clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Should Immanuel Quickley remain in the starting lineup when RJ Barrett returns?

A good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless

NBA: Toronto Raptors at New York Knicks Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

For the last few years, it’s been well documented, maybe even overstated, just how underutilized Immanuel Quickley has been. After most games, win or lose, fans were quick to jump on to their social media platform of choice to complain about how the young guard was being treated unfairly and being misused. And those fans were certainly right to do so on most occasions. Quickley brought to the Knicks, a unique combination of energy, shot making, defense and playmaking that others could not replicate yet he often found it difficult to play more than half the game. But due to an unfortunate and gruesome injury to RJ Barrett, the third year guard has finally gotten the consistent minutes and opportunity that so many fans have long begged for him to get. And Quickley has capitalized on it to the best of his abilities.

Over his last six games (all of which he has started), the 6’3” guard is averaging 21.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 4.3 APG while shooting 46.5% from the field, 35.6% from 3, and 84% from the free throw line. And during this stretch, Quickley has showcased more than ever, his ability to play both on the ball and off the ball, making him an incredibly valuable asset next to the likes of Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, who both like to operate with the ball in their hands.

It’s also impossible to talk about Quickley’s impact and play without mentioning his elite defense. While Quickley has always brought an abundance of energy off the bench, defense had never been his calling card. Many around the league, especially those that hadn’t watched many Knicks games, knew Quickley for his three-point shooting and floater and would often label him as a shot chucker, or a offense-only kind of player, comparing him to guys like Lou Williams or JR Smith. And at times in prior seasons they weren’t necessarily wrong. But this season, he’s not only turned himself into a good defender, but he’s been one of, if not, the best defenders on the team and quite frankly, the league even.

Quickley currently has a defensive rating of 104.2, which is second only to Deuce McBride among the current rotational players on the team and is second in the league among all players who have played at least 1100 possessions. And it isn’t just the numbers. Watch the games and you’ll see a more confident and stronger defender who plays an aggressive yet disciplined brand of defense that defends his own man incredibly well but also has the effort, communication, and awareness to rotate on to others when his teammates get beat. This has allowed Quickley to be a way more complete player, one that can and has impacted games at an incredibly high and positive rate even when his shot isn’t falling.

While all of this is amazing news and great to see for Knicks fans, it does lead to a very difficult situation for when RJ Barrett inevitably returns. Because as much as it’ll pain everyone to hear and see, Quickley is likely headed back to the bench with Quentin Grimes likely retaining his spot as the starting shooting guard. But the question is, should he?

There are fans who believe that Quickley is a better fit for the starters than Barrett given his ability to play off the ball better, tendency to be a better and more consistent playmaker and the high level defense that he offers. There’s some truth to that, but it’s not that simple. Barrett is someone that puts an immense amount of pressure on defenses with his ability to get to the rim and his physicality and tendency to get to the free throw line is something that cannot be calculated but can often be seen wearing opposing teams down. And that matters. Also, it’s not like he’s any worse of a 3three-point shooter than Quickley is. While Quickley may have more games where he seems like he can’t miss from three, the two are actually pretty much equals when it comes to shooting from outside. Barrett is shooting 33.2% from 3 on the season on 5.3 attempts per game and 35.3% on 4.7 attempts per game for his career. Meanwhile, Quickley is shooting 33.3% on 4.8 attempts per game this season and 35.8% on 4.9 attempts per game for his career. Not to mention Barrett is averaging 20.9PPG per 36 while Quickley is averaging 16.3PPG per 36 this season. And while Quickley is and has been a way better defender this season, the team still misses Barrett’s size and strength when playing against bigger and more physical teams.

Quickley starting over Grimes, while still unlikely, is at least plausible and makes more sense. Grimes, known as a pure knock down shooter coming out of college, also possessed some of the best defensive instinct and motor I’ve seen for a rookie guard and he’s now come into his second year with much improved playmaking to add to those skills. He doesn’t always get the opportunity to showcase his passing or his driving abilities but in his short NBA career, Grimes has shown that he has the potential to be way more than a 3-and-D player. The former Houston Cougar has the legitimate ability to become an incredibly good, even great, wing player who can get you 18-21 PPG, average 5 assists, and defend the opposing team’s best player. There’s a reason the Knicks and Jazz fought over him in the Donovan Mitchell trade talks.

That being said, Quickley, at just two inches shorter, would have an easier time slotting in over Grimes in the starting lineup defensively and size wise. Grimes is a better shooter, shooting 37.5% from three this season, and is a little better at moving without the ball, but Quickley would allow the starting lineup to have more playmaking and ability to get to the free throw line without sacrificing too much defense or shooting.

Now, if neither of those things happen and IQ is slotted back to the bench, his recent play should still lead to him getting more minutes that he was getting before this recent stretch. But there should still be concern, given who coaches the Knicks, that Quickley will go from playing 36-plus minutes a night to the measly 23.6 MPG that he averaged before he was inserted into the starting lineup.

This type of dilemma rooting from positional competition is still a good problem to have overall for a young, up and coming team such as the Knicks, but it is still a problem nonetheless. The hope is that Quickley just takes all of McBride, Rose, and Fournier’s minutes but as we have unfortunately had to learn, it can be pretty unreasonably difficult to predict what Thibodeau will do with his rotations. And we can’t forget that it was just last season that it was Thibodeau, who willingly chose to start Alec Burks for a whopping 44 games last season (the most of his career) at a position that Quickley so obviously plays better than him.

It’s been a special run for Quickley, especially since the team seemed so keen on trading the promising guard earlier this season, but the next few weeks could be a very telling one for a few reasons. How will Quickley take being asked to come off the bench once again and how will it affect his play? Will he stay the confident stud that he’s been as a starter, or will we see more of the hesitant player we saw to start the season? And how serious are the Knicks about developing and keeping Quickley long term? It’s become an awkward situation with the fans loving Quickley and Quickley himself seemingly wanting to thrive in New York, but the front office and Thibodeau have not always replicated that same type of love and respect back on a consistent basis. Regardless of how those answers turn out, this will undoubtedly be an interesting storyline to keep an eye on going forward. Hopefully, fingers crossed, the Knicks smarten up and not only keep Quickley but give him the minutes that he’s more than earned over the last few weeks.