Extension Candidate: Brandon Knight

The Bucks never seemed to have much of a chance to sign an extension the last time they were eligible to negotiate one with a point guard named Brandon who went in the top 10 picks in the draft, so perhaps it’s only logical that they’re reportedly anxious to reach a deal this time. Milwaukee appears motivated to come to terms with Brandon Knight rather than let him hit restricted free agency, as Brandon Jennings did in 2013, but there aren’t so many similarities beyond their names, pedigree and the position they play on the floor. There’s been no suggestion that Knight is eager to leave Milwaukee, as there was with Jennings. Even though Knight, the No. 8 overall selection in the 2011 draft, went two picks higher in the order than Jennings, the No. 10 choice from 2009, Knight doesn’t seem to have quite as much upside.

Knight’s agent, Arn Tellem, would probably dispute that last point, noting that Knight’s 17.9 points per game in his third NBA season this past year were more than Jennings has posted in all but one of his five seasons in the league. Knight has also proven a more effective three-point shooter over the course of his career, if only slightly so, and his 16.5 PER last season was better than Jennings’ mark of 15.6 for the Pistons. Still, even when Jennings put up the worst assists-to-turnovers ratio of his career, it was better than the one that Knight produced last year, when he recorded career bests in assists (4.9) and turnovers (2.6) per game.

Knight seems sensitive to criticism that he’s not cut out to play point guard, recently insisting to Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that it’s his best position. New coach Jason Kidd expressed confidence in Knight’s abilities but cautioned that he may still see time at shooting guard, as Gardner also noted. The Bucks have alternatives at the point, having claimed Kendall Marshall, who’s little more than two years removed from having been a lottery pick and who averaged 8.8 assists per game last season in 54 appearances with the Lakers. That number for Marshall reflects Mike D’Antoni‘s up-tempo scheme as well as the point guard’s own ability, but Marshall’s presence on the roster should serve to motivate Knight to either sign an extension, take command of the point guard position this season, or both. Marshall’s minimum-salary contract is up at the end of the season, and if he proves he can be a better point guard than Knight this year, it’s quite possible the Bucks would choose Marshall instead if they don’t already have Knight on a long-term deal. That threat is tempered somewhat because Milwaukee would have full Bird rights on Knight and only Early Bird rights on Marshall, but it still exists.

Moving to shooting guard would put Knight in a crowded mix on the wings that includes Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, O.J. Mayo, Khris Middleton, Jerryd Bayless, Jared Dudley and Damien Inglis, all of whom are either building blocks or have guaranteed salary on the books for 2015/16. It’s hard to see Knight beating out either Antetokounmpo or Parker for a starting spot long-term. The team’s desire to strike an extension clearly signals belief that Knight can handle the point, but the ability to negotiate from a position of strength no doubt fuels GM John Hammond‘s push for a deal. Fourth-year players who pass on extensions routinely bet on themselves, but in Knight’s case, there’s a lot to lose, particularly considering what happened on the restricted free agency market this summer.

Phoenix’s willingness to come up significantly on its four-year, $48MM offer to Eric Bledsoe, finally striking a five-year, $70MM arrangement, was a positive coda to a tense standoff that cast the market for point guards in a team-friendly light. There weren’t many front offices clamoring for free agents at the position Knight wants to prove he can play, in large measure because the league is flooded with quality point guards. Rajon Rondo is set to hit free agency next summer, and Ricky Rubio, Kemba Walker and Reggie Jackson are in line compete with Knight on the restricted market, contingent on whether they sign extensions.

Teams would probably be less anxious to pursue Knight if they instead see him more as an undersized shooting guard than as a point guard, even though smaller backcourts are more common than they used to be around the league. Knight’s wingspan of nearly 6’7″ helps him defensively against larger players, but it’s unclear if his defense is an asset. The Pistons were 7.3 points per 100 possessions better with Knight on the floor in 2012/13 compared to when he wasn’t, as NBA.com shows, but the Bucks were 4.0 points per 100 possessions worse with Knight in the lineup this past year.

The last point guard to sign an extension with an average annual value of less than $10MM was Mike Conley, and that deal has worked out remarkably well for the Grizzlies. Tellem surely doesn’t want a repeat of that situation, and so it only seems logical that he’d respond to the Bucks’ enthusiasm for an extension with proposals involving more than $10MM a year. It’s conceivable that the Bucks envision compromising with a deal similar to the four-year, $41MM arrangement the Sixers gave Jrue Holiday two years ago, an extension that proved tradeable even before it kicked in. Still, I think the Bucks would like to see whether doubts about his place on the roster and the market for point guards around the league lurk in the back of Knight’s mind and motivate him to sign a bargain deal for less than what Holiday received. I don’t think Tellem will let that happen, so it’s tough to see a path to a deal.

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