Matty Knight makes big impact in first week back

The more things change, the more they stay the same when it comes to the Perth Wildcats.

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Despite the Wildcats losing Jermaine Beal during the offseason, and replacing import Jaron Johnson with Andre Ingram just last week, the reigning champions look as formidable as ever.

The way Perth is playing isn’t anything new to NBL fans. Their defence has been suffocating, led by stalwart Damian Martin, and Casey Prather is flashing his offensive brilliance. Trevor Gleeson’s coaching has been superb and the Perth Arena remains the NBL’s toughest road trip.

One thing that has surprised some about the ‘Cats this season though, has been the early return of Matty Knight from injury, and the subsequent impact he has made. Knight suffered a subluxation of his right shoulder at training in early September, with initial diagnosis expecting him to miss up to two months of basketball.

However, not only did Knight return before the two-month timeframe, but he did so effectively.

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In his first game back against the Illawarra Hawks, Knight was thrown right into a starting role by Gleeson and responded accordingly. Knight finished with 12 points, eight rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot, while shooting 4-of-6 from the field in the Wildcats’ 80-73 triumph over the Hawks, earning the praise of his coach.

“Matty was fantastic,” Gleeson said after the win.

“He was quality in that first quarter. He’d been training like that for the last week and it’s good to have the big fella back in there to give us that extra punch.

“I was surprised I played him longer than I anticipated. I was debating at the start of the fourth, do I start him and then get some rest into him so he can finish the game.

“He is a great defender on the block and he led the team in rebounding again in his first crack out there.

“It’s good to have that reliable guy out there.”

That reliability factor was proven correct once again this past Sunday, when Knight was proficient in Perth’s narrow three-point victory over Melbourne United. Getting the starting nod once again, Knight clocked over 30 minutes of work, contributing 14 points, a team-high nine rebounds (including four on the offensive glass), an assist and a block, while shooting 7-of-13 from the field.

Knight provided his usual dose of toughness under the basket, whether that is in the form of rebounding or rim protection, while giving Perth another playmaker on the offensive end. However, his late game defence on Cedric Jackson, who had a chance to send the game into overtime at the buzzer, was reminiscent of a history-making play.

While the importance and magnitude of Knight’s stop on Jackson and Kevin Love’s defence on Stephen Curry are incomparable, it does show another area of Knight’s game where he adds something to Perth’s line-up.

Knight has the quickness and smarts on the defensive end to switch onto a smaller guard when needed, and hold his own. It isn’t a preference for Knight to be on the perimeter during defensive possessions – as his best work is down near the rim and in the post – but it’s a beneficial insurance policy nonetheless.

Speaking of the defensive end, it’s where Knight makes his money. His timing and anticipation when opposing players are driving to the basket is tremendous. Even if Knight doesn’t get the block, his presence and impact is enough to affect the opposition’s shot. On some occasions, though, Knight’s defensive capabilities all come together, creating for sensational defensive plays, like this block on Jackson.

Another element of Knight’s game that makes him so valuable is his offensive rebounding ability. There is nothing more demoralising for a defence than stopping your opponent for 23 seconds, only to give up an offensive rebound and having to play that defence again. It not only wears you down physically, but it has a negative impact on your mindset and mental state during the game.

This is why Knight’s aptness on the offensive glass is so helpful to the Wildcats, and injurious for the opposition. Knight was a major reason why Perth had 17 offensive rebounds and 12 second chance points against Melbourne, including critical plays like this one in the final term.

“He is a rock in there,” Gleeson said of Knight after the United victory.

“Especially just coming back from injury. I thought he was sensational Friday night too.

“He probably gets underrated as a defensive player but he is pretty strong in there and he is our leading rebounder. We can throw the ball to him and he can score.

“It’s the reason why he has been a premier player in this league for years.”

While Knight was returning from injury, don’t think he was lowering his workload to monitor his return. Gleeson was surprised that he played 25 minutes against Illawarra, and would have been even more shocked Knight managed 30 minutes against Melbourne. It’s apart of Knight’s nature, though, that he is there for his teammates.

“Three or four minutes before the game, we joked that he might gas out,” Gleeson said.

“One of his teammates said he is the fittest here because he was running up and down the sidelines while he couldn’t practice.”

The Wildcats remain the benchmark of the NBL, and will sit atop of the throne until anyone proves they can knock them down.

With Knight controlling the paint, and with how good he looked in his return games, it’s going to take a mighty effort to do so.