Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau often has described Immanuel Quickley as a worker and a student of the game. A huge part of that work comes off the court, studying film, and what Quickley has seen has been the same thing that fans have seen.
The rookie exploded on the scene after becoming the 25th player selected in the 2020 NBA Draft. But a dangerous floater, the ability to draw fouls and a veteran’s sensibility that brought him early acclaim also put him in the scouting reports. What he has seen since then is teams adjusting to his go-to moves, waiting for him to learn a counterpunch to their strategies.
"Oh, yeah, without a doubt," Quickley said. "Especially the second time that we play a team. I feel like they definitely make adjustments, especially on my floater, different things like that, my pick-and-roll play. So I’m just trying to get better each and every day, not only on the floor but with film, trying to adjust my game to become a smarter student of the game and just continue to get better so that way I can continue to adjust my game for the better of the team."
Quickley, who went against the Memphis Grizzlies’ Ja Morant on Friday night at Madison Square Garden, knows the lessons must come quickly. In the previous 15 games, he saw his numbers plummet. He shot 36.6% in that span, including 33.3% from three-point range. In the previous six games, it was even more pronounced: 31.6% overall and 29.4% from beyond the arc.
In the previous six games, he played at least 20 minutes only once and averaged only 16.1 minutes per game.
Quickley has fallen off from the midseason stretch when he emerged as the third offensive weapon behind Julius Randle and RJ Barrett. Part of that can be attributed to Thibodeau’s belief in playing the hot hand — earn your minutes every night. And some of it might come from the return of Derrick Rose from COVID-19 and Elfrid Payton from nagging leg injuries.
Is it a rookie wall, hitting a point of exhaustion? Or is it simply an adjustment that he must find a way to overcome?
"I don’t know," Quickley said. "Just continue doing the same stuff which has gotten me in this position, which is working extremely hard each and every day, giving my all every time I step on the floor and just trusting God. When I do those things, I’ll live with whatever the results are, so just making sure that I’m doing those things.
"I feel like teams are just playing a little bit higher, which doesn’t really affect me too much. I can still get by the bigs, I feel like, and create for myself or my teammates. And then for the rookie wall, I don’t really feel it. I’m just going to continue to do whatever’s got me here.
"There’s gonna be ups and downs throughout a season, ups and downs throughout a game. But you just want to continue to do what’s got you to the place you’ve been. And that’s just working hard and trusting God and just continue to believe in myself. I feel like I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself and I’m gonna continue to just play hard every night."
"First of all, for being a rookie, he’s been tremendous this whole year," RJ Barrett said. "But also, this happens to everybody. It’s not just him, it’s everybody. Superstars have bad games, too. It happens to everyone in this league. Of course, you have to stay in the gym, stay with it. I’m sure he’ll be fine."
For his part, Quickley countered any notion that he’s being pushed aside.
"It’s great," he said. "[Elfrid Payton] has been almost like a big brother to me, not only on the floor but off the floor. He gives me a lot of advice that will help me grow my entire career. Being able to play with somebody that got triple-doubles and is a great defensive player, Elfrid Payton, my guy. Like I said, he’s continued to help me on the floor, off the floor, and just helping me as a rookie become a better player."