Relaxing in the locker room last Thursday after an evening of
larceny (seven steals) against the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland
Cavaliers point guard Brevin Knight unzipped a small blue case
holding an ice pack, then handed the case to teammate Zydrunas
Ilgauskas. "Z, give this to Briggs," Knight said, referring to
trainer Gary Briggs. Ilgauskas hesitated. "Z," Knight said, a
bit more firmly this time, "give it to him."
Ilgauskas did as he was told, because one thing Knight's
teammates have learned about their rookie playmaker is that
following his commands usually works to their benefit. Knight, a
5'10" dynamo from Stanford, helped direct Cleveland to 10
straight wins before the streak was snapped by the Charlotte
Hornets 85-84 last Saturday at Gund Arena. With his overall play
Knight has established himself as the biggest rookie
surprise--figuratively speaking, of course--in the league. It's
almost as if he has been getting pointers on how to make an
immediate impact as a pro from an old Stanford buddy of his who
did fairly well as a first-year pro in another sport: Tiger Woods.
At week's end Knight led the NBA in steals, averaging 3.32, and
was eighth in assists (8.1). His 20 assists against the
Washington Wizards on Nov. 22 equals the most by any player this
season. (The San Antonio Spurs' Avery Johnson also had 20, in a
Dec. 10 game against the Los Angeles Clippers.) But Knight's
numbers can't fully measure how important he has been to the
surprising Cavaliers, a team many picked to finish near the
bottom of the Central Division (especially after they traded
All-Star point guard Terrell Brandon to the Bucks in the
off-season) but who ended the week at 14-7, tied for second
When Bob Sura, who had replaced Brandon, went on the injured
list Nov. 19 with a severely sprained left ankle, there was
concern in Cleveland that turning the position over to the
inexperienced Knight would be like handing the car keys to a
teenager with a learner's permit. But Knight has directed the
offense with a steady hand and the confidence of a veteran. So
even when Sura returns--he was scheduled to be reexamined the
week of Dec. 22--Knight seems almost certain to remain in the
December 22, 1997
"This is who we are," says Cavaliers coach Mike Fratello. "We
put the ball in his hands, sink or swim, and he's performed
admirably. I believe in him, and he believes in himself."
Besides, Fratello has a track record of entrusting his offense
to a diminutive point guard. "I've had Spud Webb [5'7"], Mark
Price [6 feet] and Terrell Brandon [5'11"]," says the 5'7"
coach. "Size is obviously not a major issue with me."
Knight isn't the only reason for his team's fast start. Shooting
guard Wesley Person, who was obtained in an off-season trade
with the Phoenix Suns, was averaging a team-high 18.6 points
through Sunday and having the finest year of his four-season NBA
career. Forward Shawn Kemp (18.3 points per game), another
off-season acquisition, hasn't been quite the flashy player he
was with the Seattle SuperSonics, but he has given the Cavaliers
an inside scoring threat who can draw the double teams in the
low post, which opens up opportunities for his teammates.
Moreover, three of Knight's fellow rookies have also chipped in
with precocious play: starting center Ilgauskas, who was on the
Cleveland roster last season but sat out with a broken bone in
his right foot; starting small forward Cedric Henderson, the No.
45 pick; and backup shooting guard Derek Anderson, the No. 13
pick, who also occasionally spells Knight at the point. But it
is Knight who drives the attack, distributing the ball and
forcing turnovers that lead to easy baskets. Although the once
soporific Cavs have not exactly turned into the Harlem
Globetrotters, they averaged 98.5 points during the 10-game
winning streak, compared with their 87.5-point average last
season (lowest in the league), and Knight is as responsible as
anyone for the increase.
"He plays like he's been in the league five years," Milwaukee
forward Armon Gilliam said after watching Knight's performance
in the Cavaliers' 79-77 win over the Bucks last week. "He
doesn't look like he has any jitters like most rookies do,
especially this early in the season. He carries himself like he
belongs and knows he belongs." Maybe that's because Knight has
complete confidence in himself and his knowledge of the game.
His father, Melvin, was an assistant at Seton Hall (where Brevin
was once a ball boy) and is now head coach and athletic director
at Essex County (N.J.) College.
"I'm not being asked to do anything I haven't been doing my
whole life," Brevin says. "Ever since I picked up a basketball,
I've been distributing the ball, controlling the tempo of a game
and trying to get everyone involved in the offense. The way I
look at it, why wouldn't I be good at it?"
