Monday night’s Knicks game featured a familiar script. The starters performed well but allowed the Celtics to hang around until Tom Thibodeau went to his bench, bringing in Immanuel Quickley with 4:55 to go in the first quarter and the Knicks up 10-9. Quickley immediately scored and the Knicks would go on a 17-6 run to close the quarter.
The third-year guard from Kentucky gave the Knicks life repeatedly on Monday night, leading the team with 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting and 4-of-7 from beyond the arc to propel the Knicks to their sixth straight victory, a 109-94 win over the Celtics, the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Despite New York being just 2.5 games behind Cleveland for the 4th seed in the East and having more wins than all but one team in the West, nobody is taking them seriously as a title contender. Same for Immanuel Quickley and the Sixth Man of the Year award, where the Knicks guard is currently tied for the sixth-best odds at +6600 and has actually seen his odds get worse since the start of the year.
However, being overlooked is nothing new for Quickley.
Despite being the SEC Player of the Year before declaring for the NBA Draft, the Knicks were panned for taking him 25th overall in 2020. CBS Sports gave them a D+ for the pick, saying it was “nearly 30 spots higher” than they expected him to go and that “his upside does not match this place in the draft.” Quickly infamously kept the screenshot on his phone and used it as part of his Twitter post at the end of his rookie season.
Yet, the Kentucky product has continued to develop and prove his worth in the NBA and is still not getting the respect he deserves.
Monday night’s game was a showcase for all that Immanuel Quickley brings to the table.
The 4-of-7 shooting from deep was always supposed to be part of his game. However, he has continued to gain confidence as a shooter. Since the Knicks switched up their rotation and made Quickley a fixture as the sixth-man, he is shooting 38% from deep on 5.5 three-point attempts per game across that 40-game sample. That would be a career-high in attempts per game from him.
He is also second among the team’s rotation players with a 58.7% true shooting percentage, trailing only Mitchell Robinson, who barely attempts shots that aren’t dunks.
However, Quickley is more than just a shooter. He has continued to grow as a facilitator, averaging 3.1 assists per game and posting a team-leading 3.39 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is seeing the floor incredibly well and finds a way to make tough passes, like this one to Josh Hart against the Celtics.
Beyond his impact as an offensive player, Quickley has the third-best defensive rating on the Knicks, behind Robinson and Miles McBride. He’s also the team’s third-best defender, according to RAPTOR, with the Knicks holding opponents to 11.5 fewer points per possession and a 6.6% worse eFG% when he’s on the court, per Cleaning the Glass. Those are both 99th-percentile ratings in the entire NBA.
A perfect example of his defensive acumen was in the way he and Josh Hart guarded Jayson Tatum on Monday night. The Celtics’ All-Star and pre-season MVP candidate was 6-of-18 from the field and 1-of-9 from three in the game thanks in large part to the aggressive nature of the way the Knicks guarded him, with Hart and Quickley switching off screens to ensure Tatum had no space to operate.
Quickley and Hart cracked 100 minutes on the court together last night. Their net rating? +18.7. Their instant chemistry hasn't just been on defense. Hart gets the offensive rebound, I have no idea how IQ sees this pass to Hart. But he does. Hart is shooting 63% from 3 as a Knick pic.twitter.com/SUsH119b1s
— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) February 28, 2023
He gives this team a defensive identity it needs and his impact on that end cannot be overstated.
All-in-all, Quickley is the heartbeat that drives the Knicks. Not just in their upset of the Celtics but ever since he has become a fixture in the lineup.
Before the change to the Knicks’ rotation, Immanuel Quickley averaged less than 23 minutes a game. New York was 10-13 in those 23 games. In the 40 games since, Quickley is averaging 31 minutes a night and New York is 12 games above .500 in those 40 games.
If you compare Quickley’s impact on the court to the five players who rank ahead of him in the race for the Sixth Man of the Year Award, it appears fairly obvious that he should be a legitimate contender, if not the leader.
The chart below shows each of the players and their Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which shows how many wins a player earns for their team over the average NBA player, their Player Impact Estimate (PIE), which is an NBA.com metric to gauge a player’s all-around contribution to the game, and their Plus/Minus (+/-), which tracks the net changes in the score when a player is on the court.
Quickley is the clear leader in two categories, almost doubling the next-best player in wins above replacement. Yet he continues to get overlooked.
But that’s just fine for Quickley and the Knicks, who have their eyes set on a bigger prize.
“All I really care about is winning,” Quickley said after Monday’s game. “I just want to keep working, continue to keep getting better with these guys. We got something special going on, so I want to continue to keep that going.”
If he keeps playing the way he has been, it would be foolish to bet against Quickley and the Knicks doing just that. Even if their opponents and the Vegas sportsbooks would prefer to find out the hard way.
For more Knicks coverage, like this Immanuel Quickley article, visit amNY Sports