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What a STEAL!
Phil Taylor
December 22, 1997
Cleveland drafted Brevin Knight with the 16th pick, and the rookie's brio and ball hawking have given the Cavaliers a spark of life
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December 22, 1997

What A Steal!

Cleveland drafted Brevin Knight with the 16th pick, and the rookie's brio and ball hawking have given the Cavaliers a spark of life

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MEASURING UP

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, BULLETS

'87-88

20.6

5.0

.390

5.1

1.61

1.28

TERRELL BRANDON, CAVALIERS

'91-92

19.6

7.4

.419

3.9

0.99

1.66

DAMON STOUDAMIRE, RAPTORS

'95-96

40.9

19.0

.426

9.3

1.40

3.81

ALLEN IVERSON, 76ERS

'96-97

40.1

23.5

.416

7.5

2.07

4.43

BREVIN KNIGHT, CAVALIERS

'97-98

32.0

8.9

.409

8.1

3.32

2.47

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 place.

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 starting lineup.

"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. I le 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 trashtalker 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."

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