DALLAS — Almost lost in the Knicks' struggles this season was just how much Immanuel Quickley was struggling. And then almost hidden behind the career-high scoring night from Julius Randle and two straight wins was the energy boost that Quickley provided off the bench to help turn their fortunes.
On Valentine's Day as the Knicks lost to Oklahoma City at Madison Square Garden Quickley shot 0-for-7 and was freed from the bench for only 13 minutes, and even those might have been hard to justify for Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau. At that point the sophomore slump had dipped to9.2 points per game on 36% shooting, including 32.2% from beyond the arc, for a player who was valued for his offensive outbursts.
But over seven games since then Quickley has returned to the weapon he was as a rookie, scoring 16.9 points per game, connecting on 48.6% from three, including 60% on catch-and-shoot threes, and 66.7% on shots within 10 feet. That's where he lived as a rookie, drawing fouls and connecting on acrobatic floaters.
"Quick’s been playing great," Randle said. "I think the biggest thing with him is he’s playing free. He’s kind of clearing his mind and going out there and hooping and trusting his work. He’s probably one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around, especially for a kid that young, so he’s just got to keep going, keep playing like that."
"He’s really coming on right now," Thibodeau said. "Obviously, the way the game was officiated last year is different than this year, but I think he’s figured out now — it’s been an adjustment for him, but he’s figured it out. And so, he’s playing at a high level, and I think he’s simplified things now. I think when he’s open, he shoots. When he’s guarded, he makes the play."
Actually, Quickley shoots a lot when he’s guarded, too — witness the tough floater he hit as the Knicks began to cut into the Kings' lead just before halftime on Monday night. But that is part of the allure of a player who can score in bunches off the bench. The real difference might be that over the last two games, often teamed with a young group including defensive pest Miles McBride, Cam Reddish, RJ Barrett and Jericho Sims, they have asserted pressure on the opposition, leading to a fast-paced offensive attack.
On Sunday in the win over the Clippers it paid off in 14-0 and 12-0 runs. On Monday it helped bring the Knicks back from a 20-point deficit to post a one-sided win.
"I feel like I’m defending a little bit better, so that helped me out," Quickley said. "Trying to rebound a little bit more, finding other ways to affect the game other than just scoring, so that always helps. And I got some great teammates. RJ and Julius played great tonight and we’re getting some wins now, so that’s what it’s all about."
Still, Randle noted that Quickley’s strength remains being that high-energy offensive weapon.
"I just think that he’s being who he is as a player," Randle said. "He’s not really worried about playmaking and stuff like that. He’s a scorer. He’s a shooter. He can shoot the ball and knows how to put the ball in the basket. That’s who he is at heart and he’s not worrying about the other things as much.
"I’m not saying that he can’t do it. He can. But those things naturally will happen if he is who he is, which is a scorer. And because he works on all the other stuff, he’ll have counters and he’ll be able to get to that, but naturally, he’s just gotta put the ball in the hoop. That’s what he does."