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Don’t worry: Immanuel Quickley will be a starter in due time

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Trust in Thibs.

New York Knicks v Portland Trail Blazers
One of the best point guards in the NBA, plus Damian Lillard.
Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

The emergence of Immanuel Quickley and his fondness for floaters has fans calling for Tom Thibodeau to insert the 21-year-old point guard into the starting lineup post-haste. But there’s no need to rush the rookie. If he keeps playing this good, he’ll earn the role before long.

The impatience is understandable. The current starter, Elfrid Payton, is a brutal outside shooter, who in no, way shape or form should he be considered a long-term option. Meanwhile, the Knicks have been searching for a suitable starting point guard ever since it became clear that Stephon Marbury wasn’t going to lead the franchise to the promised land.

Perhaps Quickley is the guy. But hold the phone; he doesn’t need to start right away. Since coming back from a hip injury suffered in the season opener, IQ has played in every game. And while he was only averaging about 14 minutes per contest through his first six games, the neophyte’s playing time has risen dramatically as it’s become clear that his ability to shoot, drive, pass and float is needed on the court.

Since Jan. 11, Quickley has played 21 minutes a night. In the nine games the Knicks have played between then and now, he’s averaged 13.7 points on 35% from deep, plus 3.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds. The mere threat of him shooting puts much more pressure on defenses than Payton. So why the heck is this blog telling you to chill out with the calls for IQ to start?

The truth is that Quickley will overtake Payton as the starter only once his play is both so convincing and consistent that Thibs is left with no other choice. Payton has been in the NBA for seven years now. His flaws are maddening, but for seven straight seasons teams have been able to count on him for solid defense, plus like 10 points, 5 or 6 assists and 4 rebounds a night.

And by the way, rumor has it the Knicks have been looking into whether they can trade for Derrick Rose, which indicates they too see that Payton isn’t the answer. It would obviously be painful if the Knicks traded, say, Frank Ntililkina in a deal for Rose. But what if they could get rid of Payton or Dennis Smith Jr. in such a deal instead? Rose has actually been a really solid veteran since joining back up with Thibs in Minnesota a few years ago. And he’s been a bench guy! Rose started 15 times in 50 games last year and 13 times in 51 games the year before that.

This year, he hasn’t started a single game for Detroit. So if the Knicks could theoretically get Rose, maybe the idea would be to eventually start Quickley while having a playmaking former MVP as your backup. That’s all up in the air, of course. For now, the Knicks’ roster is the Knicks’ roster.

Quickley was the 25th pick in the draft. And while a player’s place in the draft shouldn’t determine whether or not they can be a starter, take a deep breath and remember that we’re only a quarter of the way through IQ’s rookie season.

Quick, without looking, who was the 25th pick last year? How about 2018? 2017? The answers, respectively, are Nassir Little, Moritz Wagner and Anžejs Pasečņiks. You’ve probably at least heard of Wagner, who played almost 19 minutes a game last season off the bench for the Washington Wizards. Here’s what happens when you Google him.

What happened?
Google screenshot

The last 25th pick to become a starting player was Clint Capela. Drafted 25th overall by the Houston Rockets in 2014, Capela started exactly zero games as a rookie and averaged only 7.5 minutes a night. As a sophomore, he started 35 times and averaged 19 minutes a game. Seasons three and four are when he really came into his own, starting 59 and then 74 games.

And it’s not just late first round picks who aren’t guaranteed starting roles. Jamal Murray, drafted 7th in 2016, started 10 games in his rookie season, behind Emmanuel Mudiay (55 starts) and 34-year-old Jameer Nelson (39 starts). Kemba Walker, who was drafted 9th in 2011 after hitting one of the most iconic NCAA tournament shots in history, only started 25 of the 66 games he appeared in during year one.

Again, this isn’t to say that Quickley doesn’t deserve the starting role. In particular, the threat of him knocking down shots from beyond the arc could really help the first unit, which, based on the starters against Portland the other night (Elf, RJ, Alec Burks, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson), are shooting a combined 33% from deep this season.

But patience is a virtue. For every blistering performance ending with 31 points, or 17 points and 8 assists, or 23 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, there’s a night where Quickley finished with 3 points on 1-10 shooting, or 6 points on 1-11 from the field. He looks legitimate, but he’s a 21-year-old rookie. Thibs is focused on putting him in the best position to succeed.

For now, in the eyes of the team’s head coach, that means coming off the bench. What’s more important than whether or not he’s going to wind up starting this season is the fact that Quickley often finds himself on the court at the end of games.

The Knicks are better than anyone expected this year, so naturally there’s a push from the fanbase to get to the future right away. IQ is the future. Elf is the past. We’re stuck in the present. But there’s no need to panic. The Knicks clearly see that they might have unearthed a diamond in the rough. Quickley could earn the starting role before you know it. And most importantly, he’s going to hopefully have a long, successful career in New York.