wildcats. He did more than just lead, he put up some damn fine numbers too; with averages of 17.3ppg, 4.1apg and 4rpg while shooting 42% from the floor, 37.7% from deep and 79% from the charity line in the 38 games played.

Stats aside, he also led the Wildcats to the SEC championship, and the Final Four of the 2011 NCAA tournament. His great run with the Wildcats included a memorable performance against Harrison Barnes and the Tar Heels in the Elite Eight, with the two of them trading clutch makes from deep down the stretch. Ultimately, Knight would prevail over the number one ranked player of his class, only to fall just short of glory by facing the eventual champions UConn led by Kemba Walker. Bearing in mind that John Wall and Demarcus Cousins could only get to the Elite Eight, despite arguably a deeper team which was certainly more talented, Knight's accomplishments stand for themselves. And yet, and yet...

The pre-draft frenzy came along after the Finals, and it seemed certain that Knight would be a top-five pick; Utah needed a long-term prospect to replace the departed Deron Williams, Cleveland could take Derrick Williams first and require a point, and Toronto surely wouldn't pass up on the opportunity to finally get a young, athletic PG to replace Calderon? However, the top-5 picks came in and a surprising move to grab Thompson 4th overall by the Cavaliers left promising big-man Valanciunas available for the Raptors, whose need for a true inside presence was too strong for them to take Knight. The Wizards selected 6th, but they had Wall to run the point, and as good as Brandon was, Wall was coming off an amazing year, despite his injuries. Somehow, the Bobcats found themselves with the 7th and 9th picks, and a chance to replace the underwhelming Augustin with a cold-blooded scorer with star potential in Knight. Knight was being hyped as a possible 3rd overall pick, and amazingly, was there at 7.

However, MJ decided to lock up Bismack Biyombo instead, certain he'd found a winner (I'm still shaking my head at this one), and finally, Knight was taken 8th overall by the Pistons. Jordan would go on to select Kemba Walker with the 9th pick. Despite this, I figured Knight had ended up in a good situation after all; new ownership was incoming, the Pistons had young talent in Daye, Monroe and Jerebko, and Stuckey looked to be on the way out. At the time, I thought Brandon might just have a shot at ROY, with the minutes and responsibility he'd get.

Then the lockout happened, and unlike some of the less-grounded players in the NBA, Knight put his head down and carried on killing it in the classroom, because they couldn't lock him out of there. Nary a peep was heard of him for the whole lockout, and consequently he just slipped the minds of many. When the lockout ended, people turned their attention to those aforementioned rookie PGs, leaving Knight on an island seemingly by himself.

Detroit fans should rejoice though, because while he not be as flashy as Rubio, as accomplished as Kemba, as popular as Fredette or hyped as Irving, over the games I saw of him, there were flashes of a quiet, cold, passion driving Knight which makes you think that when all is said and done, he'll emerge from the shadows as a basketball hero for the city of Detroit. To paraphrase the Batman film, Knight might not be the flashy, ratings-boosting hero they need after the horrors of the economic recession, the Kuester era and the terrible BG/CV signings, but he's the hero they deserve; the hard worker, the quiet assassin, the dark knight.

Forget him at your peril.

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