When Goran Dragic was traded to Miami, the Phoenix Suns had two options. The team could stand pat with Eric Bledsoe (and Isaiah Thomas, for that matter) or trade for another point guard.
The Suns opted to trade a very valuable draft pick and a couple of moderately valuable players for Brandon Knight. Knight was having a very good season in Milwaukee, and, on the surface, looks like a good fit next to Eric Bledsoe and in the Phoenix system in general.
However, not much has gone right for Knight in Phoenix. And although Phoenix will likely be committed to Knight given how much it gave up to get him, it’ll be interesting to see just how much Knight is worth to the organization.
Knight has been hurt for most of his time in Phoenix and hasn’t played well when he’s been on the floor. He’s played in just 11 of a possible 23 games and is shooting under 36 percent from the floor with the Suns, including under 31 percent from three. His rebounding, assist, and steal numbers are down as well, as are his free throw attempts and percentage. Perhaps his injuries have affected his play, but it’s obvious Knight hasn’t lived up to expectations since his arrival in Phoenix.
Yet, there have been flashes of the Knight that the Suns expected to see. And the type of player he was for Milwaukee didn’t just evaporate. If Knight can get his production level up next season, he could be an intriguing fit next to Bledsoe.
The Suns love having two capable ballhandlers to run the offense, both in the half-court and transition. The misdirection that Phoenix runs is more effective with two players capable of taking the defense off the dribble and running the offense.
Knight can be an excellent player for this system. The jury is out on whether he should be a lead guard on a team, but he can definitely run the point sometimes, and is a good enough shooter to play off the ball.
Watch this creative look from Phoenix (via YouTube):
It’s a simple handoff play, but Elfrid Payton has be wary of Knight taking him off the dribble when he gets the ball. When Knight hands the ball off to Bledsoe, Payton has to contain one of the fastest guards in the league, or Bledsoe will have an easy path to the rim. Victor Oladipo, who is guarding Bledsoe and trailing the play, doesn’t communicate with Payton, and both players jump out to guard Bledsoe. Meanwhile, Knight sneaks to the top of the key with no one near him, and has the shooting ability to nail the three.
It’s these kind of looks that are confusing for defenses, and are a huge part of what Phoenix likes to run. Knight’s skillset should fit, provided he can get back to playing at a high level.
Unfortunately, due to Knight’s injury, Phoenix didn’t get a great glimpse at exactly how Bledsoe and Knight can co-exist. And with the cap rising, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that another team throws a decent chunk of money at Knight.
Philadelphia could decide Knight is the kind of player that would help speed up the rebuilding process. The Lakers could decide Jordan Clarkson isn’t the long-term answer, and the Jazz could add another combo guard. Who knows what the Kings will do?
All of these possibilities seem unlikely on their own, but add them up and it’s very possible someone could offer Knight a decent contract.
Even if someone offers a contract north of $15 million a year, it’s likely Phoenix will match. The Suns had to know that was a possibility when Knight was acquired, and it wouldn’t make sense to give up the Lakers pick for a rental. The team has under $43 million committed in salary for next season, and the only rotation players the team has to consider re-signing are Brandan Wright and Gerald Green. Having Markieff Morris signed to a team-friendly deal through 2018-19 allows the team to spend elsewhere, and some of that money could be allocated to Knight.
The only question the Suns have to answer is whether Knight is the right fit next to Bledsoe. Bledsoe is already owed $57 million over the next four years, and Phoenix has to be certain Knight can be a complement to Bledsoe and that both players are on board with handling the point guard duties. The last thing Phoenix needs is another Dragic situation.
If the Suns decide Knight can replace most of what Dragic gave them and both of the point guards are on board, then the team will match any realistic deal he’ll get in restricted free agency. If Phoenix decided from the small sample with the team that he doesn’t fit, or if Bledsoe wants to be a full-time point guard, then the situation will get very interesting.