ST. FRANCIS – Brandon Knight couldn’t help but notice.
When Eric Bledsoe recently signed a lucrative five-year, $70 million contract with the Phoenix Suns, Knight had to be one of the happiest people on earth.
After all, Bledsoe’s contract could have a direct impact on his negotiations for a new deal with the Milwaukee Bucks.
“I’m happy for him,’’ Knight said when asked his reaction to Bledsoe’s eyebrow-raising deal. “He’s in a blessed position. That’s a great spot to be in.’’
It’s a spot Knight undoubtedly hopes to be in himself in the not-too-distant future. And why not? Knight took a major step toward becoming a top-tier player last season when he was clearly demonstrated that he could be a high-octane scorer when he averaged 17.9 points.
After the All-Star break in February, when he was fully recovered from a right hamstring injury he suffered a two minutes into the season opener against the New York Knicks and when he finally grasped then Bucks coach Larry Drew’s offense, Knight was even more productive.
While most of his teammates were booking their summer vacations, knowing full well they would be part of the worst team in Bucks’ history (they won a franchise-low 15 games), Knight’s focus never waned. He played like a consummate professional, approaching each game like it was a postseason one.
In the Bucks’ final eight games, Knight scored at least 24 points in half of them. One was a 31-point explosion in the team’s season finale against Atlanta.
Was Knight’s second-half showing a mirage, a byproduct of playing on a bad team?
Or, was it a harbinger of great things to come?
Knight, an extremely confident but not cocky sort, firmly believes it’s the latter.
“I do. Of course,’’ Knight responded when asked if he considered himself an upper-echelon caliber player. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m not. I think I've showed I can play with the best of them.
“If I went down a list, I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do on the court.’’
From a statistical standpoint, that would be tough to argue. His numbers were virtually mirrored those of Bledsoe’s last season. To wit: Knight’s 17.9 point scoring average was better than Bledsoe’s 17.7. Knight averaged 4.9 assists compared to Bledsoe’s 5.5. Knight averaged 3.5 rebounds,while Bledsoe averaged 4.7. They both averaged 33 minutes.
Compound those numbers with the fact he's only 22 years old, Knight’s ship is about to come in – either in Milwaukee or with another NBA team.
The Bucks have until the end of the month to extend Knight’s contract. If they don’t, he’ll become a restricted free agent after this season. And, if that occurs, the offensively-challenged Bucks could be flirting with fire. Knight, who is represented by Arn Tellem, arguably the best agent in the game, could decide to become an unrestricted free agent the following season and undoubtedly draw keen interest from several teams in larger markets.
On the surface, at least, Knight doesn’t seem the least bit distracted by his contract situation. He insists he's only concerned about building on last season’s breakout campaign.
“That’s for agents to do and for the media to talk about,’’ Knight said about his contract situation. “He (Bledsoe) did his thing this year and his agent (Rich Paul) did a great job of getting him that deal.
“I’m taking it day by day. I’m not even focusing on that now. Either way, I’m going to play well this season like I played well last season.’’
Knight’s confidence has been bolstered by what he described as a “great’’ summer at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Knight didn’t spend much time laying in the sand by the Atlantic Ocean. He worked out religiously to get stronger, faster.
Knight, one of the smartest players in the NBA – he boasted a 4.3 grade point average in high school and had offers to attend Ivy League schools before opting for Kentucky – also spent countless hours watching film of players, past and present, of teammates and foes.
Knight became a film critic because he wanted to gain whatever edge he could, not only to make himself better but to make his teammates better.
“I wanted to see where my teammates liked the ball, especially my big men,’’ Knight said. “Like Larry (Sanders). I tried to figure out when I need to give him the ball and in what places. I wanted to see is tendencies and wanted to see where he is more successful.
“Common sense will tell you he’s more successful when he’s catching the ball at the rim and dunking. But I wanted to know when he catches it at the dots and what he likes to do then. I just wanted to get a better feel for my teammates.’’
Ditto for his new coach: Jason Kidd. The Bucks hired Kidd over the summer to replace the fired Larry Drew. Kidd was one of the greatest pure point guards ever and a sure-fire Hall of Fame selection.
“I watched a lot of film on him to understand him better,’’ Knight said. “He was a precise passer. I had watched him when he was in Dallas. He wasn’t really breaking guys down a lot, but he knew the offense in and out.
"You could tell by watching that he knew where to hit guys and when to call certain plays.’’
Knight is cognizant of Kidd’s glittering resume as an NBA player – 10-time All-Star, nine-time first- or second-team All-Defensive selection, two-time Olympic gold medalist, NBA champion (Dallas in 2011) and the second-leading player in assists and steals in NBA history – and aspires to construct a noteworthy one himself – with the help of Kidd.
“He’s a book of knowledge that you can draw from,’’ Knight said of Kidd. “He’s not the type of guy to force himself on you, but if you come to him and ask him something, he’ll share his knowledge with you.
“To me, it’s a blessing having him coach me. I hope to be as good as him some day. That’s why I work as hard as I do. For me, if I don’t believe I can be that type of a player, then I’m already selling myself short.’’
If it sounds like Brandon Emmanuel Knight is a man on a mission, step to the head of the class.
“Of course, I’m on a mission,’’ Knight said. "I was on a mission last year, and I’m on a mission this year.’’