Former Kentucky guard Brandon Knight has been traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Houston Rockets in a multi-player deal.
Knight, along with the number eight overall draft pick from 2016, Marquese Chriss, have been traded to the Rockets in exchange for Ryan Anderson and his hefty contract along with 2018 second-round draft pick De’Anthony Melton.
The biggest takeaway from the trade was the fact that the Rockets were able to unload the remainder of Anderson’s two-year, $41 million contract, something the front office had been working on since the season ended. Anderson, who averaged 26.1 minutes per game in the regular season last year across 66 total appearances, was essentially wiped out of the playoff rotation. Averaging only 8.7 minutes per game in 11 playoff appearances, Anderson’s inability to switch on defense and limited offensive contributions inside the three-point arc made him a major liability for the Rockets and it has been clear ever since then that the team has little interest in bringing him back into the rotation.
So that brings us to the present and with Knight heading to Houston.
But before we dive into what Knight can bring to the Rockets, let’s take a look at just what in the hell the Phoenix Suns are doing.
What the trade means for Phoenix
In trading Knight, the Suns now officially have zero reliable options for a starting point guard. Whether or not Knight could have returned to his impressive form of three years ago has yet to be seen, but the Suns obviously didn’t want to find out what that might entail. Knight missed all of last season with an ACL injury and has hardly played – at least played well – since 2015. The Suns still have Shaquille Harrison, Isaiah Canaan, and 2018 draft pick Elie Okobo as their potential guards, but none are skilled enough to run an offense, especially for a team that clearly doesn’t want to tank anymore, and Devin Booker’s skillset doesn’t exactly make him a reliably consistent option. Signing veteran forward Trevor Ariza (away from the Rockets, I might add) to a significant one-year deal was an indication that Phoenix doesn’t plan on hunting for a top-5 pick this season. There’s even a good chance the Suns start the 30-year old Anderson at the four next to DeAndre Ayton, which might be a good pairing as Anderson can stretch the floor while letting the rookie work and learn in space.
Where does that leave Phoenix at the lead guard position? ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski believes they are still in the hunt for a starting caliber point guard. Arizona talk show host John Gambadoro says they’ve already tried to make that move.
Suns have definitely been trying to trade for a front tier point guard – Lillard, Walker, Rozier – but to no avail. Situation at point guard now is not ideal and Phoenix will have to make a trade but Milwaukee pick that they own is not that valuable.
— John Gambadoro (@Gambo987) August 31, 2018
While names like Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker might be a bit far-fetched, other players such as Patrick Beverley and Spencer Dinwiddie have proven to be capable starting guards and could be options Phoenix monitors.
Until they make that move, however, trading away Knight seems questionable. Anderson did give up $5.4 million in guaranteed money when he was traded to Phoenix in order to match Knight’s contract value and it could make for a more valuable and reasonable trade piece moving forward in search of that starting point guard (with multiple draft picks likely to be attached). This saves Phoenix some money moving forward into future offseasons, as well.
To clear the way for a trade out of Houston, Ryan Anderson agreed to reduce the guarantee on his $21M salary in 2019-20 to $15.6M, league sources told ESPN. For the Suns, the $15.6M represents Brandon Knight’s salary for the 2019-20 season.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 31, 2018
The other piece the Suns picked up, De’Anthony Melton, might actually be the most intriguing prospect out of this entire trade. A second-round pick in last year’s draft, Melton is a six-foot-four, one-and-done guard out of USC on a cheap contract that will be able to earn more reps in Phoenix than in Houston.
And no, keeping Tyler Ulis would not have made this situation any more favorable for Phoenix. Although it would be hilarious if he somehow ended up back in a Suns’ uniform.
What the trade means for Houston
Now let’s talk about Brandon Knight.
In Phoenix, Knight had the responsibility of being the starting point guard on a team looking to bring themselves up and out of the trenches. In Houston, Knight will be the backup point guard on a team that was one game away from beating the eventual NBA Finals winning Golden State Warriors in last season’s playoffs.
While Houston signed Michael Carter-Williams to a cheap, one-year, partially guaranteed contract back in July, Knight will likely steal the backup responsibilities right out from underneath him. Carter-Williams will likely try to serve more of the role that was left when Ariza departed, while Knight will backup Chris Paul.
Which means we are going to see a good chunk of Knight’s minutes being shared with the 2017-18 MVP, James Harden.
Last season, Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni staggered the minutes of his two All-Star guards, playing Harden and Paul together for an average of 19.8 minutes per game. This ensured that he always had at least one All-Star guard on the floor at all times. In Paul’s place will be Knight, who will technically play the point guard position, but won’t be doing much of the ball handling. Harden is one of the deadliest isolation players the NBA has ever seen and demands a high usage, limiting Knight to more of an off-ball threat, which might be valuable for him in terms of his potential production.
For his career, Knight’s usage rate has been 24.7 percent, but his career field goal percentage is only 41.5 percent. Moderately high volume, relatively low-efficiency. For reference, Paul’s career usage rate is 24.1 percent with a career field goal percentage of 47.2 percent. Now Knight clearly isn’t the future Hall-of-Famer that Paul is, but it’s hard not to mention Knight’s deficiencies at being an efficient scorer while maintaining a high usage rate. Putting the ball in Harden’s hands will open the floor for Knight and allow him to “sneak” in for more buckets and spot up opportunities.
Paul’s injury history – especially in the playoffs – definitely had something to do with bringing in Knight, as well (although Knight may not even be ready for training camp).
The other – and final – piece of the trade is Marquese Chriss. Chriss has been in the league for two full seasons now but shown little signs of being anything short of a bust. Another high draft pick for Phoenix that struggled to develop, a growing trend for the organization outside of players named Devin Booker – but that’s a completely different story.
In Houston, Chriss will have the opportunity to work in similar ways to Clint Capela as a constant screener and high-flying dive man. Chriss was someone I was incredibly optimistic about when he entered the league, but has shown little development since his arrival. Being surrounded by two of the best passing guards in the NBA on an insanely effective offense will surely give Chriss more opportunities than in Phoenix. However, it wouldn’t be surprising to me if the Rockets went ahead and flipped him later in the year for a more reliable wing defender. But I can also say the same thing about Knight, too. Knight’s contract is significantly cheaper than Anderson’s was and could be useful for adding that depth on the wing, which is ultimately what I believe the organization wants to do after bringing in Carmelo Anthony while losing Ariza along with Luc Mbah a Moute.
Odds are Phoenix isn’t finished with their offseason and the same could be said about Houston, even as we enter September, long after the initial free agency frenzy kicked off in early July. One thing is becoming clear, though. If Knight remains in Houston and stays healthy, we’re finally going to see a Calipari product receive significant minutes in late-playoff scenarios. Imagine Knight going head-to-head with Steph Curry in the third quarter of Game 7 at the 2019 Western Conference Finals. Now THAT would be exciting to watch, even as Curry bombs a 30-foot triple right in Knight’s face.
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