The New York Knicks are in the midst of a brutal seven-game road trip. With a record of 27-38 on the season – 11 games under .500 – their playoff hopes hang by the slimmest of threads. They entered Sunday’s matchup with the LA Clippers on a seven-game losing streak. Their most recent loss came in soul-crushing fashion on Friday night in Phoenix. The Knicks had finally hit rock bottom – and then an unsung hero emerged.
By Tuesday morning the Knicks were winners of two-straight after back-to-back road wins against the Clippers and Sacramento Kings. This marks only the third time all season that the Knicks have won back-to-back games on the road. Monday’s victory against the Kings was highlighted by an efficient 29 points from RJ Barrett and a career-high 46 points from Julius Randle, who reminded us how special he can be on any given night.
Randle’s performance on Monday night, great as it was, cast a shadow over the unsung hero of the Knicks’ recent success – second-year guard Immanuel Quickley.
The Knicks’ Latest Unsung Hero
The Knicks drafted Immanuel Quickley 25th overall in 2020 out of the University of Kentucky. You may be slightly more familiar with his college backcourt counterpart – second-year guard Tyrese Maxey – who was selected 4 spots ahead of Quickley by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Quickley came into the league as an undersized combo guard with a bounce in his step. His draft profile projected him as a “dangerous shooter” and a “competitive defender with great length”, which may have been what drew the attention of first-year Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau and his knack for defensive-minded players. Quickley played 19 minutes per game as a rookie as the Knicks’ backup point guard behind oft-injured starter Derrick Rose.
Quickley’s rookie season highlight was a 31-point performance in January against the Portland Trail Blazers. He became the first player in Knicks history to score 30+ points and hit 5+ threes coming off the bench. He otherwise wasn’t a highly impactful player as a rookie, but he showed flashes of being a potential rotational piece in the NBA.
Quickley: A reliable spark off the bench
In his second NBA season, Quickley has provided the Knicks with a reliable source of energy and points coming [mostly] off the bench – he’s played in 61 of the Knicks’ 65 games while starting only twice.
Playing 21 minutes per game, Quickley averages 10 points and 3 assists while shooting 41% on 2’s and 32% on 3’s. He’s among the league leaders in FT% at 92%.
Coach Thibodeau is notoriously stubborn when it comes to letting younger players crack his rotations. The Knicks’ ‘Plan A’ at point guard this season consisted of the aging duo of Rose and Kemba Walker, neither of whom can stay on the court. Their absence, in addition to the loss of rookie guard Quentin Grimes, has led to increased backcourt minutes for Quickley.
Quickley: Unsung hero with increased playing time
Quickley played 28 minutes against the Clippers and 31 against the Kings. In those two games, he averaged 24 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and a steal. Including those two contests, he’s topped 28+ minutes in only 10 games this season. The Knicks are 5-5 in those games.
In those 10 games, Quickley’s averages jump to 16.5 points and 4.3 assists with 46% shooting on 2’s and 52% (!!) from 3. It’s not uncommon for a player’s totals to take a leap with increased usage. But rarely do their percentages also drastically improve, as Quickley’s have. Sure, it’s not a large sample size. But it does indicate that Quickley can positively impact the game if he’s receiving starters’ minutes.
Quickley also possesses many of the intangible skills that won’t show up on a stat sheet. He’s great off the dribble and has one of the best drive-to-the-hoop floaters in the league. He’s an above-average rebounder for his size because of his quickness and instincts around the rim. Amid the Knicks’ 3rd quarter surge on Monday against the Kings, Quickley dashed into the paint to snatch an offensive rebound over two larger Kings players to extend the possession. He then dished it back to an open Knick on the perimeter who drained a three.
And remember his 92% shooting from the FT line? Much of his success on Monday in Sacramento was born from driving to the hoop and drawing contact. He went 10-11 from the stripe.
The Knicks’ backcourt has been a mess all season. Quickley has shown what he can do with increased playing time. As they search for an answer at point guard this offseason, perhaps Quickley – their latest unsung hero – can be part of the answer.
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