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