Remember Sesame Street? "One of these things is not like the others?"
I've mentioned before my fascination with symmetry. I wonder now if Sesame Street is to blame in part for what can only be described as a mild case of OCD. When one of the things is not like the others, it always jumps out at me, hits me over the head, screams 'Look at me, look at me!' Why? Why is the thing not like the others? Can I just point to it, and then everyone will say 'Yes, that's right!' and then the thing will go away? Please?
Here is a table of the NBA leaders in assists per game for the past three seasons. See if you can find the one that is not like the others.
|1||Steve Nash 11.6||Steve Nash 10.5||Steve Nash 11.5|
|2||Deron Williams 9.3||Baron Davis 8.9||Brevin Knight 9.0|
|3||Jason Kidd 9.2||Brevin Knight 8.8||Jason Kidd 8.3|
|4||Chris Paul 8.9||Chauncey Billups 8.6||Stephon Marbury 8.1|
|5||Baron Davis 8.1||Jason Kidd 8.4||Allen Iverson 7.9|
Need a hint? Of the nine unique names on the list, eight of them have played point guard for their country - one has not. Eight of them will start for their NBA team this season - one is in a battle to be the second string point guard. Two of them are under 24, but of the seven over 24, six of them have made an NBA all star team and All NBA - one veteran on the list has not. The two youngsters are well on their way. The two youngsters are on rookie scale contracts, but due for big paydays soon. Of the seven veterans, six of them make at least $10M per season - one veteran on this list will make $2M this season - after being waived by his former team.
Give up? The answer is Brevin Knight.
Now look, I'm not really suggesting that Brevin Knight is as good as Steve Nash or Jason Kidd or even Stephon Marbury (though in the case of Marbury, I know whom I'd pick as a teammate). But it's interesting, right? Every other name on that list is either an established star or a rising star. Brevin Knight was released by an expansion team and given a veteran's minimum contract to be a reserve for the Clippers. Over the last 5 NBA seasons, only 4 players have averaged at least 9 assists a game for an NBA season - Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Deron Williams and Brevin Knight. We're not talking about mediocre numbers here. We're talking about elite level numbers and elite company.
Sure, he was racking up those numbers on an expansion team. But these are assists we're talking about. Getting lots of minutes certainly helps, but explain to me how playing on the worst team in the league is going to help your assist numbers? If the guys on the floor around you aren't very good, it makes it harder to get assists, not easier, right?
Amazingly, one of the things that keeps him from being considered a top tier point guard is that he's not a great shooter, so defenders can play him almost exclusively for the pass. And he STILL puts up great assist numbers. How many assists would he get if defenders had to play him honest?
And yet when the Clippers were in the market for a veteran point guard this summer as an insurance policy against Sam Cassell's age and while they waited for Shaun Livingston to return, they were able to secure him for a mere 2/$4M. Meanwhile, such notable point guards as Smush Parker, Jason Hart, Steve Blake and Chucky Atkins all signed for more money. Turns out, none of those guys ever averaged 9 assists per game. I'm actually pretty shocked that the Clippers were able to get such a quality veteran point guard so cheaply. While Jason Hart did a fine job for the Clippers last season, let's face it - he's not nearly as good a Brevin Knight. In fact, Hart's big career year in Charlotte in 04-05 when he averaged 9.5 points and 5 assists, he was Knight's backup, and Knight averaged 10 and 9.
Aside from his outside shooting, there are of course two other knocks on Brevin Knight - one, he's small. That much is true. At 5'10", he is one of 5 players in the league under 6 feet tall, and until and unless Earl Boykins signs, he's the second smallest player in the league, taller than only Nate Robinson - and Brevin Knight won't be winning any dunk contests. Two - he's injury prone. This may come with being small and playing in a big man's league, but in 10 NBA seasons, he has played in as many as 70 games only once, and that was his rookie year.
But his size doesn't keep him from being an effective defender. He's quick enough to stay in front of the top guards in the league, and he also has a knack for picking up steals, averaging almost 2 per game in his career, and was second in the league two seasons ago with 2.3 per game. While Sam Cassell will be the primary starter at the point for the Clippers this season, it's very possible that Knight will get the nod against the likes of Chris Paul, Allen Iverson, Tony Parker and the like.
As for his shooting, he needs to be able to make an open 18 footer. If he can do that, he's an asset, If he can't he's a liability. It's pretty simple. (Of course we remember this equation with Hart last season). Defenses will look to help off of him this season, so he'll get plenty of open looks. The rest of his offense is terrific. He'll be great leading the Clippers new up tempo attack, and he is an amazing interior passer, getting the ball to finishers in the right place at the right time when you think there's just no lane.
Despite Knight's elite point guard statistics, he may not even be the first point guard off the bench for the Clippers this season. Dan Dickau has played well in camp and in pre-season, and may get the first call to relieve Cassell. We'll see. Dickau is the better offensive player, adding three point shot to solid passing skills, while Knight is the much better defender. But as much as MDsr seems to like Dickau, what he likes is defense and steady if unspectacular point play. My guess is that Knight will get the minutes as long as defending the opposition point guard is an issue, which means most of the time.
And if Sam Cassell gets hurt, you could do worse than starting the guy who was second in the league in assists two seasons ago.