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He’s only played 27 minutes and 1 ½ games. But rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley has become the Knicks’ most popular first-round pick of the 2020 draft so far.
While lottery pick Obi Toppin continues to heal from a calf strain, Quickley made his way back from a hip-pointer injury to log nine points in 15 nice minutes in the giant 106-102 win in Indiana Saturday.
At 3-3, the Knicks finish their four-game road trip Monday in Atlanta against Trae Young. The Knicks are the hottest NBA team in New York. And Quickley is the hottest rookie.
After an enlightening preseason Quickley did well in the season opener for the first half before being “hip-checked” by Myles Turner.
Quickley sat out four straight games and was back to the scene of the crime Saturday in Indy. In his return, Quickley ran the offense with rare rookie poise, drew fouls and hit his lone 3-pointer. But the 25th pick in the draft still has some rust.
“I felt like individually I played OK,” Quickley said via Zoom after Monday’s morning shootaround in Atlanta. “I could have played a lot better, especially defensively. But as a team I feel like (we) did pretty good, going back to a place where we had lost. We made adjustments, fixed the adjustments in the meetings and in the film and things like that and were able to come out with a win. So that’s big for our team.”
Indeed, Quickley could be further along, especially hampered by no summer league. But the silver lining is he’s gotten to learn about Tom Thibodeau’s system watching on the bench. In two games, Quickley is averaging seven points and 1.5 assists on 57 percent shooting.
“It was real frustrating just because of the fact that, I was building momentum, you start to get the feel,” Quickley said. “You just try to take the good with the bad and try to get better each day. I watched a lot of film while I was out, got with the coaches just to see how I can get better.”
Thibodeau now has to figure out a point-guard rotation with Quickley back as well as Austin Rivers lighting it up in his second game as a Knick.
It’s a good problem to have for the surprising .500 Knicks. Both backup PGs are playing well, as is starter Elfrid Payton. Meanwhile, Frank Ntilikina (sprained knee) and Dennis Smith Jr. (bruised quad) remain on the shelf – and probably on the outside looking in.
“For us being 3-3 we know it’s a long season and got to continue to get better each day,” Quickley said. “Really gotten close with pretty much all the guys, Honestly. I feel like this team is really tight-knit. We love being around each other.”
Quickley shoots well from 3-point range. He also has a sweet floater and a knack for drawing fouls. Quickley believes there are some traits he couldn’t fully show with John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats
“A lot of my on-ball skills I feel like (I didn’t show),” said Quickley, who was projected as a second-round pick. “But at Kentucky you’re playing with five, six other NBA players, so you have to sacrifice. And I think that helped me a lot coming into the league. I’m able to do more than just one thing. I’m not able to just spot-up or play on the ball, I can do both. Guard both. So coming from Kentucky it was definitely an advantage and I’m glad I picked there.”
Quickley, 21, has reunited with four other former Kentucky players and Wildcats assistant coach Kenny Payne, who originally taught him the art of drawing contact. Quickley was a career 89.5 percent free-throw shooter in two seasons at Kentucky.
“They came from really watching film in college but really while I was hurt, watching film and seeing how I can get better, just drawing fouls, watching other players, how they get to the line,” Quickley said. “I feel like I’m a good free-throw shooter (89.5 percent in two seasons at Kentucky) so just trying to take advantage of how I can get to the line and get easy baskets for me and my team.”