Now that the dust has settled on the Knicks’ failed attempts to trade for Donovan Mitchell this summer, one thing seems certain: Utah Jazz team president Danny Ainge was willing to swing a deal that included Quentin Grimes, but New York refused to give him up.
Yet Utah wouldn’t bite.
Ainge declared a willingness to trade his three-time All-Star for Grimes (and other prizes, to be sure), and the Knicks declared their soon-to-be second-year player untouchable. Ultimately, Mitchell landed in Cleveland with the Cavaliers, and Grimes remains in New York, fated to receive a ton of attention during the upcoming season.
The 22-year-old has earned his high valuation—and especially the scruffy affection of head coach Tom Thibodeau. There are reports that Thibs stood firm on not dealing away his sharp-shooting two-guard with a penchant for hard-nosed defense. I don’t blame him. Admittedly, I’m a card-carrying member of the QDot Fan Club for all the same reasons.
There are risks to publicly prioritizing one player over the rest—chief among them is locker room discord. You can bet that some players will be keenly attuned to how Thibs treats the sophomore this season. In fact, every tweet and media burp that mentioned his holy status has felt like one more KICK ME post-it note affixed to the back of Q’s jersey.
Not that we should be too worried about the affable Texan, of course. Grimes has faced challenging situations before, and thus far, he has navigated his schooner through choppy waters like an expert captain and whistled the whole time.
The pride of The Woodlands, Texas exploded out of high school as a golden child. In 2018, his graduation year, he stocked his trophy case with these shining accolades: McDonald’s All-American; Jordan Brand Classic; Nike Hoop Summit; Texas’s Mr. Basketball; and FIBA Americas Under-18 Championship MVP.
He completed his high school career with 2,863 points, 854 rebounds, 582 assists, 213 steals, and 127 blocks, and was ranked eighth nationally.
The future gleamed with promise when he chose Kansas over at least 11 other interested universities. His new coach, Bill Self, called him “probably as complete a guard as we’ve ever had.”
The Jayhawk started with a glimmering performance. Against Michigan State, in his first college game, Grimes scored 21 points and sank six three-balls. He was projected to be a one-and-done but struggled to gel in KU’s system and finished the season with underwhelming averages of 8.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. He shot 34% from deep and 38% from the field.
Some were calling him a “blue-chip flameout.” Nonetheless, after the season, Quentin declared for the NBA Draft and participated in the NBA combine. When scouts seemed lukewarm on him, Grimes withdrew from the draft and decided to transfer to the University of Houston instead.
Maybe the guy just needed to get back to the lone star state and get back on a diet of brisket. Or maybe he needed different coaching, someone to crack his ass about learning defensive fundamentals.
According to SI.com, Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said, “We needed his talent, but he needed what our program’s culture was about. And that was being hard-nosed, being tough, defending and rebounding…I think Quentin always thought that was for the [peons]. That’s for the regular guys. I’m a star. I don’t need rebounding. But in our program, my man, if you don’t get on them boards…”
While at Houston, in addition to improving his defense, Grimes also retooled his offensive skill set, focusing more on his shooting form and increasing his range. “There was a lot of things we had to fix with him,” Sampson admitted.
Still, the coach believed in Grimes, bolstered by a ringing endorsement from Philadelphia 76er James Harden. Sampson and Harden had crossed paths when the former served on the Rockets coaching staff. According to Sampson, Harden watched Grimes in a pick-up game and then sent the coach a long, effusive text message that read: “‘He’s a pro. He was the best player on the floor today.’ That’s when I knew that we had to get him.”
Meanwhile, Harden also put a bug in Quentin’s ear about Houston. “So he was like, ‘[Sampson] can be super hard on you, but he’s gonna let you rock out and he’s gonna let you do your thing.’ Once I heard that, it was kinda like a no-brainer,” said Grimes.
According to Alder Almo, Sampson made life tough for the perhaps over-confident youngster. “They started to work on his rebounding,” reported Almo. “There was a rebounding drill specifically made for Grimes. Sampson would put a cover on the ring, and Grimes was the only one allowed to get the rebound. So every time his teammates shot the ball, Grimes had to fight the whole team to grab the rebound.”
