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What is wrong with Immanuel Quickley?

The sophomore is in the midst of a career-worst slump.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at New York Knicks Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

This time last year, fans were ecstatic about Immanuel Quickley. He was in the midst of a very solid rookie season where he averaged 11.4 points, 2 assists, and 2.1 rebounds on 39.5% shooting from the field and 38.9% from 3. And it wasn’t just the counting stats that Knicks fans were excited about. The neophyte brought a confidence and swagger that radiated from him and his play. The type of energy he brought on both sides of the ball was a nice change of pace considering the Knicks hadn’t found an answer to the point guard position in nearly a decade. And it wasn’t just Knicks fans that took notice. While he didn’t make the Rising Stars roster during All-Star weekend, he ended up making the All-Rookie Second Team, and on nationally broadcasted games, analysts and pundits from other networks were quick (no pun intended) to point out how crucial of a piece Quickley had become for the team.

Quickley wasn’t without his faults. He made the usual rookie mistakes, which included but were not limited to fouling jump shooters and displaying poor clock management. His biggest weakness, his shot selection, was even taken as somewhat of a positive, as people often pointed to his confidence. It was one of the things that made him so unique and good. Even with the aforementioned negatives, with his ability to create and hit outside shots, something the team lacked last year, and his energy on defense, he was usually a net positive. Coach Tom Thibodeau, who we all know is very hesitant on playing young players big minutes, started slow with Quickley’s minutes but came around to relying on him more and more pretty early on in the season.

It was a natural progression for fans to believe in Quickley to take yet another step coming into this season. This was especially true after the amazing showing he had at the 2021 NBA Summer League where he showed flashes of improved playmaking along with the shooting and scoring he showed the season prior. But for the most part, fans have been disappointed with his season overall. We’ve all seen Quickley show glimpses of what made fans love him but they’ve also seen a lot of the weaknesses in his game become more glaring than ever.

Making this even harder to digest for fans is the fact that guys like Desmond Bane, who joined Quickley on the All-Rookie Second Team last season, is having a breakout season averaging 17.6 PPG, while both Cole Anthony and Tyrese Maxey, who both failed to even make an All-Rookie Team, are averaging 17.6 PPG and 17 PPG respectively and looking like a clear cut part of the future of their teams. Sadly, the same cannot be said about Quickley. Does he have potential? Yes. Could he end up becoming the type of player that the Knicks keep long term and ends up helping the team win? Yes. But he is by no means untouchable. The Grizzlies been very vocal of how much they love Bane, the Magic seem intent on building around Anthony and the Sixers didn’t even want to include Maxey in a deal for James Harden. I’m sure the Knicks love Quickley but given the right deal, at this moment, they would 100% let him go, and they should. But there is one thing that separates Quickley from some of his more successful peers. And it is opportunity.

Bane, Maxey, and Anthony all average north of 30 MPG, with Maxey averaging 35.6 MPG, tied for 13th-highest in the league with none other than Julius Randle. Meanwhile, Quickley only averages 21.3 MPG. That’s not to say that if Quickley played 30 MPG, his numbers would be way better or that the Knicks would win more games, or even that he would have progressed in his development way more by now. One would certainly think all those things would be true, but we’ll never know thanks to head coach Tom Thibodeau preferring to play Alec Burks and Kemba Walker over 51 MPG.

We’d understand if Burks and Walker were playing good, efficient basketball, since Quickley has struggled this season. But there are too many games where Walker or Burks (sometimes even both) are struggling from the field and can’t guard anyone. Quickley, unlike the other two “point guards,” at least brings defensive energy pretty much on a nightly basis and has a level of pace that the other two cannot bring. In a season where wins are becoming harder to come by and winning this season is looking less and less of a priority, fans want to see Quickley play — if not for his development, then to at least see if he is someone the team should keep long term.

But enough of Thibodeau and the problem of the other guards. Let’s focus a bit more on what Quickley has and hasn’t done this season.

The first thing that people will talk about with Quickley this season is the field goal percentage. While his 39.5% from the field as a rookie was by no means good, plenty of rookies struggle from the field, and his ability to hit on 39.5% of his 3-pointers made up for it on most nights since he took more threes than twos. But this season, the already low percentage took a dive down to an abysmal 36%. And unlike last season, his 3-point shooting has been bad as well, only making 32.2% of his downtown attempts. While his free throw percentage has actually increased from an already great 89.1% to 91.4% he is only attempting 1.7 a game, which is not enough to notice or make up for the awful shooting percentages. So if you look at it from Thibodeau’s prospective, it is hard to find a lot of playing time for a non-lockdown defender, or non-elite playmaker that shoots 36% from the field.

To be fair to Quickley, is hasn’t been all bad this season. While he started the season shooting 30% from the field over his first 9 games, he actually went on a 28 game stretch where he averaged 12.3 PPG, on 41% from the field and 37% from 3. During that stretch, Quickley looked like himself again, going on short runs by himself and seemingly catching fire out of nowhere. He brought the same kind of energy on both sides of the ball, and fans let out a collective sigh of relief as the fan favorite looked like he was on his way to a solid sophomore campaign.

Much of that hope has disappeared, though, and his play, along with the Knicks season, has gone into the dumpster. Through the last 16 games, Quickley is averaging 6.3 PPG on 28% shooting from the field and 26% from 3. And it isn’t just his numbers. Quickley, a guy that always seemed confident that he was just one shot away from taking over a quarter, looks like his confidence has taken a bit of a hit. I wouldn’t suggest that he’s lost it all but something just seems off. To his credit, he still plays with intensity and is doing what the team asks him to do but even outside of the numbers, he just doesn’t seem like the same player. Is it possible that the rough shooting percentages, partly a product of his bad shot selection, got to his head and now he struggles even on smart shots? But the Knicks, currently in a massive rut, need him more than ever, and probably will need a better and even possibly a bit of a different version of him going forward even after this season.

So what is it exactly that Quickley needs to do better/differently? The shot selection is an obvious one, but I do think that will sort itself out. Quickley seems to thrive as a microwave scorer, ready to erupt at any moment, so I don’t think the shot selection problems will ever fully go away. Obviously a more refined shot selection would do wonders, but I doubt we’ll ever see it completely go away, and fans should be fine with that. A lot of good teams have that one guy who can win them important games off of catching fire, and Quickley can be just that for the Knicks.

Quickley, though, can do a better job of getting to the rim and drawing fouls. There are times where he gets past his defender off a pick but he snake dribbles the ball back out to the perimeter. This often just ends in a step-back J, and I’d like to see him attack more. And when he does attack, he needs to do a better job of understanding when to rise up for the midrange jumper — something he has done a better job of this year — when to go for the floater, when to finish around the rim, when to go for a lob, and when to draw a foul. These are obviously not easy reads, and only experience will help. But this will do wonders in his assist numbers, and his ability to get off cleaner looks, as well as his ability to get to the free throw line, where he converts at a very high rate.

Looking forward, with just 24 games left on the season, maybe we won’t get to see an increase in minute or quality of play from Quickley. But the hope is that it’s not a lost year and that he learns from this year. There have been fans who have written Quickley off or asked for him to be traded or declared that he can’t be a starter for this team in the future. I don’t think it’s right, fair, or smart to judge the outlook of a 22 year old sophomore’s career. It’s certainly been a frustrating to watch Quickley and pretty much every other player on the team at one point or another. Fans just have to keep their fingers crossed that he learns on the move, which again can be difficult when the minutes are hard to come by, and that he continues to put the work in, something he is well known to do.