I’ll admit, I’ve been somewhat critical of Donte DiVincenzo and the start he had offensively this season, but there’s a reason why. Many of us Knicks fans expected solid defense, some steals, solid playmaking, and most importantly, outside shooting. While we got glimpses of what he was capable of doing, overall the Knicks’ offseason acquisition looked a bit out of sorts to begin the season.
Through the first eleven games of the season, DiVicenzo was averaging just 7.1 PPG, three RPG, and 1.7 APG in 19.4 MPG, and his shooting splits of 36.8% FG, 31.9% 3P, and 58.3% FT were all tough pills to swallow. Now, I’m pretty sure no Knicks fans thought that he’d remain that bad offensively for the rest of the season, but considering that the Knicks made no other additions or changes to their nine-man rotation, his play was disappointing.
Things seem to have changed though. He started back-to-back games against the Wizards and Hornets in his twelfth and thirteenth game of the season, and I wondered—and even posted about—whether DiVincenzo had turned the corner. The answer, at least for now, seems to be a resounding yes.
Over his last eight games, DiVincenzo is averaging 12 PPG, 2.6 RPG, and 1.6 APG on 49.2% FG, 53.8% 3P, and 80% from the free throw line. Overall, he’s looked more confident and comfortable offensively while still being a solid defender. Now, this will likely bring up two major questions: What’s changed? And what should we expect going forward?
First off, let’s tackle what has changed. One factor is that he has played more, meaning he simply has more minutes in which to produce. During the aforementioned recent eight-game span, DiVincenzo started two games and played more than 18 minutes in every single one of those games, whereas before that, he had played less than 18 minutes in four of eleven games. Increased minutes often means that a player can get into a better rhythm and get up more shots, and if you play well in those minutes, it also usually means even more minutes.
Another thing that has changed is just the passing of time. We’ve seen plenty of players in the league, even some of the best ever, take a few weeks to acclimate to a new situation. It could simply be that DiVincenzo needed some time to get used to playing with a rotation that, outside of him, hadn’t changed at all. And while he had played with Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart before at Villanova, they were different players since the last time he played with them. Plus, he still had to learn how to play alongside some high-usage and ball-dominant players like Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and Immanuel Quickley. As more time passes, expect DiVincenzo to continue to grow more comfortable and for his confidence to continue increase, as well.
Next, let’s look at what we can and should expect going forward. The easiest and most obvious place to start is his efficiency. His three-point percentages will regress at some point, because there is absolutely unlikely that DiVincenzo will continue shooting over 50% from three. But, that shouldn’t matter much, as long as he can continue to hover around 40%.
The blow of the expected negative regression in three-point percentage should also be lessened by his free-throw shooting. DiVincenzo, who is a career 77.1% free throw shooter, is shooting just 64.7% from there this season. While he doesn’t and likely won’t get to the line often, if he can continue to regress positively in that area, the drop in three-point percentage will be a bit easier to deal with.
Another area where DiVincenzo could see some positive regression is his two-point conversion rate. Throughout his career, DiVincenzo is a 50.4% shooter from inside the arc, but so far this season, he is shooting a measly 40.5% on two-point shots. If he can bump that up to 45% or 47% over the next few months, that could also help both him and the team.
Then there are his assist numbers, which brings about an interesting conversation. He is currently averaging 1.7 APG and three assists per 36 minutes, which would both be his second-lowest averages since entering the league. At first glance, to someone who just looks at box scores, this could be alarming and a potential point of contention. But this number has less to do with DiVincenzo’s abilities, and more to do with the roster he is on.
Outside of that 2020-21 season where he started 66 games, never has DiVincenzo consistently played on a unit alongside the kind of playmakers with whom he currently shares the floor. There’s the aforementioned Quickley, his bench backcourt mate, who is a ball-dominant guard capable of making plays every time down the court. Then there’s Josh Hart, who at times this season has looked to pass more than he ever has in his career. And he also plays with Isaiah Hartenstein, one of the best passing big men in the league. What all this means is that instead of DiVincenzo having the ability to run the show off the bench, he’s having to do less, given the sheer amount of playmakers and ball handlers he often plays with, which has naturally led to him having fewer assists.
So how about the minutes then? DiVincenzo has seen a slight increase in minutes played over the last couple of weeks. He’s played well during that stretch, so is it realistic to expect more minutes for him going forward? I’d say yes. Not by a lot, but I think he will continue to see a bit more playing time. However, it’s hard to squeeze out more minutes for DiVincenzo when there are so many guards on the team who deserve big minutes.
Brunson is the best player on the team, so minutes won’t be taken from him. Barrett, who is reportedly still dealing with migraines, started the year amazingly and is still one of the more important players on the team, so it’s doubtful his minutes go down. Quickley is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate who already doesn’t get enough floor time. Hart had a shaky start to the season but has recently looked more like the player that we saw last season, so it’s hard to see Tom Thibodeau pulling minutes away from him, either.
But there is one player whose offensive numbers have taken a massive drop and just hasn’t looked like himself. And that player is Quentin Grimes.
The young shooting guard is beloved by both the organization and Thibs, so I don’t expect Grimes to lose his starting job anytime soon, especially if the Knicks continue to win. Thibodeau obviously trusts Grimes to do what he does, most importantly on the defensive end, and Thibodeau also likes having a very strong and cohesive bench unit, something DiVincenzo has been a big part of. But don’t be surprised if we see DiVincenzo’s minutes continue to gradually increase while Grimes’ minutes start decreasing a bit. In certain matchups, I wouldn’t be surprised to see DiVincenzo’s minutes get closer to the 23-minutes-per-game mark over the next few weeks.
Now, this is all just speculating and predicting. For all we know, DiVincenzo could lay an egg for the next two weeks and we’re right back to talking about his struggles. But, the eye test, his numbers, and his history point to him having a really solid year from here on out. That would be huge. Like any other player, he’ll have his off days, but if DiVincenzo can continue playing the way he has as of late, he and Quickley will make a case for being called the best bench backcourt in the league, which would be awesome to have next to Hartenstein, who is considered one of—if not the—NBA’s best backup bigs. Considering just how strong this bench has been and could continue to be, DiVincenzo and his comfort and confidence on the team could be one of the most exciting things to watch going forward.