Hard work produced results. In two years with the Cougars, Grimes regained his groove, averaging 15 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.1 steals, and shot 42% from the field, and 38% from behind the arc. He took 8.3 threes per game in his last year at Houston and developed into an excellent pick-and-roll ballhandler. The new and improved QDot led his squad to the Final Four.
This time when Quentin declared for the NBA draft, he arrived as a more complete, more experienced player, inarguably one of the finest prospects in the country.
Zach Hood of Peach Tree Hoops gave this assessment: “The ‘D’ part of the 3-and-D equation is massive for Grimes. He was a big part of Houston’s daunting defensive attack, one that carried them all the way to the 2021 Final Four. Often tasked with the opposing team’s best wing, Grimes almost always held his own on the perimeter.”
And still, Grimes was left off of most mock drafts. Doubters cited his high turnover ratio, and that he didn’t drive to the rim enough. But really, it seemed like the disappointment at Kansas and his aborted first attempt to enter the NBA had tarnished his image.
Despite his reinvention in Houston, Quentin had to prove himself yet again. Picking up on the resiliency theme yet?
QDot worked extensively with NBA legend Penny Hardaway at a gym in Memphis, learning playmaking skills from one of the greats. This time, when he arrived at the NBA Combine, Grimes was ready to smoke some fools—and so he did by destroying in the five-on-five game, scoring 39 points in 50 minutes.
That turned some heads. Jeremy Woo wrote for Sports Illustrated at the time:
Grimes was arguably the best player in the on-court portion of the combine and stands as a testament to why full combine participation can be so valuable. He’s another player who I unjustly buried in our rankings all season. Grimes’s pathway is unique: He was a projected lottery pick on arrival at Kansas, where he underwhelmed as a freshman before transferring to Houston and duly rejuvenating himself as a player. He had an excellent junior year, leading the Cougars to the Final Four and putting himself back on the radar for NBA teams.
As a well-rounded wing who can shoot, make plays in a pinch and play capable defense, Grimes looks like a good fit for an NBA bench role. I do think some scouts will hold that early hype and underwhelming freshman year against him—it’s often easier to forget about a guy and stay negative rather than do the full diligence in re-evaluating him as he develops. After what Grimes showed at the combine, it would be hard for anyone to maintain that same level of skepticism, and he was praised by teams for his maturity and poise in interviews. He’s now a likely top-40 pick with a shot at the first round, a far cry from where perception was this time last year.
When the 2021 Draft night finally arrived, the Los Angeles Clippers snagged the happy hooper with the 25th selection and promptly swapped him with the New York Knicks. Nothing makes me more misty-eyed than watching draftees react to hearing Adam Silver announce their names:
And still, the talented pick wasn’t stepping into an easy situation for newbies. Due to stingy minutes distribution by coach Thibs, Grimes didn’t see a lot of action as a rookie at first. That changed on December 12, 2021, however. With half the team missing due to COVID-19 protocols, Grimes got the surprising starting nod against the defending champions, the Milwaukee Bucks.
“I found out about 90 minutes before the game when we knew RJ couldn’t play that I was going to start,” said Grimes. “I just needed to keep my mind right and do whatever I was doing in college to prepare myself for moments like this. It was definitely a surreal moment, and I was just trying to soak it all in.”
After the Kansas debacle, Grimes had learned not to blow an opportunity. And Dude didn’t. In his first career start, in the backcourt alongside veteran Derrick Rose, Grimes posted a career-high 27 points and sank seven three-pointers.
Thibs said at his post-game presser, “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 that he would play well, and he did. Obviously, one game doesn’t make a huge difference, but it’s a very positive step.”
What a wet blanket, that Thibs. Nonetheless, Grimes was out of the bottle and had no intentions of going back in. Over 46 games with the Knicks, in about 17 minutes per night, he averaged six points and shot 38% from long range. More importantly, he demonstrated the defensive grit that makes Thibodeau smile creepily in his sleep.
