While Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson were the best players on the team last year by a significant margin, Immanuel Quickley made a very strong case for the third best player on the squad. Mitchell Robinson, and Josh Hart had their moments and were integral parts of the team and potential wise, I’m sure some would still put RJ Barrett in that conversation. But strictly speaking impact on the game and contributing to winning, Quickley would be a lot of people’s choice. But it wasn’t always pretty, and while some may have forgotten, we must remember that sandwiching what was an amazing stretch for Quickley, were some very ugly games.
The third year guard, much like the team in general, struggled out the gate mightily averaging just 9.6PPG on 38.5% shooting, which lead to a lot of questions surrounding him. His defense was certainly a bright spot, but fans, rightfully so, wondered where his three-point shot went, questioned if he’d ever regain the confidence he played with in his first season and doubted if he’d ever develop the level of consistency that the team would need from him. And it wasn’t just the fans who had their concerns about Quickley. Amidst his subpar play, rumors started to pop up that the Knicks were shopping him ahead of the trade deadline. With the team struggling to take off, it was starting to look like Quickley’s time in New York was running out.
But seemingly overnight, the backup point guard showed up and did so in a major way. On top of being a defensive disruptor and remaining one of the better perimeter defenders in the league, Quickley regained trust in his three-point shot, was getting into the lane more, and was playing a lot more confidently, and decisively, and it showed in the stats. Over the next 51 games, Quickley averaged 18 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists while shooting an incredibly efficient 47.2% from the field, 39.6% from three, and 81% from the free throw line. And during those 51 games, Quickley filled in admirably as a starter when needed, averaging 22.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists in 21 starts.
While much of the national attention surrounding the team had mostly been around the seasons that Randle and Brunson were having, Quickley slowly started to garner a lot of praise later on in the season. Pundits and fans strongly considering him as one of the Sixth Man of the Year favorites and even non-Knicks fans were starting to recognize just how vital he was for the Knicks both offensively and defensively. He ultimately lost out on the award to Boston’s Malcolm Brogdon, but the nation was put on notice.
But unfortunately for both the Knicks and Quickley, the standout guard was just a shell of himself in the playoffs. Despite ending the regular season on an incredibly high note, the Sixth Man of the Year finalist struggled to find his rhythm and finished the post season averaging just 9PPG on 34.8% from the field and 23.4% from three. In a season where the Knicks had a legitimate shot to make the conference finals for the first time in what feels like forever, seeing Quickley play the way he did was frustrating and head scratching.
And frankly, the sour taste that the series left in everybody’s mouth may be playing a role in his contract situation right now. While a lot can still happen between now and October 23rd, which is the deadline to extend his contract, it has thus far seemed like there’s been a bit of a disconnect between the two sides.
Quickley and his camp can and should ask for as much money as they reasonably can. He is coming off of an incredible season that saw him be a key part of the Knicks’ success on both sides of the ball and is very deserving of a raise and an extension. But you also have to look at this from the Knicks’ and their front office’s perspective. They’ve been put in a very tough spot because clearly they’d prefer to keep Quickley but they also must remember that as long as Brunson is a Knick, there is no clear lane for Quickley to be a starter. And paying a reserve, no matter how good they are, $100 million or more can be a risky decision, especially because of the way Quickley bookended his incredibly 51 game run.
That being said, as long as the front office doesn’t ship Quickley out to avoid the contract situation completely, he will be a vital part of this team’s success. And he, like he so often has, will likely do it in his own unique way. He’ll defend like a madman with his hair on fire, be a threat to score 20 off the bench on any given night, and have games where he just completely takes over. Now, he’ll still obviously have off nights and I’m sure he will have stretches where his outside shot isn’t falling. But, hopefully he can take what he learned last season and apply it to the entirety of the season, playoffs included.
Overall, fans should expect Quickley to have another great season. Coach Tom Thibodeau will likely turn to Quickley as often as he can and with the team’s acquisition of Donte DiVincenzo, opposing teams will now have another shooter and playmaker to account for in the Knicks’ second unit, making Quickley’s job easier. If he can get off to a better start than he did last season, which isn’t asking for much, Quickley should end up with a very nice stat line. And I’ll go ahead and call it now (just trying to speak it into existence), IQ will be this season’s Sixth Man of the Year.