Improved efficiency and better on-ball defense mean Immanuel Quickley has taken another step forward. What does that mean for Quickley’s minutes and the Knicks’ trade deadline aspirations?

One of the undercovered subplots for the 2022-23 season for the New York Knicks is what’s going on with Immanuel Quickley. After a solid second half of the season last year, many viewed Quickley as a valuable piece moving forward. However, that was dashed between Quickley’s potential involvement in a Donovan Mitchell trade and the acquisition of Jalen Brunson at point guard, Quickley went from a potential starter to a key bench piece in Tom Thibodeau’s setup.

Only, that makes two things. The first for Quickley is a strict role, specifically, not playing alongside Jalen Brunson and the second is a specific set of minutes. As a result, Quickley’s minutes were limited and a conversation about a potential trade was mentioned. And then, the Knicks effectively removed Immanuel Quickley from the market, citing that it would take quite a haul to acquire the former Kentucky Wildcat, but also, Quickley began to ball out.

For the month of January, Quickley has averaged 15.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists with a 64.0% true shooting percentage and a staggering 136 offensive rating. Some of his best performances range from his 15-8-5 performance against the Spurs and the 23 points and four made threes against the Bucks, however, his performances against the Cavaliers and Celtics stand out the most.

Between his performances between Cleveland (nine points, five rebounds, and six assists), Boston (17 points, five rebounds and two made threes), and Brooklyn (16 points, six rebounds, three assists, and four made threes), Quickley has evolved as a player. The complaints about his ability to get to the rim have gone quiet, now replaced with his ability to score at the rim and use his drives to set up easy looks in the corners.

Quickley is a great defender, but he’s been much better on the point of attack. The Knicks are better defensively with Quickley on the floor and rates the former Kentucky Wildcats in the 84th percentile defensively. Of New York’s six most-played lineups this season, three of them are positives and Quickley is in two of them, including a +18.5 net rating lineup (McBride, Quickley, Grimes, Randle, and Robinson) and a lineup with a +9.2 net rating (Brunson, Quickley, Grimes, Randle, and Robinson).

Amidst Quickley’s ascension and improvement this past month, two questions came to mind: How can the Knicks get more minutes for Quickley moving forward and what does that do for New York’s trade deadline aspirations?

Let’s start with the first thought – Immanuel Quickley needs more minutes. However, it’s tough to argue to start him. Quentin Grimes has taken a step forward as a second-year player and should continue to start, meanwhile, RJ Barrett, with the ink still drying on his four-year extension, seems to be locked into the starting small forward spot. The answer? Cut back on some of Barrett’s minutes and, even so slightly, some of Jalen Brunson’s minutes shift them to Quickley.

We’ve already seen this uptick over the last two months, going from about 22 minutes to around 30 in December and January, though that also factors in a brief Jalen Brunson injury spell and a few RJ Barrett missed games. Still, I want to see Quickley get minutes as a sixth starter and the last 30 days have proven that he’s earned it.

The second thought is where I’m intrigued. With Quickley in place off the bench as an effective sixth starter, I’m curious to see where the Knicks attack at the trade deadline. I want to mention Eric Gordon. Gordon is on the wrong side of the age curve at 34, but the idea of acquiring a veteran guard with another year of control makes sense, and Gordon gives New York a valuable scorer, shooter, and ball-handler off the bench.

The ball-handler part is important, as Quickley’s emergence and need for more minutes bring up the question: can the Knicks find another creator of offense? With Quickley getting more minutes comes a potential overlap with Brunson, which honestly, should happen more. Among duos, Brunson and Quickley have played the 12th most minutes together. It makes sense right now, in terms of roster construction, but both players fit well together and a lineup of those two together could offer Tom Thibodeau another avenue in his lineup rotation.

It’s also why the best player the Knicks could possibly trade for, and one who can fill all the significant roles needed for the Knicks is Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann. The Knicks don’t have what Los Angeles needs to get a deal done in terms of assets (the Clippers really want a point guard), but if I was New York and Mann were to be moved, I would be interested in getting into that deal and try to snag Mann in a three-team deal.

Mann, 28, fits everything the Knicks need. Perfectly in the Brunson/Randle age curve, Mann is an efficient scorer and shooter, while also being an effective backup point guard for the Clippers, averaging nearly five assists per game per 36 minutes. At 6-foot-5, he’s not the biggest defensive guard option, but he adds another solid defender on the perimeter, as evidenced by his +0.3 defensive EPM rating, placing him in the 63rd percentile.

In a world where the Knicks didn’t have to give up much from their rotation to get him, a world where New York has Brunson, Grimes, Barrett, Randle, Robinson, Quickley, Mann, and Toppin (let’s exclude the two-man backup center group, plus Miles “Deuce” McBride, who’d have to be in the deal), Thibodeau would have his option of size in both units at the wing (Barrett, Grimes, Mann), multiple ball-handlers (Brunson, Randle, Quickley, Mann), allowing you to overlap the Brunson/Quickley minutes without much issue.

Does it make the Knicks playoff contenders come out of the East? No. However, it makes them a tougher team to deal with when you combine two elite isolation scorers and a unit that, through players 1-through-6, could defend multiple positions and slide and switch with several different players.

The Immanuel Quickley conversation has changed since the start of the NBA’s calendar year. From a potential starter to a trade piece in a star trade, to a backup, to on the trade block, to now, this high-level player that the Knicks took off the table, but if a star is placed on the market, will be one of the first players asked about. There’s a legitimate argument that Quickley is New York’s third-best player at the moment.

He also changes the math for the Knicks ever so slightly. His recent uptick in play does deserve more minutes, which could come at a cost to RJ Barrett or Quentin Grimes, but is deserved. Also, it could change how the Knicks view the deadline, as a wing could be number one on their trade target list, but now, another ball-handler would be intriguing, just to get the second unit another creator, as Quickley and Brunson share the court with each other a bit more.

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