Knicks: How Quentin Grimes became a quintessential Thibs guy

quentim grimes, tom thibodeau, kelvin sampson

More than his outstanding three-point shooting, the biggest pull for the New York Knicks to gravitate towards Quentin Grimes in the first round of the NBA Draft was his impact on winning.

“That’s what we mostly talked about in my conversations with the Knicks and their scouts,” Kelvin Sampson, the University of Houston Cougars head coach, told Empire Sports Media on the phone.

“That’s the thing that they thought they liked most about Quentin as it relates to Thibs’ (Tom Thibodeau’s) culture. There’s a lot of similarities to the Knicks culture as far as what Thibs believes in and what we believe in here. That had a lot to do in them drafting Quentin.”

Grimes already knew he would become a Knick after the team executed a pair of trades during an eventful NBA Draft Night. Before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Grimes’ name, his camp was already excited in anticipation of the announcement.

As the Knicks Draft night plan unfolded, Sampson was on the phone with the team’s general manager Scott Perry, his long-time friend.

“I just remember Scott was asking me questions and telling me what their plan was. That was prior to the 25th pick. And they were really hoping he would be there at 25. They were worried that somebody was gonna take him before them. I think a lot of those moves (trades) were built around drafting Quentin at 25,” Sampson revealed.

“Scott Perry is a professional organizational guy. He knows what he’s doing. They had a plan going in. And they executed it flawlessly.”

The Knicks kicked the can further down the road when they traded their 19th pick to Charlotte for a future first-rounder. With the belief that Grimes would still be on board in the mid-20s, they swapped picks with the Los Angeles Clippers (21st for 25th) to net an additional future second-round selection and save some salary cap space.

So after his hometown team, Houston Rockets, selected Josh Christopher with the 24th pick, the mood at Grimes’ Draft party lit up and was ready to explode.

“When their (Knicks) pick came up, we knew that he was gonna be the pick,” Sampson said, recalling that memorable night. “But you know, you want to hear your name called. You don’t want to react prior to. Quentin just broke down. He was emotional. Because of all the hard work he and his family put into that moment. You just sit back, and I was just so happy for Quentin and his family because he earned that.”

Grimes strongly believed it was his destiny to become a Knick. His perspective changed over the last two years after his initial goal of becoming a lottery pick didn’t pan out. His Houston homecoming had a lot to do with it after a disappointing freshman season with the Kansas Jayhawks.

“I feel like I was picked in the perfect spot. I feel like some people might say I was picked too low or picked too high, something like that. But that’s why I got picked in the right situation,” Grimes said during his introductory press conference. “That’s why going to New York is going to be a match made in heaven.”

Thibodeau and the Knicks front office, led by team president Leon Rose, have created an environment in New York that made players fall in love with the process of getting better by making them accountable.

Grimes went through the same process in his two-year stint with the Cougars that rejuvenated his once flailing basketball career.

“I didn’t think Quentin had hit rock bottom yet when he arrived in our program,” Sampson said.

Grimes, the no. 8 recruit in his class, was a projected lottery pick before he went to Kansas. But things didn’t go according to plan, and his stock plummeted.

During his college debut, Grimes had a spectacular shooting display with 21 points on 6-of-10 three-pointers against Michigan State. But what followed next was a season of disappointment. His offense became erratic. He could only put up single-digit scoring in 17 of his next 35 games and missed 23 of his next 28 three-point attempts. He wound up with an 8.4-point average on a 38/34/60 shooting split that dimmed his prospect of getting drafted in the first round.

“Sometimes you had to fall even further before you can go back up,” Sampson said.

When Grimes couldn’t get a first-round guarantee, he decided to return to college, but he found out that his spot at Kansas was already filled up.

That’s when Sampson scooped him up as the Cougars were looking to replace Armoni Brooks, their best three-point shooter, who decided to go pro.

Marshall Grimes, Quentin’s father, reached out to Alvin Brooks, the Cougars associate head coach at that time.

“[Quentin] is a Houston kid. He was looking for a fresh start somewhere else. We didn’t recruit him out of high school as he narrowed his list down (to the blue blood schools) very early in the process,” Sampson said. “But this time around, his family, the familiarity of Houston and the success our program was having and also the reputation of our staff has in developing guards helped us.”

In a lot of ways, Sampson is very similar to Thibodeau. Both are hard-nosed coaches. Their teams love to defend. But the most striking similarity is both coaches benefited from a coaching sabbatical that allowed them to take a step back and see the current trends that made them better coaches upon their return.

