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After a mediocre start to the season, the red-hot New York Knicks now find themselves on a nine-game winning streak and have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference. The main reason for that turnaround is that Coach Tom Thibodeau shortened the rotation, favoring lineup combination which focused on defense. As a result, the team has finally found an identity on that end of the floor. Big man Mitchell Robinson and third-year player Immanuel Quickley are the backbone of that defense, and are supported by players like Quentin Grimes, Josh Hart, and Miles McBride.
Quickley’s name on that list is interesting because when he entered the 2020 NBA Draft, few people believed that he would be leading any team in any category other than three-point shooting percentage. He was drafted 25th overall, which CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish graded with a D+, reasoning that “his upside just does not match his place in the draft, but he could be a good shooter if nothing else”.
In just his third season, Quickley has widely outperformed those predictions for his future in the NBA. He is indeed a good shooter, averaging 36.6 percent from three for the season, but he is much more than that. As the Knicks’ best two-way player, he is making a solid case for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Quickley usually runs the second unit as their primary ballhandler off the bench, and made quite the improvement as a facilitator. Currently, he is top-20 in assist percentage amongst wings after starting off in 55th place in that category following his rookie season.
To top that off, Quickley also adds his own scoring, averaging 13.4 points on 45 percent shooting from the field. Compared to last season, he upped that shooting percentage by almost 6 percent and developed into a versatile scorer. Especially impressive here is not, as predicted, his three-point shooting, but instead his floater. Coming out of college, critics said of Quickley that he could shoot from long-range but not finish around the rim. Now he is ironically a key piece of an NBA rotation, smartly hunting mismatches and beating defenders with speed as well as shifty dribbling. Once he gets around his defender, Quickley actually finishes quite efficiently around the rim, shooting 54 percent on floaters. That is fourth among all players to attempt at least 100 floaters this season.
Over the course of the season, Quickley has proven that he is effective with the ball in his hands, especially in transition where he can push the ball like no other Knicks’ player, but he can also play off the ball. This ability to take on different roles allows Thibodeau to put his youngster into many different lineups. When he is on the floor with a majority of starters, usually including Jalen Brunson, Quickley can act as a spot-up shooter or a slasher and cutter rather than the main ballhandler.
The Knicks currently have the fourth-best offense in the league, and Quickley is a big part of that. With him on the floor, they typically outscore teams by around 5 points. His offensive growth and impact, however, goes hand in hand with his defensive talent. Players shoot only about 43 percent on field goals when Quickley is their primary defender, which is one of the best numbers in the league and contributes to the Knicks outscoring opponents. He guarded Trae Young, for example, for 56.2 partial possessions over four games. Over that stretch, he held Young, who is a talented scorer, to 6-21 shooting (28.6 percent) from the field and 1-8 (12.5 percent) shooting from the three-point line.
Quickley expertly anchors the Knicks’ defense on the perimeter. He never gets lost in rotations, always knows where to be, and can make up for teammates’ defensive weaknesses. Since the beginning of February, he has recorded at least one steal in all but three games, showing his ability to disrupt passing lanes and get the ball from his opponents to initiate the team’s offense.
After being dubbed as a low-ceiling, one-dimensional prospect at the start of his professional career, Quickley has developed into one of the most intriguing young players to grow their game this season. He has not made an All-Star jump like draft classmate Anthony Edwards, but Quickley made his own significant leap and is still steadily improving.
That development was on full display in the Knicks’ recent double overtime win against the Boston Celtics. Brunson missed that game, and the Knicks’ odds did not look too good until Quickley completely took control of the game. Filling in for Brunson in the starting lineup, he played 55 minutes without a single real break after halftime. All game long, Quickley played excellent defense, recording 4 steals and 2 blocks. At the same time, however, he led the team in scoring with a career-high 38 points on efficient shooting as well. Rounding out the already impressive stat line, Quickley added 8 rebounds and 7 assists with only 1 turnover in the entire 55 minutes.
Quickley was the Knicks’ engine until the very last second, which is fascinating considering that he did not rest at all after half time and ran almost four miles. He was actually the one to send the game into a second overtime, and then scored the first five points of the final period. That mind-blowing performance propelled Quickley up the Sixth Man of the Year boards, and he certainly has a solid case for the award.
His most important feat for the season, though, is his development and resulting positive impact on the Knicks’ season. In the future, there are surely more good things to come from Immanuel Quickley, as he still has plenty of room and time to grow his game. This offseason, he will be eligible for a new contract and if he continues to keep his momentum, the Knicks might not have another choice but to spend the money to keep him around.