Knight isn't quite the cocky young trash-talker he was when he
arrived on Stanford's campus in the fall of 1993, but he is far
from being a deferential rookie. "He'll tell people where they
need to be and what they need to do on the floor in no uncertain
terms," says Cleveland assistant Sidney Lowe, himself a former
small (6 feet) NBA point guard. "But he's such a natural leader
that nobody gives it a second thought or takes it the wrong way.
Besides, I think big guys like a take-charge little guy who
tells them what to do, because most of the time he's telling
them something because he wants to get them a shot. That's the
thing with Brevin: Listen to him and you'll probably get
yourself a pretty good shot."
Cleveland drafted Knight with the 16th pick of the first round,
making him the third point guard taken after the Boston Celtics
chose Chauncey Billups with the third choice and the Vancouver
Grizzlies took Antonio Daniels with the fourth. So far he has
clearly had a greater impact than the other two players. "I've
been a surprise all my life," Knight says. "I was a surprise in
high school and a surprise in college because I was supposed to
be too little. I'm a surprise here. It's nothing new."
Knight certainly surprised everyone at Stanford, partly just by
matriculating there. The school he really wanted to play for was
Seton Hall. Born in Livingston, N.J., Knight starred for Seton
Hall Prep. But P.J. Carlesimo, the Seton Hall coach at the time
and now coach of the Golden State Warriors, didn't recruit
Knight because the Pirates supposedly were already stocked at
the point with, among others, Danny Hurley. Stanford was the
only school other than Manhattan College to offer Knight a
Knight arrived in Palo Alto as a 5'8", 145-pound freshman who
was expected to back up a junior college transfer named Frank
Harris at the point. But Knight wasted no time showing that he
would not be anyone's understudy, immediately grabbing control
of the team in practice. He never loosened his grip, and
Stanford, 7-23 the year before he arrived, had reached three
NCAA tournaments (and one Sweet 16) by the time he was through.
During his four years in college Knight added two inches and
about 30 pounds and was named a second-team All-America as a
His real breakthrough, though, came the summer before, when he
led a team of college all-stars in an exhibition game against
Dream Team III before the 1996 Summer Olympics. The game was
supposed to be just a tune-up for the pros, but the college
stars threw a scare into them by taking a 17-point halftime lead
before the NBA players rallied to win. Charles Barkley and David
Robinson were among the Dream Teamers who raved about Knight's
eight-point, five-assist, four-steal performance.
Knight has been initially underestimated at every level of play
because his height is far easier to measure than his confidence
or presence. "There's something about him that says you don't
want to give him as much of a hard time as you might give some
other rookies," says Cleveland forward Danny Ferry. "He seemed
like he even had a little chip on his shoulder when he first got
here, almost like he was saying, I'm not your typical rook, so
don't treat me like one."
Which isn't to say that Knight has been flawless--he forces the
occasional pass, and he is not yet a consistent outside
shooter--but he has a way of immediately making up for his
mistakes. After turning the ball over down the stretch of the
Milwaukee game, Knight first penetrated and dished off to Kemp
for a dunk that gave Cleveland a two-point lead; then, sneaking
up from behind, he poked the ball away from Bucks forward Glenn
Robinson and dribbled out the clock to seal the victory.
When the buzzer sounded, the other Cleveland players crowded
around Knight, high-fiving him and slapping him on the back.
Then, as if to symbolize the Cavaliers' season so far, Knight
started to run off the court toward the locker room, and his
teammates fell in step behind him.
The Cavaliers' Brevin Knight has joined a parade of undersized
point guards (none taller than 6 feet) who have fit snugly among
the league's Goliaths. Here's how Knight's performance through
Sunday compares with the full rookie seasons of other NBA little
men such as Toronto's Damon Stoudamire (above). Statistics below
are averages per game.
PLAYER, TEAM SEASON MIN. PTS. FG% ASSTS. STLS. TOS.
MUGGSY BOGUES, '87-88 20.6 5.0 .390 5.1 1.61 1.28
TERRELL BRANDON, '91-92 19.6 7.4 .419 3.9 0.99 1.66
DAMON STOUDAMIRE, '95-96 40.9 19.0 .426 9.3 1.40 3.81
ALLEN IVERSON, '96-97 40.1 23.5 .416 7.5 2.07 4.43
BREVIN KNIGHT, '97-98 32.0 8.9 .409 8.1 3.32 2.47