When Kemba Walker signed with the New York Knicks, it meant there was another former All-Star point guard who would crowd Immanuel Quickley in the backcourt.
But Quickley did not see it that way.
“We added a guy, Kemba Walker, who can do it all, somebody I can learn from, compete with to expand my game. I want to be where he is eventually one day. So no better guy than Kemba Walker to come in â€” just like I learned from Derrick Rose, I can learn from somebody else,” said Quickley during the NBA Summer League in August.
It turns out the admiration is mutual.
Guesting on ESPN NBA insider Zach Lowe’s podcast on Friday, Walker revealed that Quickley is one of his closest Knicks teammates.
“I’m a huge fan of Quickley. I think he can be really special,” Walker said. “I think I can help him get his game to another level.”
Through the first three preseason games, Quickley’s playing time (19.3 minutes) stayed the same as last season (19.4 minutes).
Quickley’s shooting numbers (36.4 percent from the field, 30 percent from three-point territory) are down, primarily hurt by his last game where he missed all five shots.
With Walker resting, Rose started in his place, leaving Quickley the main target of the Pistons’ second unit defense.
But there’s an encouraging sign that Quickley could be up for a bigger sophomore season. He has improved as a table-setter with an uptick in his assists numbers (4.7 from 2.0 last season) as he has been getting more run as a point guard even when he’s paired with Rose for the most part.
The Knicks have made a conscious effort to let Quickley grow as a point guard starting in the Summer League that carried over in the preseason. Aside from Rose, Quickley has been learning the ropes from Walker, a four-time All-Star and a former All-NBA point guard.
“First of all, he’s just such a great kid. He asks a lot of questions,” Walker said. “He wants to be good and I love that about him. And he’s literally always in the gym like he is such a gym rat. I just see so much of myself in him. So I think he’s one of the guys who I kind of gravitating towards.”
While the preseason games are just a small sample size, and we shouldn’t be reading much into it, it’s different with the Knicks. Coach Tom Thibodeau has been treating it like the regular season. It’s safe to say that there’s a defined role for Quickley, and with a pair of former All-Star point guards to glean from, he can only grow from here.
Quickley wasn’t the only Knicks player that caught Walker’s eye.
“Another guy is Obi (Toppin). Obi is such a great kid. Another guy who is always in the gym,” Walker said. “It’s gonna be a big year for Obi. Obi is gonna be so great for us because he’s gonna do a lot of the small things for us.”
“And his personality is second to none. He’s such a great dude. He’s always smiling, always joking. And he brings energy. He’s gotten so much better and he’s always in the gym.”
Toppin had gotten so much hype as the most ready-made rookie when he entered the NBA. But without the benefit of a Summer League and the sudden rise of Julius Randle as an All-NBA forward, Toppin got lost in the transition. But Toppin’s confidence started growing after the All-Star break and when Rose arrived.
With Rose finding Toppin more in transition, he started to get comfortable and played solid in the playoffs. That spilled over to his first Summer League and the preseason games. Toppin looked more fluid and playing with more confidence.
Last year, Toppin averaged 25.4 minutes in the preseason and produced only 7.3 points on 37.9 percent shooting and 6.0 rebounds. In his first three preseason games this year, Toppin averages 9.7 points on 46 percent shooting and 5.7 rebounds despite playing just 18.9 minutes.
“Those two guys are always in the gym. And I know from experience that when you’re always in the gym, it always pays off for sure. Those are the two guys I can highly speak of,” said Walker.
Walker knows it because it’s the same route he took to add a solid outside shot to his arsenal and grew from a 30.5 percent three-point shooter on 3.4 attempts as a rookie to last season’s 36 percent on a career-high 8.2 attempts.
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