Thibodeau visited many NBA teams in between his coaching stops from Chicago to Minnesota and New York. He learned how things are being done differently.

Sampson also had the same reckoning when he was forced out of his coaching post at Indiana University in 2008 due to recruitment violations.

Sampson revitalized his coaching career during his five-year show-cause penalty with an advisory role to his friend Gregg Popovich. At San Antonio, he saw firsthand how Tony Parker enjoyed freedom in running the Spurs’ offense. He also learned various offensive schemes as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets.

When he was eligible to return to NCAA, the Cougars hired him to rehabilitate their program.

Sampson returned to NCAA a changed man. His tough defensive philosophies were still there, but his deliberate style of offense — a trademark over three decades of coaching with Montana Tech, Washington State, Oklahoma, and Indiana — was replaced by the pace and space schemes and gave freedom to his guards as much as the NBA coaches do.

Sampson led the Cougars to the first round of the NIT twice during his first three seasons, followed by a Round of 32 appearance that snapped a seven-year NCAA drought. The next year, the Kentucky Wildcats needed a late Tyler Herro three-pointer to fend off the Cougars in the Sweet 16.

Sampson resurrected Houston’s basketball program that hasn’t been relevant since the Slamma Jamma era.

Their recent success under Sampson factored heavily in Grimes’ decision. As a sweetener, the veteran coach got a ringing endorsement from former NBA MVP James Harden who played with Grimes in a pickup game in Arizona during the pre-Draft process. 

Harden and Sampson forged a good relationship during their time with the Rockets. The former Rockets star texted Sampson right after the pickup game with a glowing review of Grimes.

“He told me he thought Quentin was a really good player, which we already knew. We were already recruiting him. I think James endorsed me heavily to him [as a players’ coach]. I’m sure Quentin appreciated what James said,” Sampson said.

Sampson knew he had a rough diamond in Grimes. So he worked on rounding up the edges. In his mind, Grimes’ case was psychological more than anything else.

“Quentin had to do certain things. Coming out of high school, his whole game revolved around offense,” Sampson said.

They started to work on his rebounding. There was a rebounding drill specifically made for Grimes. Sampson would put a cover on the ring, and Grimes was the only one allowed to get the rebound. So every time his teammates shoot the ball, Grimes had to fight the whole team to grab the rebound.

Under Sampson, Grimes learned to be tough and competitive. Defense became a priority. The offense came only second. But the freedom on offense allowed Grimes to flourish and become a consistent shooter.

“Once he learned how to do those things, that’s when I thought his game had started coming around. Psychologically, the challenge there was getting his confidence up. Getting him to believe in things,” Sampson said.

“I think we do a great job in our program of creating adversity, whether it is through hard work or through my ability to get kids to places where they will push themselves. I think Quentin had to learn those.”

Grimes regained his confidence through hard work and preparation. An ethos that Thibodeau also preaches to his teams.

It was not by accident that Grimes’ numbers began to shoot up. His playing time from Kansas remained the same in his first year in Houston, but he put up better numbers across the board.

The Cougars were bound for another NCAA tournament with Grimes on board until the pandemic scratched the tournament.

“We could really see progress during his sophomore year,” Sampson said. “I think Quentin was excited about that. It’s why he didn’t put his name in the [NBA] draft after his sophomore year because he realized he still had more work to do. And good for Quentin. A lot of kids would hurry to get into the pros, and they’re not ready. Quentin wasn’t ready.”

Sampson thought another year with them would be better than Grimes ending up as a late second-round selection and getting relegated to the G League.

“Psychologically, he still had to be a better rebounder, a better on-ball defender and learn how to win and impact winning. Those are all things that are part of the culture we have. Quentin bought into our culture.” Sampson said.

Grimes continued his upward trajectory in his junior year, posting career-best numbers — 17.8 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from deep on 5.9 attempts — leading the Cougars to the NCAA Final Four for the first time since 1984.

He also posted his best defensive rating per 100 possessions at 90.1, a 15-point jump from his freshman year.

Grimes made it personal to defend the opposing team’s best player. He was a big part of why the Cougars were the second-best defensive team in the NCAA last season, allowing only 58.2 points per game behind Loyola Chicago’s 56.1-point average.

“He really bought in (to our culture). He’s such a great kid. I thoroughly enjoyed coaching him. To see his progress — almost every game we played this year, he was the best player on the floor — and his confidence took off. His belief in winning grew each game,” Sampson said.

Grimes became the first Cougar to be drafted in the first round since Cadillac Anderson went 23rd in 1987.