Fans took notice, too. As the momentum built, we realized that the Knicks had a potential competition brewing for the starting shooting guard position, currently held by vet Evan Fournier.
Then, fate intervened once more.
In a late February loss to the Miami Heat, Grimes and another player banged knees. The Knicks said that Grimes had suffered a subluxation of his right patella (a partially dislocated kneecap), and that was mostly a wrap for the season, with knee soreness keeping him off the floor for most of the remaining games.
The knee showed no sign of trouble when Grimes suited up for this year’s Summer League in Las Vegas. Sure, the first few times down the court, nerves made him look like a roller-skating giraffe. Once he knocked off the rust, though, he dominated in the desert and led the Knicks to the title game.
The dominance of Quentin Grimes has been monumental for the Knicks in Las Vegas. Grimes secured the second spot in the last ladder, but his transcendent play has landed him at this week’s No. 1 spot. The 22-year-old has continued his electric play in Summer League, averaging 23.5 points per game on 43.7% shooting. His highlight game of the week came during the Knicks’ sole loss this summer when he clocked in 24 points and six rebounds on 52.9% shooting against the Trail Blazers on Monday. Grimes and New York will get a chance to avenge their loss against Portland on Sunday as both teams face off in the NBA 2K23 Summer League Championship Game.
He impressed in Vegas and barely lost the MVP award to rookie phenom Keegan Murray of the Sacramento Kings. The backdrop to all this fanfare, of course, was that Quentin’s name was already being bandied about as a primo trade chip, especially with the Utah Jazz looking to rebuild and keen to acquire standout talents on cheap contracts and Donovan Mitchell interested in moving on.
Undeterred by the noise, the unflappable Texan seemed to enjoy being Quentin Grimes when not hooping or training this off-season. Here he is just, you know, chilling with a Maserati. As you do.
Quentin Grimes x Maserati of Manhattan— Maserati of Manhattan (@NYC_Maserati) May 23, 2022
Your life is as good as your mindset. @qdotgrimes by the talented @Sean_Daniel01 #maserati #cars #auto #carlifestyle #carphotography #supercars #carswithoutlimits #instacar #luxury #luxurycars #photography #travel #basketball pic.twitter.com/lf13KQ1Y5U
Judging by the laid back pix that he tweeted this summer, he must have known what we didn’t. Namely, that Knicks team president Leon Rose had no intention of letting his blue-chip go, no matter the offer.
I’m sure that was a load off the young man’s mind. Imagine the confidence that comes from knowing that your organization considers you untouchable. Empowering, right?
A word of advice from an old head, though: In training camp, Quentin might find that keeping a low profile will maintain his likability among teammates who might be sore about perceived favoritism.
While he may never show it—insert reference to polite Canadian roots—RJ Barrett could be justifiably steamed that he was tossed about willy-nilly in the trade talks. Sure, he ultimately got the handsome extension he sought—4 years, $120 mil—but it must sting to know that the team was ready, nay, eager to part with you all summer long.
So, there is potential for locker room static. Remember, there was grumbling last year about double standards when Obi Toppin was held to more demanding expectations than the lead power forward, Julius Randle. Drama like that usually spills out on the court and sours camaraderie. The Knicks will have a hard enough time reaching the promised land of the Playoffs, or even Play-In, without any Susan Lucci theatrics.
Some believe that Grimes will max out as a great role player, the quintessential 3 & D dude. Others, myself included, salivate over his All-Star potential. Either way, he’s a helluva resilient talent who has continually met adversity with increased character. Plus, he’s on a very reasonable rookie contract for the next couple of years. It’s easy to see why New York values him so highly. This season will be his chance to prove that he deserves that untouchable status.
Here is Grimes with the final word, taken from his introductory press conference. “I feel like I was picked in the perfect spot. I feel like some people might say I was picked too low or picked too high, something like that. But that’s why I got picked in the right situation…. That’s why going to New York is going to be a match made in heaven.”