After injuries to Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett opened up a starting spot for Immanuel Quickley, a stretch that has reached seven consecutive starts, the Knicks have begun to get back to full health. And that would mean a move back to the bench for Quickley.
But in his time in the starting lineup, Quickley may have proved a point that he has believed: He’s ready for a bigger role in the NBA.
Over the seven starts Quickley has played a staggering 42.2 minutes per game — consider the NBA leader this season in minutes per game, the Raptors’ Pascal Siakam, is only averaging 37.3 minutes. And Quickley has averaged 20.3 points, 5.9 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game, while turning the ball over less than once per game.
On Monday when Julius Randle was having an uncharacteristic struggle offensively, Jalen Brunson poured in a career-high 44 points and it was Quickley who served as the complement, chipping in 23 points on 9-for-14 shooting — the only two players to shoot at least 50% against the Bucks.
“I don’t think there was anything different,” Quickley said. “Just feeling good. That’s really it. So just watch the film, see what they do, work on it in practice, see what shots I’m going to get and go from there.”
Even before joining the starting lineup Quickley was a major contributor and maybe best suited for the sixth-man role he was in. Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams compared him to Jamal Crawford as a sort of instant-offense player off the bench.
But Quickley has begun to show more than that this season, buying into Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau’s defense-first mentality and greatly improving his game on that end of the floor.
“The thing I love about Quick is that he’s smart, he’s very, very smart,” Thibodeau said. “He knows, he understands what he has to do to help our team defense. I think it’s his greatest strength. So he can play — even when he’s guarding twos, his size, because of his intelligence, he knows how to create body position. Very good with his hands, his feet, rarely is he out of position, and I think that does your defense a lot better. And he’s going to give you great effort all the time.”
After proving himself as a point guard offensively — he piled up 15 assists in his first game in place of Brunson in Dallas two weeks ago — he has adopted a similar tact defensively, serving as a vocal presence. While Brunson is the leader on the Knicks and Randle has been the most accomplished and longest-tenured player on the roster, Quickley has made himself a communicator on defense. He calls out assignments, even if that usually is an assignment for the center — like Mitchell Robinson, who oversees the entire defense from the back line.
“Quick talks a lot. Sometimes he tries to get me in a spot like he’s the defensive anchor,” Robinson said, jokingly, “No, slow your role bucko. He’s a competitor, he’s ready to go. He’s talking tonight. Hold on, chill out. That’s me. You got your offensive side, I got this side, that’s me.”
Said Quickley: “I think just watching film — I think my IQ is probably one of my better strengths, being able to help guys out where they’re supposed to be at,” Quickley said. "And then talking on the floor is also an underrated skill that a lot of people don’t do. So, just try to help, really just do anything you can to win. That’s what it really comes down to.”
And Thibodeau likes what he sees. “I think it’s anticipation,” Thibodeau said. “I think that’s the mark of a good defender, to be able to think ahead — what’s coming? So if you’re on the ball, obviously you’re engaged with the ball so you’re not doing that. But if you’re off the ball, you’re thinking, how can I help, how can I be disruptive, what’s coming next? And the more you communicate it, you give your team a head start. Defensively, we talk about [communicating] but we also want them talking on offense. The more you talk, the more you can get ahead.”
Notes & quotes: The Knicks upgraded Barrett (lacerated right index finger) to questionable for Wednesday night’s game against Indiana.