New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau is quickly falling in love with his rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley no matter how hard he tried to hide it.
What is not there to love?
Quickley falling in love
On Wednesday night, Quickley came off the bench and pushed the pace that helped the Knicks complete an epic come-from-behind 100-93 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers after falling by as many as 18.
Quickley’s impact couldn’t fit within his line of the night — nine points and seven assists in almost 25 minutes.
Two nights later, Quickley was more impressive in a starting role leading the Knicks to a 119-83 shellacking of the Cavaliers in their preseason finale.
The 6-foot-3 guard dropped a game-high 22 points on a virtuoso display of his offensive repertoire — transition threes, pullups, finding gaps, and throwing floaters. He drove to the basket hard like he used to do in college, collecting five easy points from the stripes in the process.
When not scoring, he was busy setting up his teammates and pressuring the Cavaliers’ ball handlers. He laced up his scoring explosion with five assists and five steals in a jaw-dropping performance that dominated the Knicks Twitter timeline all night.
But even after that masterclass, Thibodeau wasn’t quick to hand over the backcourt keys to Quickley. Always wearing a poker face in front of the media, Thibodeau hardly showed emotion when he was asked whether the last two preseason games have earned the rookie guard a significant rotation role for the regular season.
“We base all that on performance. So if he keeps doing it in practice and he’s carrying it over to the games. He’s earning his way. And so we’ll see how it unfolds,” Thibodeau answered nonchalantly.
— alder almo (@alderalmo) December 19, 2020
Faith born out of hope
You can’t fault Thibodeau for pumping the breaks a little bit.
It’s only the preseason.
Quickley’s couple of strong performances came against a Cavaliers team that is not expected to contend and is missing some of their key players.
But for a franchise that has long been running like a headless chicken, Quickley is quickly turning fans and perhaps Thibodeau’s hope into faith.
Hope and faith are quite similar. They both represent belief and expectation. But hope resides in the future while faith is having complete trust in someone or something at present.
Intertwined in the raging debate on who should be the Knicks’ starting point guard, Quickley came as a hope that ignited the fire while the people’s faith in his cause is sustaining it.
Upon learning that Quickley will earn his first NBA start, albeit it’s just a preseason game, his mother Nitrease quickly sent him a powerful message that stoke the fire in him.
“Before the game, my mom sent me a message, like this (Friday) morning: She said that ‘If God is for you, who can be against you’? That gave me the whole confidence in the world to go out and play hard. I knew God is with me,” Quickley, a devout Christian, revealed during his postgame interview.
“I have unbelievable teammates, unbelievable coaches that push me to be great each and every day. If you play with great players, great coaches, it makes it easier for you to go out there and have some fun.”
Like a spring, his confidence flows from everywhere. And the good thing is he doesn’t let it get over his head. He’s pouring it all into his heart.
“The coaches trust me, and I feel like I produced, but it’s just the start. I want to continue to get better. I’ll be right back in the gym with film tomorrow (Saturday) and then right back in the gym getting up shots. I also have great vets around me. They help me and lead me, and I’m just trying to soak up all the information and get better,” Quickley said.
Catching attention real quick
While Thibodeau has been effusive with his praise early on, he relented when pressed if Quickley is under consideration for the starting point guard spot.
“You could say that about every player in the roster. But he’s done a really good job. When he’s been on the floor, the team is functioning extremely well. We’ll talk about it as a staff and move forward there. He got our attention in practice. And if you practice well, you usually play well,” Thibodeau said.
“Nothing is ever set in stone. The one thing that you do understand is that you gonna need everybody over the course of the season. The important thing, just like what Quick has shown us, he didn’t play in the first game. But he didn’t change his approach. So when his opportunity came, he was ready, and he ran with it,” he added.
Thibodeau used Quickley’s attitude as a hallmark for their success moving forward. He underscored the importance of being ready to seize opportunities as this condensed season with the Covid-19 still lurking would present a lot.
“So we need everyone to do that. We’re gonna count on everyone over the course of the season. If you’re not in the rotation initially, it doesn’t mean you’ll stay there for the entire season. You have injuries, foul trouble, illness, you have a lot of things that factor into it. The one thing that you have to do is be ready. I think Quick is showing that, and we’ve got some other guys to do that as well,” Thibodeau said.
Quickley unlocks Knox
One of the beneficiaries of Quickley’s impressive quarterbacking is Kevin Knox, who has suddenly regained his confidence that manifested in his shooting.
Almost an afterthought, Knox, the 2017 lottery pick, has sprung back to life connecting on nine of his last 10 three-pointers dating back to the fourth quarter of their first win against the Cavaliers. In the last two games, he’s been averaging 18.0 points on 75 percent shooting from deep.
He was 0-for-5 from beyond the arc in their first two preseason games and was only averaging 3.5 points. Quickley has unlocked Knox with most of his three-pointers came from the guard’s assists, and kick-out passes off penetration.
“Looking at his career, when he’s taking good shots, he’s always made them, or at least he has a good shot of making them. When he eliminates the tough shots, it makes him so much a batter player. He plays with a lot more energy defensively,” Thibodeau said.
While Knox has also worked on his shot, cutting and moving without the ball throughout the summer that continued in the training camp, he wasn’t getting the open looks that generated good shots as much as he did when Quickley was on the floor.
“He’s doing a really good job of just controlling the team, getting everyone involved. He’s really done a good job hitting his shots as well as getting into the lane, making the right reads, and making the right plays. I think he just brings a great of energy on both sides of the basketball court. Defensively, he picks up 94 feet… He’s gonna continue to work hard. We got all our point guards working hard throughout the training camp. Quickley is doing a really good job. Hopefully, let’s see what the coach decides,” Knox said of Quickley.
It’s a twist of fate that brought Quickley to control the Knicks’ destiny in their last two preseason games. But his faith has helped him to quickly move up in the Knicks point guards’ pecking order.
Quickley becoming the Knicks’ starting point guard should no longer be a question of if but when.
“My whole life is kind of being an underdog. I just control what I can control at the end of the day. Live with the results, play hard, trust God, and continue getting better every day,” Quickley said.
For years, the Knicks have been praying for a dynamic point guard like a Messiah.
After this year’s draft, the general feeling was the Knicks might have to look for their savior at the point guard via free agency, trade, or wait for the next draft.
There were fears when the Knicks opted to go with another forward in the lottery instead of the more highly-touted point guards available. There was trepidation when the Knicks selected Quickley instead of the pure point guards still on the board.
But Quickley is quickly washing away those fears.
“I feel like I put in a lot of work to my craft,” said Quickley when asked why he’s fearless on the court. “When I go out there, I have no fear because I know I have God with me.”
In Hebrew, Immanuel means ‘God is with us.’ The Knicks might have found their backcourt savior.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo