A look at why NBA rookie Immanuel Quickley should be starting at point guard for the New York Knicks this season.
Yes, it was two preseason games. Yes, they were against Cleveland. Yes, he only shot 3-11 from the field in the first game. I don’t care. Immanuel Quickley needs to be starting full-time for the New York Knicks.
After one of the ugliest third quarters I have ever seen, which really says something as a Knicks fan, New York somehow willed their way to a victory over the Cavaliers in Madison Square Garden in their first preseason matchup versus Cleveland. Who was the catalyst to this comeback? Some might say that it was Kevin Knox with his 14 point explosion in the fourth, but in my eyes, the true spark came from Immanuel Quickley.
As a blind person could tell you, the basketball is not pretty when Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton are on the court, and it was no different in this particular game. Despite being the team’s leading scorer with 18 points, it was Randle’s defense (or lack thereof) and tunnel vision on offense that dug the Knicks into a dishearteningly large hole and kept them there deep into the game. Pair this with Elfrid Payton’s nonexistent jump shot and you might just have the least aesthetically pleasing product in the history of Dr. James Naismith’s beautiful creation.
It genuinely did hurt to watch this game aside from the 4th quarter. One might feel nauseated to hear that New York shot just 23.5% on threes (8-34) for the entire game. You read that correctly. The same lack of spacing that was synonymous with the Knicks last season doesn’t seem like it has gone away, but are we really surprised at that when the team chose to retain the career 29% three-point shooter in Payton to be the starting point guard? I’m not. That’s also why I’m not surprised that the Knicks started their comeback from basically the second he was taken off of the floor.
Following a Knicks timeout with 2:15 left in the third quarter (called because Julius Randle did his patented spin into a double team, might I add) Elfrid Payton was subbed out in favor of Dennis Smith Jr. Thankfully Payton wouldn’t see the floor again for the rest of the night, allowing Immanuel Quickley, who had subbed in just over a minute prior, to play more on the ball ball and shine. The last couple of minutes of the quarter was just as ugly as the rest, but it ended with a miraculous Dennis Smith three-pointer to pull the Knicks to within 14. We’re starting to get to the good part, don’t worry.
To start the fourth, Tom Thibodeau rolled out a lineup of Dennis Smith/Immanuel Quickley/Kevin Knox/Obi Toppin/Mitchell Robinson. It was really fun! Who would’ve thought? However, it got even more fun when DSJ was replaced with RJ Barrett with 7 minutes left in the game, opening up the opportunity for Quickley to slide to point guard. The energy that this lineup played with, which I will attribute largely to IQ and his boisterous style of play, was so refreshing to see after watching the Knicks just flat-out be overmatched for the majority of the game. They clamped up on defense and ran the floor on offense. Kevin Knox looked like an NBA player. It was electric.
Many had, and might still have doubts about whether or not Immanuel Quickley is capable of being a point guard at the NBA level, but he himself has never had any doubt about it. It was his main position in high school and during his freshman year at Kentucky, though he was mainly used as a shooting guard in his second year in the program. Following that first Cavs game, Immanuel mentioned that he had told NBA teams during the pre-draft process that although he might have been used as a shooting guard more recently, he truly believes that he is capable of playing both guard positions.
Quickley finished the game with just 9 points but 7 sweet-looking assists, many of which coming from lobs to various teammates, like Obi Toppin and even Kevin Knox! A pretty interesting fact that I saw from Bleacher Reports’ Kevin Wasserman was that the 7 assists that IQ tallied in the game are actually more than he had ever finished with in a single game during either of his seasons at Kentucky, which was five. And even if you don’t want to use him as the main ball-handler and initiator very often, an off-ball guard like him can be very useful in today’s NBA, especially with a ball-dominant forward like RJ Barrett.
Immanuel must’ve really impressed Coach Thibodeau with that first performance off the bench, because he got the start in the very next game, also against the Cavs. All we were really hoping for in that game was a solid performance to help light a fire under the rest of the team; Immanuel delivered and then some, finishing the game with 22 points, 5 assists, and 5 steals, shooting an efficient 7-12 from the floor and 3-5 from three (5-7 on FTs).
Starting off the game by scoring three of the first five Knick field goals (two of which being three-pointers), IQ looked like everything the Knicks have been needing in a point guard for what seems like forever. It was a complete 180 from having Elfrid Payton on the floor, and the result was magnificent.
He was actually seen as a perimeter threat by the opposition, allowing him and the rest of the Knicks to work more fluidly in a spaced-out offense, which then resulted in a blowout win for New York, 119-83. It’s not even just the fact that he can hit the three, but him being a threat from outside alone is enough to open things up on offense, something Payton doesn’t offer. Instead of leading the Knicks to a comeback, Quickley never even let it get to that point, and the only time the Cavs led in the game at all was after a Cedi Osman three-pointer that put them up 3 points to 2. After that, it was off to the races.
Realistically, Quickley won’t get the starting nod over Elfrid Payton for the Knicks against the Pacers tomorrow, but this isn’t something to get discouraged about at all. Keep in mind that LaMelo Ball, 3rd overall pick and the first point guard off the board in this year’s NBA draft, came off the bench in every preseason game and most likely will continue to do so to start off the regular season. It’s just how things are with point guards sometimes, they need to fully adjust to the NBA level before being thrown in the fire. I know that we are head over heels for Immanuel and want to see as much as we can of him right away, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. As long as he gets the full-time starting job, which he will if he keeps up his in-game production, is all that matters.