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Brandon Knight On Free Agency: Priority Is Winning

The Bucks are a surprise in the East, led by point guard Brandon Knight. Will he stay in Milwaukee?

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The Milwaukee Bucks have jumped from a last-place standing in the Eastern Conference last year (15-67 or .183) to a sixth-place ranking (with a current record of 30-23) at this unofficial halfway point in the NBA season. It’s been an incredible, and rather surprising, year for the Bucks, giving the franchise and its supporters renewed hope for a sustained successful future.

There are many factors at play to explain how Milwaukee has experienced such a dramatic improvement. To start with, the players have bought into the defensive principles of new head coach Jason Kidd. Their defensive rating is currently ranked fourth in the league, which marks a head-turning rise from their bottom-ranked defense last season. Their bench scores an average of 42.3 points per game, which is second only to the Phoenix Suns (42.7). Chemistry and communication between the players is noticeably better, led by the Bucks’ starting point guard Brandon Knight.

The Bucks have not been represented in the All-Star Game since Michael Redd appeared 11 years ago. Many thought the 23-year-old Knight would be named an All-Star this year based on his impressive achievements, both individually and team-wise. Knight tops his teammates in points (17.8), assists (5.4), steals (1.6), free throws (3.3), three-pointers (2.0), field goals (6.2), Player Efficiency Rating (18.5) and even minutes (32.5). He is averaging career highs across the board shooting the ball – .881 in free throws, .409 in three-pointers and .435 in field goals.

But when the 2015 All-Star starters and reserves were announced, neither Knight nor any other Bucks players were named.

“Definitely, I think we should have had a representative, [going] from what we did last year to the turnaround of what we are doing this year,” Knight said at All-Star Weekend in New York City. “But it’s just the NBA, so it is what it is.”

Some modesty is displayed in his statement, as he is the player who deservedly receives the most credit for the turnaround. When Miami HEAT’s Dwyane Wade dropped out of the All-Star game, he told the Sun Sentinel that Knight should replace him. NBA commissioner Adam Silver instead picked Atlanta Hawk’s Kyle Korver.

“I can’t control what happens with that, because my job is just to continue to get better individually and help improve the team by winning games,” Knight said, who will appear in the Skills Challenge during All-Star Weekend. “Sometimes being an All-Star comes with that and sometimes it doesn’t, so the only things I can focus on are the things that I can control.”

So far, he’s showing remarkable control on the court and over his team. Knight was insightful in describing his biggest step taken this season over last year.

“I would say me just learning how to win close games and learning how to lead a little bit better,” Knight shared. “Coach Kidd shows me a lot of things, not just in basketball, but things like talking with guys and attitudes and stuff like that. It’s just a lot of things that other coaches wouldn’t really teach you. Our coaches teach us not just basketball, but life as well, and it’s really helpful for a lot of the young guys that we have on our team.”

As for what has contributed to the team’s success this year, Knight again tipped his hat to the coaches.

“I would have to say our coaching staff did a great job,” Knight said. “My peers and I are not only trusting each other, but trusting the coaching staff and just telling ourselves that we are a good team. We hold ourselves to that standard from day one, and I think that is why we have had so much success thus far.”

As a refresher, Kidd left his first-ever head coaching position with the Brooklyn Nets after just one season and accepted the Bucks gig last summer. Expectations for any significant improvement were low – given that they won just 15 games last season – and that’s an understatement. Knight is clearly a fan of playing for Coach Kidd for reasons that go beyond the game.

“It’s a great experience and a great opportunity, having a guy who is just so knowledgeable about the game and who has so much experience in the NBA as a player, so he know how it works,” Knight said. “Just having a guy like that on your side coaching each and every day is not only special for myself, but for a lot of the older guys. I think they really enjoy playing for him because he makes it easier. I’ve been in a situation where a lot of players despised the coach, and they would get on the court just to do things to get the coach mad, but they are hurting their brothers on court doing that. It’s just a great situation to be in where everyone likes playing for Jason.”

Will this “great situation” be enough to entice him to stay in Milwaukee? Since the parties failed to reach an agreement to extend his rookie contract, Knight is set to become a restricted free agent this summer.

Knight, the eighth overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, was asked what he will be seeking in free agency.

“Well, speaking for myself, I would want to go into a situation where I can win,” Knight said regarding what factors he’ll consider in free agency. “I think that’s the biggest thing. Winning has to be a priority. I’m pretty sure if you ask any top free agent, winning is going to be the main thing.

“Most free agents have already been in the league four years, and some seven years, so they really look [at everything] when making their decision. But they prefer to go to a situation where things can click right away, and not something that might be three or four years down the line.”

Now, moving into the second half of the season, the Bucks are focused on maintaining their contending spot and even climbing up even further.

“We just have to keep pushing,” Knight said. “We can’t be satisfied, and guys got to continue to be disciplined. We have to continue to do what we have been doing, which includes trusting one another and then taking that to the next level. Our veterans have been doing a good job talking to the younger guys and we just have to keep our eye on the prize.”

With the Bucks’ surprising start to the season, could they offer even more surprises down the stretch, i.e. moving into a home court situation? Based on what we’ve seen from Knight and his team this year, don’t count them out. They are just three games behind the fourth-place Washington Wizards (33-21) and fifth-place Cleveland Cavaliers (33-22) with 29 games to go until the end of the regular season.

Susan Bible covers the Oklahoma City Thunder for Basketball Insiders and writes about all NBA teams. She is a Senior Newslines Editor and contributes to fantasy basketball coverage.

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