In Grimes, the Knicks got a ready-made rookie who can contribute from day one but still has so much room for growth. His appetite for learning is insatiable.

The rookie swingman started his Knicks career poorly, just like the way he did in college. After drilling his first shot — a three-pointer — in the NBA Summer League, he would only hit four of his next 21 attempts from long distance.

But even if his shots were not falling, Grimes didn’t stop playing.

He rebounded the ball, made plays for his teammates, and played resolute defense. 

Sampson was not worried, but still, he sent a text of encouragement to his former star.

“He started out like a rookie,” Sampson said. “I’m sure there were some anxiety and nerves. He was playing with a shoot-first point guard, whereas he played with a pass-first point guard in college. So he’s gonna have to be able to adjust with different styles and players, knowing that he’s not gonna be the first option. It took him a game or two to adjust, but once he did, you saw how good he is.”

Grimes finished the Summer League on a bright note. His final numbers were solid: 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists with nearly a steal and a block per game.

Grimes shrugged off his poor shooting start and ended up with a staggering 41-percent clip on nine three-point attempts.

In a loaded Knicks team, it will be hard to replicate those numbers in the regular season. Minutes would be hard to come by for rookies. But Sampson believes Grimes can earn his way into the rotation.

“He’s a smart kid,” Sampson said. “He knew that he’s not gonna be the first option. But even if you already know that, it will take some time to adjust.”

“He’s gonna be filling in a role. If you think about the NBA, everybody is a role player. For the best guys on that team, that’s their role. For the guys who take the most shots, that’s their role. So Quentin will settle into a role. Once he does, he has to accept it. Be the best that he can be at it. Each year, try to get better. That’s the key,” Sampson added.

Grimes’ initial role could be a 3-and-D spark off the bench when the veterans ahead of him, such as Alec Burks, Evan Fournier, and RJ Barrett, go down with an injury or having off nights. But during his introductory presser, Grimes was adamant that he’s more than just a 3-and-D guy.

Sampson agrees. 

“If you watch [Quentin] play with the Knicks this summer and with us and also at the [Draft] Combine in Chicago, he showed that he could make plays. He is an outstanding defender and a three-point shooter. But he also can put the ball on the floor and create,” Sampson said.

“But as a rookie, he’s just gonna go get in and sacrifice and figure out what coach Thibs wants him to do and do that. If he wants him to be a and 3-and-D guy, then be that guy. If they give you the freedom to do some other things, then make sure you’re ready to do that.”

Sampson, like Thibodeau, has built a reputation as a winner everywhere he goes. Grimes has been wired like a Thibs’ guy. So there’s no doubt in Sampson’s mind that Thibodeau will be able to find a role for Grimes.

“The Knicks organization knows how to win,” Sampson said. “Thibs has been doing that longer than anybody that has been commenting or writing or talking. He knows what he’s doing. He’ll put Quentin in the best position, and more importantly, their team to succeed.”

The Knicks identified what Thibodeau wanted and needed to succeed. Their thorough scouting and sleuthing led them to Grimes, an underrated talent and a high-character guy who will put in the work and put winning above all else.

“Good players, at some point, have to embrace winning over statistics. If all you care about is statistics, then you’re not about winning. Winning is far more important than putting up stats,” Sampson said. “Coaches want to see how much you impact winning, not how many points you can score.”

That is what the Knicks saw in Grimes. The former five-star prospect overcame adversity and repaired his shattered confidence once he embraced the Cougars’ culture and learned to impact winning. Sampson unlocked his true gifts and, in the process, molded him to become a quintessential Thibs guy.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Quentin Grimes on becoming a Knick: ‘A match made in heaven’

quentin grimes, knicks

Quentin Grimes was destined to become a Knick.

That’s how he felt in the days leading up to Thursday’s NBA Draft. And it was surreal for him to happen the way he envisioned it.

“I felt like leading up to the draft — when I had my workout with them — it’s going to be a great fit,” Grimes said during his introductory press conference as the newest member of the New York Knicks. “They’re building (something) special in New York and I want to be a part of it. They’ve made the playoffs and I feel like in the years to come, they’re gonna be even closer to a Finals appearance, for sure.”

The 21-year old Grimes was supposed to be a one-and-done prospect at Kansas two years ago. Coming into college as a high school phenom who had won every major award as the best player in Houston, Grimes got ahead of himself. That almost cost him his NBA career.

A man of lesser character would have been devastated. But Grimes saw it as a blessing in disguise.

