Will an Immanuel Quickley grow in Brooklyn?
With their shorthanded status at point guard, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has not ruled out giving Quickley his first NBA start at the point Monday in Brooklyn over the failing Frank Ntilikina.
The Nets boast two Hall of Fame playmakers in Kyrie Irving and James Harden, but the Knicks are desperate with their top two point guards, Elfrid Payton and Derrick Rose, expected out Monday versus the Nets at Barclays Center.
Ntilikina started Saturday’s game against Oklahoma City, but was yanked after 5:20 and didn’t return until garbage time with 1:45 left. Quickley started the second half in Oklahoma City as the Knicks were a plus-20 in the final two quarters with the rookie steering the ship with aplomb.
Thibodeau did not rule out tapping Quickley as the starter over the Ntilikina after Sunday night’s practice — a move for which the Knicks fan base has campaigned on social media.
“We’re still not sure yet,’’ Thibodeau said. “It will be a game-time decision.’’
Playing with a sore groin, Quickley logged 33 minutes and scored 21 points with four assists and two steals on Saturday. He made 3 of 6 3-pointers.
Most tellingly, Quickley earned Thibodeau’s trust by getting the second-half start and playing doggedly on both ends, pressuring the ball. His shot selection was much-improved over last week’s disaster in Milwaukee and he was a better organizer. Although not a playmaker, he does so many things to score with his 3-point shooting, his floater, his free-throw expertise and cleverness in drawing fouls.
“If it happens, it happens,’’ Quickley said. “If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m trying to bring energy to the game. I know that’s what I’m great at, encouraging my teammates. I just know my part.’’
The Knicks have major point guard issues to sort out as Rose will miss his fifth straight game due to COVID-19 safety protocols. Across the past 10 days, Rose has had mixed COVID-19 test results — the first one being inconclusive. But he’s in New York and should be close to a return.
Payton is expected to miss his second straight game with a lingering right hamstring strain and Austin Rivers is still out on indefinite paternity leave, and also has been on the outs with Thibodeau.
Thibodeau was effusive about Quickley’s performance and the momentum may be leading to this start. Quickley’s top advocate, senior vice president William Wesley, could also be pushing for this momentous occasion for the Kentucky product whom the Knicks took with the 25th pick in the draft.
“He’s been terrific all year the moment he got here,’’ Thibodeau said. “He’s a student of the game, stays in the gym, learning every day. He’s played well. He’s added a lot to our team, particularly with our need for shooting, and gets into the paint. He’s a gym rat. He’s always asking questions and is a a great teammate.’’
The flip side is Ntilikina is a stout defender and Irving and Harden are elite offensive forces.
In what seemed like a banishment, Ntilikina started Saturday’s game versus OKC before picking up two silly fouls and coming out. He’s been scoreless the past two contests. In the two starts Ntilikina has made in the past 12 days, the unit is a minus-25 in 30 minutes.
“How much is enough of a sample size? You always weigh that,” Thibodeau said. “It’s not an end-all be-all. It does tell you something. A lot of things go into it. You look at it and try to make the best decisions you can. It’s the winning piece of it. What gives us the best chance to win.’’
Thibodeau could use either Ntilikina or Alec Burks as the backup to Quickley at the point.
“[He’s got to] just be ready,’’ Thibodeau said of Ntilikina. “Get out there. He’s done a good job. We’re confident he’ll be ready.”
This would be quite an undertaking for Quickley, 21, going against childhood heroes in Irving and Harden, who rotate at point guard.
“Playing against them will be really fun for me, growing up watching them a lot,’’ Quickley said. “It’s an opportunity to take that challenge.’’
The geographical rivalry with the Nets is not lost on Quickley.
“It’s more juice,’’ Quickley said. “I don’t know if it’s a rivalry but it’s kind of like Duke-Carolina, Kentucky-Louisville. I was part of that. It’s pretty cool to have another team in your backyard and [you] have to take what you want and fight.”