He crosses behind a high-ball screen near the top of the key, 4 seconds left, glances up at the shot clock and looks down to find seven-footer Marc Gasol standing before him, 3 seconds left, stutter steps, maneuvers his way around Gasol and toward the hoop, spots the contact coming from Memphis' backside help, 2 seconds left, leaps, extends his arms, lays it in, 1.1 seconds left, tie game, plus the foul. Free throw coming.
The Milwaukee bench explodes. So does the crowd at the BMO Harris Center. The Bucks are averaging just over 15,000 per night; not bad for a team that couldn't crack 13,500 a year ago. Nobody gave them a shot tonight, in just the seventh game of the season. Nobody will give them a shot against Oklahoma City three days later.
But Brandon Knight steps to the line, game dangling in the balance. Dribble, dribble, dribble, spin, swish. Bucks win. They would go on to beat the shorthanded Thunder, too—the first time Milwaukee has strung together consecutive wins since March 2013.
This season is Knight's fourth in the NBA, and second as Milwaukee's starting point guard. As a 22-year-old, Knight is tasked with the floor leadership of a young roster. The hope is that he can bring back the magic of the Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, and Michael Redd squad that shot the Bucks into the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001. Since that season, the Bucks have posted only two winning records.
However, in eight games so far this year, Knight is averaging 19.5 points, 7.7 assists and 6.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, with a Player Efficiency Rating higher than Blake Griffin, Kobe Bryant, and Tony Parker. He's projected to set career highs in points, assists, rebounds, steals, free throws, and field goal percentage, among other metrics.
Now Knight is working under one of the best point guards of all time, in new Bucks coach Jason Kidd, who took over after a tumultuous offseason that saw his predecessor, Larry Drew, fired in a messy, merciless manner. Although the Drew-Kidd swap took many by surprise, Knight's past has habituated him to change. Getting a new coach is nothing like what he endured when he was in high school.
One night , during his sophomore year, Knight stood beneath a shower faucet and realized he couldn't differentiate the temperature of the water. Days later, a doctor in a bleached-white lab coat told him that there was a fluid-filled syrinx within his spinal cord, and a cyst pressing against it, and that they both required surgery.
Photo by Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
"Through praying, I was able to stay calm about the situation. I had faith that I would be OK, it was just a minor obstacle," Knight says, like the situation was a bee-sting.
After missing months of that basketball season, he came back to lead Pine Crest School to a Florida state title, then led them to another one the following year. Knight, who donned braids back then, was the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year for his junior and senior seasons—joining LeBron James and Greg Oden as the only juniors to ever receive the honor. However, Knight was never your stereotypical prep star, obsessed solely with making it to the pros.
"Both my parents always encouraged me to be diversified and be much more than just a basketball player. That's why I did so well in school, because I knew there would be life after basketball," Knight says.
He's always been more pragmatic than daydreamer. Many in the NBA likely dreamed of doing so from a young age, but Knight was first transfixed by answers and clear-cut, solution-based industries.
"I always thought about being an architect; I still do sometimes," says Knight. "My favorite class growing up was any kind of math because it was concrete and normally (had) one correct answer, unlike writing."
Distaste for writing still didn't mean Knight wasn't successful at it: In eighth grade he had a poem published in an anthology of children's poetry.
"I don't think any of my teammates know about the poetry skills that I once had. If anyone on our team would write a poem, it would be Jabari Parker," Knight says.
Still, he is a professional basketball player, a job that comes with almost untenable demands. And like many successful professionals (also sociopaths) Knight doesn't recognize an "offseason."
"I spend on average 4-5 hours a day training. I may take one vacation in the beginning of summer for about a week, then it's back to business for the summer," Knight says.
Knight spent much of the summer months ensconced in practice facilities, with hardwood floors and free-weights substituting for stimulation. A schedule that makes sense for someone whose favorite book is still Outliers, a popularized non-fiction look at which factors contribute to high levels of success. It's likely that taking vacations isn't one of them. Given the Bucks' recent history, Knight's obsession with solving success is just what the team needs. His willingness to tailor his game to a flawed team's needs is, at minimum, vital to what feels like the start of the Bucks' revival.
If you watch Knight's high school highlight tape you'll find one of the most storied prep basketball careers in Florida history. You'll see him splash long-distance 3-pointers and demonstrate a nuanced defensive acumen, but you'll also see him attack the basket at a much higher clip. The same can be said for his college and professional tape. One point about point guards that frequently gets glossed over is how willing they are to attack, sacrificing their body, rather than sidle the outside arc.
Knight's attack-the-rack mentality has permeated the Bucks franchise and sure enough, Saturday against the Grizzlies, it was what Knight did to win the game.
Big moments aside, the Bucks still might not even make the playoffs this season. But for now, if only for a moment, Milwaukee has a relevant basketball team.
As for what prize awaits Knight, whose contract expires at season's end, that seems to be the one question he isn't worried about finding an answer to.
"I see myself amongst the top point guards. I always have. I believed it first," Knight says. "Now it's just a matter of getting the rest of the nation to see the same thing."