Everything about Quentin Grimes’ first NBA start seemed like it was setting him up to fail.
The rookie wasn’t exactly groomed for this moment in the games leading up to Sunday’s matinee against the Milwaukee Bucks, having managed only 79 minutes of action across 13 appearances. It was a product of circumstance, the result of three rotation regulars (including two wings) set to miss this game for one reason or another.
And because the unavailable status of RJ Barrett and Alec Burks were discovered so close to tip-off, Grimes only had so much time to digest the opportunity he was about to be given. And against the defending champions and their top-10 defense? Talk about being thrown into the harshest of fires. You had to wonder if the 21-year-old would be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of everything that was quickly being hurled at him.
Surprisingly enough, Grimes seemed like one of the only Knicks who wasn’t overwhelmed over the course of a 112-97 defeat, unexpectedly serving as one of the few bright spots during New York’s sixth loss in seven games.
Grimes shot 40.3 percent from beyond the arc in his final season at Houston, and he put that stroke to good use against Milwaukee, shooting 9-of-13 from beyond the arc en route to a career-high 27-point outing.
“I knew like 90 minutes before the game started,” Grimes said of Thibs’ decision to insert him into the starting lineup. “I was just trying to get my mind right, just do whatever I would do in college. I always prepare myself for a moment like this but it was definitely a surreal moment and just I was trying to soak it all in.
The Bucks may have a stingy defense, but they allow the most 3-point attempts per game in the entire NBA due in large part to the emphasis they place on protecting the rim. With penetrators like Julius Randle and Derrick Rose trying to get to the lane, Grimes had all the time in the world on some of his looks while displaying key off-ball awareness in the process as he lifted up from the corner to provide Randle with an easier pass midway through the first quarter.
Most rookies try not to do too much with their minutes. They’ll take only what they’ve been given because there’s a hierarchy among the players. To upset that by trying to take control of the offense or hoisting too many shots will likely send their minutes in the opposite direction.
Grimes may know where he sits in the Knicks’ pecking order under normal circumstances, but this game hardly offered any. And with New York already down big, he had no problem testing the exact temperature of a hand that continued to grow warmer with every quick launch from beyond the arc.
Grimes’ performance set a new Knicks record for most points and 3-pointers by a rookie in their first start. Perhaps he’s one of those individuals who thrives amid chaos. If that’s the case, he’d be perfect for a Knicks team that is spiraling out of control and is now getting hit by the COVID-19 in ways they avoided last season.
With no exact return known for Barrett, Burks, or Obi Toppin, Thibodeau has minutes to fill over the next handful of games. He’s always been about giving playing time to those who’ve earned it. If he means what he says, Grimes should earn another chance to build off a performance that, according to Thibs, was hardly a surprise to those who know of the work the youngster puts in behind closed doors.
“It starts with practicing well, which I see every day,” Thibs said. “He comes back every night, comes in early every day, works extremely hard, very good in practice. We were confident when he got his opportunity, he would play well, and he did.”