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Tom Thibodeau: Knicks rookie Immanuel Quickley can shoot as well as anyone in the NBA

Immanuel Quickley #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots

Immanuel Quickley #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball against the Ole Miss Rebels at Rupp Arena on February 15, 2020 in Lexington, Kentucky. Credit: Getty Images/Andy Lyons

Although there are many restrictions in place with COVID still a concern, the one thing that Immanuel Quickley has been free to do is get in the gym - early in the morning before practice and again late at night. And while there is a long learning curve for the rookie guard, he has been refining one skill that he already possesses - a skill that his coach believes might already be as good anyone in the NBA.

"I think the one thing is he’s got a great skill already," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said in a Zoom call. "He can shoot the ball as well as anyone in the league. He’s a great shooter."

It is the reputation that accompanied Quickley through his time at Kentucky and into the NBA Draft where the Knicks took him with the No. 25 overall pick. But it’s also high praise for a league that has the likes of Steph Curry, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard and brought in a number of sharpshooters in the draft — ahead of Quickly.

But he shot 42.8 percent from beyond the arc in his sophomore season at Kentucky, earning SEC Player of the Year honors, so while it may be a bold claim, it’s not without some background.

"I feel like I work at it," Quickley said. "So if you’re not trying to be the best at what you do — not only just shooting it, but I want to be one of the best players. So I’m just coming in from the ground up and trying to work my way up, but my ultimate goal is to be one of the better players. I feel like I can shoot the ball but I don’t feel that’s all I can do. I feel like I’ll be able to show a lot more on this level so i’m just really excited to get started."

The start for Quickley and the Knicks comes Friday night when the preseason schedule begins in Detroit. Although the shooting may be the calling card that got him here, he is well aware that he has plenty of other work to do as he tries to find his way in the NBA.

Without summer league or the usual fall practices ahead of training camp there is little time for rookies to acclimate to the NBA game, instead being thrown into the fire and learning on the job. Quickley believes that it is his work ethic as much as his shooting ability that will allow him to fit in.

"i feel like that’s just been who I am," he said. "Growing up I wasn’t the highest-rated kid in high school. Ended up working hard, early mornings, late nights, and I become a McDonald’s All-American. Don’t play as great my freshman year and then come back and win SEC Player of the Year. So it’s all about hard work. If you just stay dedicated to your craft and continue to get better every day and come with a willing mindset to learn, you’ll eventually get better and continue to thrive."

Still, it likely won’t be an easy transition. Myles Powell spoke Tuesday of the speed of the game at the NBA level being the hardest adjustment and Quickley echoed that Wednesday. Thibodeau has spoken of wanting to stress a faster paced game for the team and both rookie guards agreed that it has been something that they had not seen.

"I think for all rookies what we have to do, these are the circumstances and you have to make the best of the circumstances you’re facing," Thibodeau said. "Normally a summer league is a dry run for training camp, gives the guys an idea what training camp looks like, and then summer league, you’re not really playing against NBA rotation type players, so not a good example of the talent level you’ll be facing, but the fall practices give you a good head start."

"I didn’t think the speed of the game would be too much faster, but it’s actually been a lot faster," Quickley said. "I feel like Kentucky, they do a great job of preparing, but until you get out there and experience a full practice and going up and down really fast there’s really nothing like it. I think the speed of the game has been the biggest jump and I feel like I’m making a great jump. Every single day I feel like I’m getting better."

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