Former NBA head coach on Knicks' Immanuel Quickley: 'He looks like the steal of the late first round so far'

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Quickley no-look pass in preseason
Quickley no-look pass in preseason

A few thoughts shared over text message from a former NBA head coach who has been watching the Knicks early this season...

“How do you not love what (Immanuel) Quickley gave them against Atlanta? He draws fouls like a vet, doesn’t play scared. They may have found something there. It’s so early, too early to say anything bold. But he looks like the steal of the late first round so far.”

The obvious question after Quickley helped lift New York to a comeback win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday: should Quickley take over the starting role for Elfrid Payton?

“Why would you make a change so early? Payton is solid and Quickley and (Austin) Rivers seem to have some chemistry. I haven’t watched every minute of every game, but I think it’s better to keep a consistent rotation when you can. If he (Quickley) keeps playing like he did (against Atlanta), he’ll be starting at some point this season. But why rush it?”

The coach asked not to be named because he didn’t want to be seen as second-guessing Tom Thibodeau or any other current coaches. But his thoughts on Quickley are probably similar to most NBA people who’ve watched the young guard.

Quickley helped the Knicks rebound from a 15-point deficit in the second half on Monday, scoring 15 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter against the Hawks. He hit two of his three 3-point attempts and got to the free-throw line six times, including drawing a foul on a 3-point attempt from Trae Young and sinking the free throws to help seal the win.

Maybe Quickley’s most impressive stat on Monday? The Knicks outscored the Hawks by 16 points in his 17 minutes on the floor.

“His shot-making ability puts a lot of pressure on people and it opens things up. And then of course his ability to draw fouls. But I thought that whole group, the way they fought, particularly the group at the end of the third quarter, they got us going,” Thibodeau said of a lineup featuring Quickley, Rivers, Julius Randle, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. “We got the ball moving a little bit, started making plays for each other. We knocked down a couple threes and then the defense took off after this. This team (the Hawks) puts a lot of pressure on you and we found a way to win. We didn’t play great but we found a way to win. I love the fight in the team.”

The lineup Thibodeau referenced helped New York close the third quarter on a 17-6 run. The Knicks (4-3) have won four of their last five.

A few other notes from Monday:

Noel out: 

Nerlens Noel was a late scratch on Monday. He hurt his ankle late in Saturday’s game against Indiana and thought he’d be OK to play, Thibodeau said. But Noel was ruled out after he tried to warm up. Robinson, the starting center, had eight points, four steals, seven rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes.

Thibodeau said Noel, Alec Burks and the other injured Knicks (Obi Toppin, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., Omari Spellman) will be examined on Tuesday in New York. Thibodeau said Burks is the closest to returning. New York plays Utah on Wednesday. That was the earliest projected return for Toppin (calf strain), but it doesn’t sound like he’s been cleared for contact yet.

Is it sustainable? 

Any Knick fan who has paid attention over the past seven years knows that a hot early start doesn’t always guarantee a successful season. The Knicks have been a few games over .500 within the first two months of the season three times since 2012-13. But they missed the playoffs in all of those seasons.

Will it be different this season? Who knows? But many players seem fully bought in to Thibodeau & Co and the idea that the club can continue to win.

“I’ve been a lot of winning teams like USA Basketball, both my years at Kentucky we had winning teams and you can tell when guys like being around each other – not only on the floor, but guys like being around each other off the floor. That’s a big part of team chemistry,” Quickley said. “We don’t really have a lot of egos which is kind of hard I feel like, to find in the NBA. But this team has great camaraderie and I feel like that’s the biggest part of being able to do something special. That’s why we’ve been able to come back a lot of times. Whether it be preseason, regular season, we just don’t give up on each other.”