“I think it helped me to what I went through in my freshman year, fighting adversity and coming out on the other side and having the season like I had,” said Grimes who will enter the NBA fresh from leading the Houston Cougars to the NCAA Final Four.

After testing the NBA waters in 2019, Grimes saw his lottery stock plummet to the backend of the second round following a disappointing freshman year with the Jayhawks, where he shot an abysmal 38.4 percent from the field.

The fall from grace humbled him.

“My path was different than what people expected, but I feel like it worked out for the best outcome for me,” he said.

Grimes worked his way back when he transferred to the University of Houston. Under the tutelage of Kelvin Sampson, a former NBA assistant coach, Grimes grew into a complete player adding high-level shooting and defense to his toolbox.

The result was one hell of a comeback. The swagger he lost at Kansas, he found it when he returned home to Houston.

After a feeling-each-other-out sophomore season, Grimes finally got comfortable as the Cougars’ go-to guy last season.  He averaged 17.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.4 steals while shooting 40.3 percent on 8.3 threes. He was Cougars’ best offensive player and their best defender.

Grimes’ detour to the NBA led him to a more stable organization and a coach similar to what he had during his transformative years at Houston.

“I know coach Thibs is a tough, hard-nosed coach and I came from coach (Kelvin) Sampson who is also a tough, hard-nosed coach. I feel like we’re a match made in heaven that he’s gonna be on you.” Grimes said.

Like in Leon Rose’s first NBA Draft last year, the Knicks zeroed in on prospects with high character who were undervalued. They extracted additional assets in the way they shrewdly operated on Thursday night and saved some cap space in the process.

They enter Monday’s free agency with more than $50 million in cap space. No matter how they spend that money, Grimes figure to earn a rotation spot next season.

Grimes was one of those guys who impressed Thibodeau at the Draft Combine in Chicago. He was the best player on the court and looked every inch like the lottery pick he was supposed to be in 2019. The 6-5, 210 lbs wing racked up seven triples en route to a 27-point explosion during one scrimmage. There was a long stretch — the first 10 minutes or so in the first half — where he was unstoppable.

More than his desire to prove that he belongs to the first round of this draft class, Grimes said it was the competitor in him that compelled him to come out and dominate the game that spilled into the pre-draft workouts, including the one he did with the Knicks.

“I trust the work I put in and I’m not afraid to go out there and compete and do what I have to do,” Grimes said.

Thibodeau, the reigning NBA Coach of the Year, already hinted at the Draft Combine that he was looking for someone like Grimes – wings with shooting.

But besides those particular skill sets, Thibodeau also put a premium on high character guys that gravitated them to Grimes when all their wing prospects in the top 20 went off the board.

“There’s a great value in [character]. You try to measure their drive and intelligence and how players have improved over a period of time. And also if they have gotten through some adversity. You’d like to see that quality as well. There are a number of things you’re looking for,” Thibodeau said at the Draft Combine.

Grimes checked all the boxes. But he believes he has more to offer.

“Everybody knows that I’m a high-level shooter and a high-level defender. But I’m also like –- people cannot just label me a 3-and-D guy –- more than that. I can play pick and roll. I can make plays, create plays for myself and others,” Grimes said.

Initially, Grimes is projected to come off the bench and play that 3-and-D role similar to what pending free agent Alec Burks provided to the Knicks last season. Eventually, he could grow into more than that if everything comes together for him in the next level.

“I feel like I can make an immediate impact shooting the ball at the high level for threes and locking down defensively – two things that I’m really proud of myself and I hang my hat on,” Grimes said.

It helps that he will be having the same type of coach and environment that will demand accountability and hard work. Grimes, who shares the same agent with another Knicks free agent Reggie Bullock, felt right at home.

RJ Barrett, whom he played with and against from Jordan Classic to McDonald’s All-American games, reached out to him after getting drafted. So with Immanuel Quickley. And their message had the same theme that resonated well with him.

“Congrats, and welcome to the team! It’s time to get to work.”

Grimes couldn’t be happier that he landed on a team coming off a playoffs appearance rather than a rebuilding team.

“I feel like I was picked in the perfect spot. Some people might say I got picked too low, I got picked too high but I feel like I got picked in the right situation,” he said.

“Going to New York, as I said, is a match made in heaven with the fans expecting nothing but greatness every time you step on the court. They’re gonna be hard on you, tough on you and I feel like I will be able to embody that Knicks culture and hopefully bring that every night I step on the court playing in the Knicks jersey.”

Spoken like a true Knick.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo