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The jump from college basketball to the NBA may appear bigger than ever for this year’s class of rookies.
But Knicks combo guard Immanuel Quickley has a not-so-secret weapon to aid him in the transition.
“The one thing is he’s got a great skill already — he can shoot the ball as well as anyone in the league,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said Wednesday after a training camp practice. “He’s a great shooter. Now it’s learning all the other parts of the league and his team. The defensive part is usually the biggest adjustment for guys coming in. Then, of course, understanding the tendencies of the players and the teams and learning his teammates.
“The college game is very different from the NBA game. So there’s an adjustment period that you go through. But I love his enthusiasm, great work ethic, great student of the game. He’s in early, he stays late, he comes back at night. He does all the things you would like a rookie to do.”
Quickley, the No. 25 overall pick in last month’s draft, shot 42.8 percent from beyond the arc (on 4.8 attempts per game) last year at Kentucky on the way to becoming the SEC Player of the Year. If he can find his shooting touch after the long layoff — Friday’s preseason opener against the Pistons will be his first organized game since March 7 — and earn a spot in the rotation, he could make an impact in an area that has been sorely lacking for the Knicks.
Last season, the Knicks ranked 27th in the NBA by shooting 33.7 percent from deep. And their top five 3-point shooters from last season — Marcus Morris (43.9), Damyean Dotson (36.2), Bobby Portis (35.8), Allonzo Trier (35.8) and Wayne Ellington (35) — all have moved on to other teams.
While Quickley will have to work on other areas of his game, his shooting could provide a confidence boost as he settles into the NBA.
“Especially with the way the game is played today, it’s basically five guys that can shoot the basketball,” Quickley said. “I feel like that opens up driving angles and then you can drive and kick, create passing angles from there and just play as a team. A great shot is your best transition defense, so being able to shoot the ball, that sets up everything.”
The 6-foot-3 Quickley, who said the speed of the game has surprised him the most in his first week of NBA practices, could see time at both guard positions. He said Thibodeau likened him to Aaron Brooks, who played for seven teams in a 10-year NBA career and is now a player development coach for the Knicks, in terms of how he can create offense for himself and others while also being able to play with other guards because of his shooting ability.
Though Thibodeau had high praise for Quickley as a shooter, the Knicks rookie didn’t just want to set the bar there.
“I feel like I work at it, so if you’re not trying to be the best at what you do — not only just shooting, I want to be one of the best players,” he said. “So I’m just coming in from the ground up and trying to work my way up. But my ultimate goal is to be one of the better players. I feel like I can shoot the ball with the best of them. I don’t feel like that’s all I can do. I feel like I’ll be able to show a lot more on this level. So I’m just really excited to get started.”