Watson: Brandon Knight’s defense has led to his sparse minutes for Suns

Jan 3, 2017, 5:02 PM | Updated: 9:49 pm

Phoenix Suns guard Brandon Knight, left, pressures Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan during the f...

Phoenix Suns guard Brandon Knight, left, pressures Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, in Phoenix. The Suns won 99-91. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

(AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

LISTEN: Earl Watson, Suns head coach

Head coach Earl Watson called Brandon Knight the team’s most important player when he named him the Suns’ sixth man before the year.

Thirty-five games into 2016-17, Knight can hardly be considered part of the rotation.

The point guard has not received more than nine minutes per game in the last three outings against Toronto, Utah and Los Angeles before he sat out Tuesday against Miami with a wrist injury.

Visiting the Doug and Wolf show Tuesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, Watson insinuated that Knight’s defense and poor fit into the culture Watson is wanting to build is the reason for the sudden loss of playing time.

The Suns allowing 37 second-quarter points against the Clippers on Monday wasn’t all on Knight, Watson said, but he did explain why rookie Tyler Ulis has taken minutes away from the 24-year-old veteran.

“Ball pressure is most important at that position,” Watson said. “We feel like Tyler Ulis gives us that every time we put him on the court. It’s not scoring points, it’s not — you have 20 points and be efficient or offensively — it’s can you create a presence defensively. When you talk about building a culture, you go through your first season and you identify the players who are going to commit to the mindset or the physical sacrifice of defensively building that culture.”

Knight’s struggles this season have been most apparent offensively. In 22.6 minutes per game, he is averaging 12.5 points on 40 percent shooting.

Defensively, he has looked more capable compared to last season thanks to his improved health. And to the untrained eye, he’s shown more effort on that end.

Statistically, Knight not been poor either, according to Synergy Sports. He allows fewer points per possession this season (0.84) than starting guards Eric Bledsoe (0.98) and Devin Booker (1.00) and fares better than them on pick-and-roll coverage and contesting spot-up attempts.

Ulis, however, has taken Knight’s second-half minutes over the last three games and performed even better, giving up 0.78 points per possession. Offensively, he’s kept the ball moving.

“You have to break down the mental barrier of where they see value in themselves,” Watson said of his team overall. “For us, we have to go from a me-team to a we-team. So the me-team is, ‘I’m good enough to change the game offensively. I’m good enough to score enough points to stay in the game, have an impact.’ The we-team is, ‘I have to give everything I have defensively. When we get to offense, I have to move the ball and share the ball to regain some wind and some stamina.’ We have to change that mindset and that action.”

Empire of the Suns

Frank Vogel, Phoenix Suns head coach...

Kellan Olson

Suns make up for lack of continuity by getting right players at right time

Phoenix Suns head coach Frank Vogel said at media day on Monday he will make sure to try out plenty of rotations over the season.

1 day ago

Phoenix Suns Forward Kevin Durant (35) and Phoenix Suns Guard Devin Booker (1) looks on during a NB...

Kellan Olson

Phoenix Suns’ new era built around bond between Devin Booker, Kevin Durant

It was impossible to escape the feeling on Monday that the Phoenix Suns are entering a new era of the franchise.

2 days ago

Nassir Little drives on Devin BOoker...

Kevin Zimmerman

The if of the 5th: New Suns wing Nassir Little still has 3-and-D upside

Can the Phoenix Suns get more out of Nassir Little after the trade with the Portland Trail Blazers? And could he be the fifth starter?

3 days ago

Jordan Goodwin #7 of the Washington Wizards looks on against the New Orleans Pelicans at Capital On...

Kellan Olson

The if of the 5th: Jordan Goodwin’s sneaky case as Suns’ best option

The Phoenix Suns will need someone to defend elite guards in the playoffs and Jordan Goodwin might be the best option for that on the team.

4 days ago

Grayson Allen, Milwaukee Bucks...

Kevin Zimmerman

The if of the 5th: Grayson Allen has experience edge of potential Suns starters

Grayson Allen has been a starter on an elite team before. Should he hold the same role with the Phoenix Suns?

4 days ago

Eric Gordon #10 of the LA Clippers reacts during the second half Game One of the Western Conference...

Kellan Olson

The if of the 5th: Eric Gordon as starter would give Suns offensive firepower

Does it make enough sense for the Phoenix Suns to look past defensive question marks and start Eric Gordon for the best offense?

5 days ago

Watson: Brandon Knight’s defense has led to his sparse minutes for Suns