When the Knicks swung a deal for Derrick Rose earlier this month, the panic among the fan base focused on one thing: Would the arrival of a favorite of coach Tom Thibodeau stunt the growth of rookie Immanuel Quickley?
After three games, the better question might be whether the two should be in the starting lineup together when the Knicks (13-15) host the Hawks on Monday night.
With little practice time together, the duo has proved to be a dynamic pairing.
The first hint came in Miami last Tuesday when Rose, hours after being cleared to play without even a practice session following the trade with Detroit, entered with Quickley and keyed a 25-5 run.
On Friday in Washington, it happened again as the two totaled 30 points in 41:30. And on Saturday, with the focus on the loss of Mitchell Robinson elevating Nerlens Noel to the starting lineup, the duo totaled 38 points in 43:51. They shot a combined 12-for-20 overall and 5-for-9 from three-point range as the Knicks’ bench outscored the Rockets’ bench 58-30.
"It’s amazing," Quickley said. "One, to be able to play with him, and two, to be able to learn with him. He teaches me something new every single day on the floor, off the floor. I’m learning a lot of stuff. I don’t want to give it away because a lot of stuff I’m going to take with me throughout my career.
"So, really just his energy. He’s a dog, an alpha dog, he’s a leader. It’s great to have somebody like that in my corner. So he’s a great addition for not only myself but the whole team.
"I think for me individually, it helps on offense and defense. On offense, it’s somebody else who can make plays, help make the game easier for myself, to score and make the game easier to facilitate. He’s a good shooter and can get to his spots as well.
"And then on defense he guards, so it helps me a lot, whether it be showing me something on the help side or on-the-ball defense. I think he’s great on both sides of the ball."
The two have been almost interchangeable — both are point guards with a scoring mindset and skill set — and that might have helped them find their way together.
"It’s kind of like pickup," Quickley said. "It’s good to play with somebody that’s similar to yourself . . . Whoever gets it gets it. He told me if I get it, don’t look back at him, just go out and hoop and do what I do, and I feel the same way for him . . . And we kind of play off each other and I feel like when you’re playing with somebody that’s good, or great, really, it just makes the game a lot easier."
While it may seem odd that the two have fit together so well without the benefit of a training camp and barely a practice, with one player a 21-year-old rookie and the other a 32-year-old NBA veteran, Thibodeau is not surprised.
Having coached Rose in Chicago and Minnesota, first as an MVP in his early years and then coming off the bench with the Timberwolves, he was confident that Rose would not only flourish but make those around him better.
"Yeah, well, I’m not really surprised," Thibodeau said. "Derrick’s always had the ability, whether you’re playing him with the starters or you’re playing him with bench guys, he has the ability to figure it out. And he can play both on the ball and off the ball. So I think that’s what makes him so valuable.
"I think he reads the game extremely well and he provides whatever the game needs. I think that’s a big plus. It’s also his ability to bring the best out of everyone around him, so I think what we’re seeing now, we’re seeing some really good play out of Obi [Toppin]. The way that group is playing, it’s terrific. Alec [Burks], I don’t want to overlook anything he does because he just makes the team function well when he’s on the floor.
"That’s what you look at. It’s not the individual statistics. There’s a lot of guys that get empty stats in this league, but it’s impact on winning. How does the group function together, and I think that group plays very well together."