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.”

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