LAS VEGAS — Quentin Grimes was one of the last players out of the practice court at Cox Pavilion Tuesday morning when the Knicks finished their first workout of the NBA Summer League, ice packs strapped to his knees, but a wide smile on his face just to be back and healthy.
Grimes was a find for the Knicks with a late first-round pick last year, impressing head coach Tom Thibodeau with his work ethic — beginning in summer league — and his shooting and defensive prowess. Now, in his second season after a rookie campaign that he calls a roller coaster, he is hoping to take another step forward, possibly into the starting lineup.
“Yeah, that’s the goal for everybody really in the NBA,” Grimes said. “They want to be a starter. They want to have high usage rate on the team. I feel like this year: go in and work like I did last year, work extremely hard, got to earn Thibs’ trust and hopefully be in the rotation this year.”
It might be more than just a rotation spot for Grimes. The 22-year-old shooting guard could be a fit for the Knicks starting lineup with the impending arrival of Jalen Brunson as the new point guard. Last season it was Evan Fournier who provided the much-needed three-point shooting for the Knicks, but with Brunson’s size and Fournier’s defensive limitations the Knicks might opt to insert Grimes into the starting spot next to Brunson.
For his part, Grimes is choosing just to approach is the same way he did as a rookie — using summer league to show the coach that he is exactly what is needed. Along with his fellow second-year players Miles McBride and Jericho Sims, Grimes hopes to serve as a leader in this summer session.
“I know exactly what to expect,” Grimes said. “The summer league coaches were our coaches last year so it feels good to come here and do it again. Definitely come in and work super hard. You’ve got to practice like it’s a game every time you step out there on the court. We’re the veterans now so we know. exactly what to expect. We know how to go hard in drills and everything. So I feel it’s easy this time around.
“[My goal is] really to come out here and dominate really. Last year I feel like I played well. To come in this year, a second-year guy, I know what to expect. I know how the games are. Try to go out there and dominate every time defensively and offensively.”
Grimes showed hints last season, but his season was interrupted by ill-timed injuries and illness. He started his first game on December 12 against Milwaukee and responded with a 27-point performance. But he then tested positive for COVID-19 and sat out the next five games and when he returned he was still slowed by the fatigue and conditioning problems. He then started a stretch of four games — averaging 13.3 points and shooting 46.7% from beyond the arc, but then he suffered a dislocated patella just 14 seconds into his next appearance and missed 16 of the last 22 games. He tried to come back but had to shut down with soreness for the final four games.
“It was tough,” Grimes said. “It was my first time ever being injured. To go through that, to kind of fight through that, and when the season was over I couldn’t finish off the last four and I couldn’t be there for my teammates. Coming into summer league healthy it’s going to be a fun couple weeks. Being on [the knee late last season] it kept getting a little bit worse, but now I’m a 100% healthy, so I’m feeling good to be out there with a 100% body.
“It was kind of like a roller coaster. My first year ever coming off the bench. You’ve got to earn Thibs’ trust, earn Thibs’ minutes. You’re going in, when you get the opportunity you’ve got to make the most of it, and [I] got injured, [had] to go through that adversity. It’s a whole roller coaster. I feel it made me more ready for whatever is to come this year.”
In those hard times last year he feels he has learned about himself.
“Just that you can throw whatever at me,” he said. “I’m going to fight through it. I’m going to make the most of it. Last year, I didn’t know when my number was going to be called for a game, if I was going to start, not start. I learned a lot about myself last year.”