Why the Knicks would be better off with Immanuel Quickley in the starting lineup
By Zach Braziller,
The starts aren’t getting better.
The Knicks have faced a significant first-quarter deficit in seven of their past eight games, including going down by double figures in five of them.
Clearly, the starting five without Mitchell Robinson isn’t working, but there is a simple solution for coach Tom Thibodeau.
Start one of your better players. Start the guy who is having the best season of his career, who is without a doubt one of your most effective two-way players, who is second on your roster in assist-to-turnover ratio, has the second-best net rating and the second-best defensive rating on the team.
It’s been evident of late that the Knicks need to make a change to avoid facing an uphill climb each night. They trailed the Celtics by 15 points in the first quarter of an overtime victory last Thursday, were behind the Nets by 11 on Saturday and the Lakers by 10 on Tuesday. The current starting five of Julius Randle, Jericho Sims, Jalen Brunson, Quentin Grimes and RJ Barrett is getting outscored by a whopping 16.8 points per 100 possessions across 126 minutes with a woeful defensive rating of 134.1. Replace Barrett with Quickley, and the quintet is basically playing the opposition even, albeit in only 44 minutes.
In a perfect world, Barrett would be sent to the bench to give the second unit scoring punch and to maximize his one-on-one abilities. This season, when Barrett is teamed with Brunson and Randle, the Knicks have a net rating of minus-3.9 . Insert Quickley for Barrett, and the Knicks are outscoring the opposition by six points per 100 possessions. The difference in defensive rating is pronounced: 120.9 when Barrett, Brunson and Randle share the floor and 108.8 when Quickley is in there instead of Barrett. Delve deeper into the numbers, and when Barrett is alongside Randle, Brunson and Grimes, the Knicks still struggle, posting a minus-1.7 net rating . Sub in Quickley for Barrett, and they thrive, producing a plus-10.7 number.
Of course, it’s hard to see the Knicks and Thibodeau demoting a player they drafted whom they just signed to a four-year, $107 million extension. So that leaves Grimes, one of the team’s better defenders who has struggled with his perimeter shot of late , hitting just seven of his past 32 3-point attempts. You don’t lose too much defensively with Quickley over Grimes, and on the second unit, Grimes will be given more freedom to create offense. Too often, playing with the starting unit, he just stands on the perimeter, waiting for the ball to find its way to him. With this change, the second-year guard would get more opportunities to expand his offensive game beyond merely being a spot-up shooter.
But this is more about Quickley, and getting your best players on the court together as much as possible. In Tuesday’s loss to the Lakers , he logged 39 minutes. But Quickley also played two incredibly long stretches — from 5:30 left in the first quarter until halftime and the final 21:01 of the game — as Thibodeau opted to close with him over Barrett . If Quickley is going to be one of your finishers, and he certainly has earned it, starting him would put him in a better position to be at his best at the end of games.
He’s already having the best season of his three-year career, posting personal bests in scoring (12.7), rebounds (4.1) and field-goal percentage (43.7), and he’s only getting better. Over the past 15 games, he has a 3.64 assists-to-turnover ratio, a team-best 6.4 net rating and is averaging 15.4 points on 52 percent shooting.
The Knicks should take advantage of their blossoming young player. It could solve their recent first-half woes.
The ante for OG
The next eight days will be telling for the Knicks and their front office. Next Thursday is the trade deadline, the final chance for team president Leon Rose to beef up Thibodeau’s roster in hopes of reaching the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
Raptors wing O.G. Anunoby is a major target and an enticing option. He’s only 25 years old, a capable 3-point shooter and a premier wing defender with size, which the Knicks clearly need. The question, of course, is the price. Sportsnet in Canada has reported the Knicks are willing to include three first-round picks to land Anunoby, who is averaging 16.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and shooting 36.6 percent from deep.
I’ve been of the belief the Knicks should go for it, and not wait around for a superstar to become available. Owner James Dolan recently said he expects this team to reach the playoffs , which could provide added pressure for Rose to act.
The Knicks also could use a backup point guard. While Miles McBride has provided quality defense on the second unit, the second-year guard is an offensive liability. He shot 26.8 percent from the field in January and averaged less than one assist per game. The Knicks have been struggling early in fourth quarters without Brunson on the floor. Getting some more experience behind him is essential for this team to go anywhere in the spring.
Who’s the closer?
A lot has been made of the final possession of regulation in Tuesday’s loss to the Lakers, when Randle failed to get off a shot with 4.5 seconds left in a tie game. I argued that Brunson, who brought the Knicks back from a six-point deficit in the final 1:41 of regulation, should’ve had the ball in his hands.
To be fair, Brunson has had these opportunities as well and not always fared much better. Remember, he missed a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer of an overtime loss to the Raptors at home on Jan. 16. He also came up short in end-game situations against the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers earlier in the year.
It’s also worth noting that Randle came up big in the clutch in recent wins over the Cavaliers and Celtics. Bottom line: The Knicks really don’t have a closer. Both players have had their opportunities, and will continue to have the ball in their hands in crunch time. When the shot goes in, nobody complains.
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