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Examining the shot selection of Brandon Knight

Phoenix Suns' Brandon Knight signals three against the Dallas Mavericks during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

When discussing a player’s shot selection in the NBA, context is necessary.

What are a player’s strengths and weaknesses? How much time is left in the game? How many seconds remain on the shot clock? How is the defense positioned?

On all offensive possessions, the number-one goal is to work for an open shot. The majority of teams prefer these attempts come from specific areas on the court. The Phoenix Suns are no different. Looks at the rim are the preference because they can result in the highest percentage make or a free throw. Open catch-and-shoot threes off of quality ball movement are also always a positive result. If those aren’t available, and you’re forced into a two-point jumper, it can still be broken down further.

“It’s the same analytics stuff,” said Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek. “Dribbling off a two you want to try and get it in the free throw line area. That will raise your percentages. When you’re shooting just inside the three-point line off the dribble, that’s a hard shot.”

This is an aspect of decision making guard Brandon Knight has struggled with early in the season. Here are four examples when Knight shot off the dribble being in contact with the three-point line:

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That’s Knight showing a lack of awareness and feel for where he is on the court. On any of those attempts, if he simply is a little bit farther back, it goes from a bad attempt to a good one.

His struggles aren’t that simple. Knight’s true shooting percentage (accounts for threes and free throws) is trending back towards his rookie and second-season marks rather than progress he made in the third and fourth years of his career.

Through two years, Knight’s TS% was .511, that raised to .523 in his third season and .543 the following.

The biggest reason for the drop down to .514 through seven games in 2015-16 is that he is not getting to the free throw line. Knight is only attempting 1.9 free throws per game, down from his 3.3 career average.

His percentage of pull-up jump shots from outside 10 feet have gone from 28.8% last season to 33% this season. Meanwhile, off-the-dribble attempts inside 10 feet decreased from 32.5% in 2014-15 to 24.3% now. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s a meaningful amount.

In certain situations, like when the shot clock is running down, these attempts can be necessary. Such attempts by Knight aren’t typically forced by good defense. It’s more a case of him settling for a shot.

Almost 16 percent of Knight’s shots this season have come with between 18-15 seconds left on the shot clock. More than half (2.6 of 4.1) of his shots per game in that time frame are two-point attempts, and he’s shooting a below-average 39.5% on those looks.

That attempt came with 17 seconds left on the shot clock — there’s just no reason for it. The possession only had two passes in the half court and no effort was made to put the Clippers in an uncomfortable position. Knight lets his opponent off the hook by taking a mid-range contested jumper in what could probably be classified as a double team.

More of the same from Knight here as he lets this contested mid-range jumper fly with 18 seconds left on the shot clock. There’s no one under the rim to rebound and the Pistons had to expend minimal energy to get a stop. Knight can get a look like that any time he wants — it should never be the first option.

Here is one last example of Knight not putting any pressure on the defense. It’s a small victory — at least it’s an open shot — but still not one that should be fired off with 18 seconds left on the shot clock. Because of the forced look, the Suns have poor spacing at the time of the release and the Thunder are able to have four players in a close vicinity. No Tyson Chandler rim run, no side-to-side passing, no dribble penetration towards the rim. The Suns want to play fast, but the key is to play fast and smart.

These are all easily correctable flaws if Knight is open to making adjustments to his game. At this very moment, at the age of 23, he might not be there yet.

“For me, it’s just about shooting good shots,” said Knight. “Whatever that shot may be. Whether it’s a foot on the line, foot inside the line, foot outside the line, in the paint — whatever a good shot, I’m gonna try and take it.

“I’m taking the best shot. If I come off a screen, and the screen is on the line, and I’m open, I’m gonna shoot it on the line. Whatever the shot is I’m just trying to take the shot, make sure it’s the best shot. If somebody else is open, try to get it to them.”

It’s important to remember how young Knight is. This isn’t a case of someone being selfish or having bad intentions — he’s simply playing how he feels comfortable while still learning. With more practices and game reps, the hope is he can naturally start to gear his shot selection to more optimal circumstances.

Knight is shooting 42.9% on catch-and-shoot threes and making 60% of his looks in the restricted area.

When the Suns have played well, Knight has been a big part of that success. The key is pushing him towards a style that can bring on more consistency. A little tweaking in his shot selection would go a long way.

All numbers from this story are from NBA.com and basketball-reference.com

 

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