Grade the deal: Suns solidify their backcourt by signing Brandon Knight
After taking months to sign one young guard last summer, Suns GM Ryan McDonough locked up the other half of his up-and-coming backcourt with a little less drama this time around.
Restricted free agent point guard Brandon Knight agreed to a five-year, $70 million contract with Phoenix, according to Yahoo Sports and the Arizona Republic. The deal, which kicks in for the 2015-16 season, runs through 2019-20 without any team or player options. Late last summer, McDonough inked Eric Bledsoe to a five-year, $70 million contract after months of stop-and-go negotiations. These specific terms trumped the largest possible four-year offer sheet an outside suitor could offer Knight in total dollars.
Knight, 23, averaged 17 points, 5.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds last season. The 2011 lottery pick was acquired by the Suns from the Bucks in a three-team trade at the deadline, as the Suns consolidated their backcourt talent by trading away Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas in separate deals. Prior to the trade, Knight was a fringe Eastern Conference All-Star candidate in Milwaukee. After the trade, Knight struggled and eventually underwent ankle surgery shortly after the end of the regular season.
The No. 11 ranked player overall and the No. 1 point guard on SI.com's "Top 25 Free Agents of 2015" list, Knight is a promising talent who has steadily progressed during his NBA career. An attack-minded playmaker, Knight has the quickness to collapse a defense and a trustworthy shooting stroke from outside.
Nevertheless, this signing requires real trust from Phoenix: Knight has never led an above-average offense, he's a so-so finisher at the rim, and his in-between game still needs some polishing. His numbers took such a hit after the trade—13.4 points, 4.5 assists, 35.7% shooting—that this signing would be a reach if there was no other data to go on. Of course, Phoenix is able to weigh the fact that Knight's PER and Win Shares have increased in each of his four seasons, a promising sign when it comes to projecting further growth from a player who is young for his class.
In a best-case scenario, Knight and Bledsoe show that they can coexist and blossom together, eventually giving Phoenix one of the most dynamic backcourts in the league. In a worst-case scenario, the two can't quite mesh and Knight winds up somewhere in the vicinity of a top 20 starting point guard. Either way, a $14 million average annual value shouldn't ever prove to be damaging, particularly for a Suns squad lacking deadweight salaries on its books.
Proportionally, a $14 million salary in the 2016-17 season (with a $90 million cap) will be equivalent to roughly $10 million under the 2015-16 cap. Taking that one step further, a $14 million salary in the 2017-18 season (with a $108 million cap) will be equivalent to an $8.7 million salary under the 2015-16 cap. Knight only becomes a better relative value from there. That will put Knight in the same mix, proportionally, as current contracts for players like Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague, and George Hill. Sounds about right.