Immanuel Quickley is a Knicks’ Draft Steal and Must Become a Starter


Quickley (above) has far exceeded his draft position and overcome the initial negative reactions in New York with his performance as of late. (Courtesy of Twitter).

While playing at the collegiate level for the University of Kentucky Wildcats, spearheaded by legendary head coach John Calipari, Immanuel Quickley received many positive remarks for his play — gamer, competitor, talented combo-guard, active floor general, solid rebounder, defensive maven and Royal Ivey with a three-point shot. These qualities were also present on his draft card upon declaring in 2020. However, the various credible NBA draft graders seemed to look the other way on Quickley’s selection to the Knicks at 25th overall, who had to move around picks to get him. Highly followed outlets like CBS Sports, Yahoo Sports and SB Nation all felt like Quickley’s selection in the late first round was premature, dishing out C and D grades for the pick. 

The ultimate reality is that they were completely wrong. Immanuel Quickley, through just the first 21 games of his NBA career, has been an absolute juggernaut off the bench and has proven that he is one of the greatest steals of the 2020 draft class. From the stat lines he has put up in limited minutes to the extreme confidence he exudes when he takes the court, and even the willingness to stand back and take mental notes from the game’s best, Quickley has been something special and is a piece for the future that any NBA team should want on their roster. What is peculiar about the rookie’s time in the league is why he has not yet been promoted to a starter or at least given minutes with that rotation by Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau. 

Thibodeau has cited in recent media conversations how he is in awe of the way the young Knick has taken the challenge of competing against some of the top names in the league, yet he sees the bench role as better for Quickley. Surely, Quickley’s presence in the second unit has strongly bolstered it and given the Knicks a backup offensive weapon that has kept them competitive in many games despite the 9-13 record. However, the cries for Quickley in the starting five have only gotten louder, and with the rookie lighting it up and earning acclaim from star players almost every night, it’s hard to ignore.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George has been one of the star players whose been a fan of Immanuel Quickley’s game of late. After his team defeated the Knicks on Jan. 31 in a game where Quickley shot the lights out for 25 points in 27 minutes, George offered praise to the rookie for his “fearlessness.” 

“I like him. We were just talking about him in the back. His float game was off the charts for a young guy. He’s got a lot of packages. And what I think I loved the most, and is a hard quality to find, I thought he was fearless,” Paul George said to the Clippers media. 

Fearlessness has arguably been the most redeeming quality of Quickley’s game and has made many Knicks fans latch onto their guy and root for his elevation every night. Whenever Quickley has the ball in his hands at the top of the arc, he chooses without hesitation to attack the basket for a better shot or floater opportunity. Quickley also does not shy away from having to defend some of the best guards in the league.

For those who question whether his performance against the Clippers was just a fluke, they need only check the stat lines over Quickley’s last five games. The game against the Cleveland Cavaliers saw Quickley score another 25 points off 53% from inside the arc and 62.5% shooting from three-point range. Having to go up against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 24, Quickley tabbed a career-high 31 points off the bench while shooting 50% from the field and 62.5% from beyond the arc. 

Quickley is a bona fide scorer who has offered the Knicks some quality minutes off the bench and a weapon that keeps the second unit from having cold spurts that bury the team. Yet another intriguing part of his game is how fast he is scoring when on the court. 

Quickley is averaging 12 points per game off the bench to go along with 2.7 boards and 2.4 assists, the first of which beats out the previous Knicks record set by Channing Frye, who had averaged 11.5 points in 51 games back in 2005-06. However, in recent individual games he has been averaging a point a minute, outpacing his playing time. At one point in the Clippers game, Quickley scored 19 points in 19 minutes of action and obviously was not finished then. 

Quickley’s three-point shooting has also become an asset demanding the attention of opposing teams. The motto in basketball of “if you’ve got an open shot, take it” is something the rookie guard abides by, often making them as far as 30 feet beyond the basket while sometimes drawing contact and getting an extra free throw at the line. There is the concern that Quickley’s confidence might topple over, and his three-point shot cripple, but so far that has not been the case and the rookie continues to prosper from deep. 

One less obvious aspect of Immanuel Quickley’s game that deserves some recognition is his rebounding effort. Quickley has secured three or more rebounds in six of the last nine games, including six in a loss to the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 1. He only stands at 63 among other guards that reach an average of 65 or 66, but he brings the hop step that elevates his reach to allow him to grab huge rebounds that present the Knicks’ offense with extra opportunities. 

The Knicks already have a couple of players dominating in the starting lineup named RJ Barrett and Julius Randle. Both guys have really blossomed under Tom Thibodeau, with Randle shooting the lights out, averaging 22.7 points and 11 rebounds per game and Barrett contributing 17.2 points and 3.1 assists while finding success at attacking the basket and hitting open threes. 

However, the Knicks offense is still ranked at the bottom of the league with their current starting rotation getting most of the minutes — New York is currently averaging 102.7 per game (29th overall) despite having the number two defense behind the LA Lakers. If Thibodeau would promote Quickley to the starting lineup, they would have a duo of Barrett and Quickley with Randle, Bullock and Mitchell Robinson that is more productive offensively from the first tip, giving them early leads they can carry through games instead of having to fight back to win.

Even with Quickley off the second unit, the Knicks still have a respectful bench. Austin Rivers has had a pair of games where he shot the lights out and can be a good transition scheme guard. Obi Toppin has been a little disappointing of late, but he too is not getting enough minutes to make an impact. Elfrid Payton and Nerlens Noel also add their scoring and defensive talents.

The Knicks are finally looking up this season and it is clear they are building a foundation that will earn the attention of star free agents who will enter the market after this season or soon after. Quickley has quickly become a cornerstone in that foundation and his efforts fully deserve a promotion. 

Quickley is a draft steal and obvious Rookie of the Year candidate. He is going to keep bringing his fearlessness and aggressive offensive play every game to help his team win and give the Knicks’ fans something to be excited about when they turn on a game. Thibodeau needs to reward the rookie’s dedication and performance by making him a starter. The move would be nothing against any of the current starters and the argument could be made that they would back the move because of the team-first culture Thibodeau has grown in the locker room. 

Move the Kentucky phenom into the starting five, and if the Knicks start winning more games and elevating their scoring averages, they will be just one piece away from really competing in the NBA playoffs.

Most of all, if that unit were to thrive and the Knicks maintain their $20 million in cap space for next season, they could finally see a max contract deal work their way with one of the league’s best who’ve seen Quickley’s game and taken notice.