The New York Knicks have surprised most with their start to the 2021 season. Despite sitting at 8-10, nobody anticipated them being this competitive, even in their losses. Thanks to several offensive weapons, including Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, the Knicks are slowly developing into an adequate team.
However, one rookie has made such an influential impact early on, heâ€™s already pressing for a starting role. The Knicks went into the season with Elfrid Payton as their point guard, who signed a one-year, $5 million extension with New York this past off-season. He has started all 18 games, but Kentucky product Immanuel Quickley is gaining steam.
Despite Quickley posting 31 points in the teamâ€™s most recent loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, head coach Tom Thibodeau prefers to keep the rotation the same. Quickley coming off the bench will help him adapt to the NBA, utilizing his high energy approach to provide a spark. Heâ€™s not the most defensive player, which is why Thibodeau prefers Payton, who is more refined in the area.
â€œWe like the group that heâ€™s with right now,â€ Thibodeau said. â€œAnd we think it functions best that way. And so you want to have everybody play to their strengths and also you want to cover up peopleâ€™s weaknesses. So right now we feel the best opportunity for us to win is doing the things weâ€™re doing.â€
It is nice to have two players that bring vastly different qualities while on the court, giving Thibodeau more flexibility and options during the game. If they need a defensive stop, they will roll with Payton, but if the Knicks need offensive production, Quickley is the way to go.
â€œI love both guys â€” theyâ€™re different and bring different things to the team,â€™’ Thibodeau said. â€œIt gives us great flexibility. Elfrid, when you look at his defense and size, a lot of these guards, particularly point guards in the NBA today, theyâ€™re a load to deal with. Elfrid has a good understanding how to defend them. He can play-make for us. And when Quickley comes in, he gives us a different look.â€
It is clear that the Knicks are focused on winning, and Payton completely understands that mentality. Whether it means coming off the bench or letting Quickley earn more minutes throughout the course of any given game, Payton is content as long as the team is extracting wins on a daily basis. Heâ€™s happy for any player that is helping them in that category, and he expressed that when asked about the potential for IQ to earn starting minutes.
â€œI donâ€™t pay attention to none of yâ€™all. No disrespect,â€ Payton said. â€œIâ€™m just worried about whatâ€™s going on with this team. And rooting for guys. Whoever night it may be. Whether itâ€™s Quickleyâ€™s night, whether itâ€™s Julius (Randleâ€™s) night, whether itâ€™s RJ (Barrettâ€™s) night, whether itâ€™s Austin (Rivers) night. Whoever is rolling and giving us the best chance to win, thatâ€™s who we should have on the floor.â€