Fans of the New York Knicks have been clamoring for the team to sign or draft a quality point guard for several years. After suffering through seasons of watching Emmanuel Mudiay, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. and Elfrid Payton among others, the Knicks may have finally found their guy. Rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley has shown flashes of potential as New York’s back up. In my opinion it is time for Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau to hand Quickley the keys to the car as the team’s starter.
This year’s campaign began with a little promise for New York. They started with a 5-3 record with wins over Milwaukee, Indiana, and Utah. All three are likely playoff teams. Since then the Knicks have lost five straight. The prospect of that turning around in the next couple of weeks seems bleak. Sunday New York meets the Celtics in Boston. On Monday, Thibodeau’s team hosts Orlando for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee. The Knicks then head west to face the likes of Golden State, Sacramento, Portland and Utah. None of those games jump off the page at you as games that are likely wins.
So now seems to be the perfect time to experiment with a new lineup that includes Quickley. With the exception of a couple of changes due to injury, Thibodeau has stuck with a starting unit of Payton, RJ Barrett, Reggie Bullock, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson. Barrett is shooting 20.7% from three-point range. Bullock (31.9%) and Payton (32.1%) are just slightly better. When asked about the possibility after Friday night’s 106-103 loss at Cleveland, Thibodeau would not commit to a change even though he admitted, “anything is on the table.”
“It’s a function of the group’s playing well together,’’ Thibodeau said after the Knicks’ fifth straight loss. “So we need everybody. We’re working guys back that were out so we’re not into a rhythm yet. We’re still evaluating. So we’ll keep evaluating, we’ll keep working to improve and then we’ll find the best combinations to go forward with. But we’re constantly evaluating and talking about who plays well with whom. And if something can help the team, we’ll do it.’’
Granted, Quickley is only conencting at 32.3% from beyond the arc himself. After an impressive 16-point performance in helping the Knicks come from 18 points down to defeat Atlanta, the former SEC Player of the Year went into a four-game slump. Quickley scored a career-high 19 points in 22 minutes against Brooklyn and then followed that up by topping the mark with 23 points against the Cavaliers. He also recorded five rebounds and four assists, while keeping Payton relegated to the bench for most of the fourth quarter.
When Quickley is on the floor the Knicks seem to play with more pace and flow. Quickley always has his head up and looking to go on the attack. The Knicks were plus-11 with Quickley on the floor against Cleveland, as compared to minus-14 with Payton. He arrived in the Big Apple with a reputation as a long-range shooter, but his floater in the lane is becoming his signature move. Quickley is 17 for 18 from the free throw line, good for 94.4%. He draws fouls with the skill of a seasoned veteran.
Possibly the stat that provides the most evidence that Quickley should start is the Net Rating when he is on the floor with Randle and Barrett as compared to Payton. Net rating is a player’s offensive rating minus their defensive rating. It shows how much better or worse a team is when a specific player is on the court. In 299 minutes of playing together, the Payton, Randle and Barrett lineup has a -5.6 rating. Replace Payton with Quickley in that trio and the rating increases to 18.5 in 52 minutes.
The Kentucky product also plays with the confidence and poise of a play with many more years of experience. Even when on the court at crunch time the moment never seems to big for Quickley. He is a gym rat as well. After his 19 point game against Brooklyn Quickley was seen in Madson Square Garden puttting up shots well after the game.
With other top point guard prospects LaMelo Ball and Killian Hayes gone when it was time for New York to draft, and management electing to pick Obi Toppin as opposed to Tyrese Haliburton, Kira Lewis Jr. or Cole Anthony, the Knicks grabbed Quickley with the 25th selection. They just may have gotten the steal of the draft. I believe it’s time for Thibodeau to start letting Quickley prove it.
(Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)