Immanuel Quickley’s defense and rebounding skills have become key parts of his and the Knicks’ success.
When Immanuel Quickley was drafted, his defense with the University of Kentucky was not necessarily at the top of minds amongst the Knicks’ front office. What they saw from Quickley — a small but quick guard who was a sharpshooter from three-point range, and at the time, the chance to be the New York Knicks’ answer at point guard — was enough for them to pull the trigger and draft him 25th overall in 2020.
There were plenty of hot takes regarding the guard who was coming off winning the SEC Player of the Year award – CBS Sports had him ranked as a D+ draft pick, saying “his upside just does not match this place in the draft, but he could be a good shooter if nothing else.”
Now in his third season with the Knicks, Quickley has taken both fans and the organization by surprise. That shock comes from two things: one, his clear ability to perform at a high level in a starting role, which he has been doing since RJ Barrett was sidelined in December. And two, he is becoming one of the league’s premier defenders at the guard position.
The latter has really boosted his numbers in a few areas, and he shows night in and night out how staunch of a defender he can be alongside Quentin Grimes. Overall, Quickley has staked his claim as a true New York Knick this season – a player who never leaves his feet, keeps his arms straight up to defend against a shot, and will chase you around the court to ensure you have little to no chance at getting an advantageous spot for your jumper.
Let’s take a look at some numbers that support the case for Immanuel Quickley joining the All-Defense team for the 2022-23 season.
Quickley is currently averaging 4.1 rebounds per game, which is a jump from his average of 3.2 per game last season, and just 2.1 per game his rookie season. But, with a huge increase in minutes, Quickley has been able to flex his rebounding prowess more often.
Players are also shooting 42.3% against Quickley, with even smaller chances of scoring against him, with 31.2% of shots made, while he is defending the three-point line. This lands him 28th overall in the league amongst starters, and per 36 minutes a game. Amongst Eastern Conference guards, he is grabbing 65.3% of rebounds that he has the chance of collecting when on the floor.
The Knicks, after starting off the year slipping up on the defensive end, are now sitting with the 12th overall defense in the league. Certainly, the play from Quickley has only helped to boost their numbers and effort in that category with their backcourt defense being the biggest question mark to open the season. With him and Grimes on the floor together, the starting unit has the grounding it needed to actually get and maintain leads during games. Quickley is currently ranked 12th overall in the NBA with 0.135 defensive win shares, which means he ranks amongst some heavy hitters like Joel Embiid, Desmond Bane and Giannis Antetokounmpo for how much he contributes to New York not allowing opponents to score. Considering that he has only started for the last eight games, this ranking is a testament to his impact this season so far on defense.
Quickly tends to fly into the paint, often beating out big men on opponent teams and swooping in for the rebound before they are able to do so. As a result, he helps to back up both Mitchell Robinson, who is a defensive stalwart himself, and assists with his and Jalen Brunson’s reset in transition on offense.
Much has been made of Grimes’ ability to defend through screens, in isolation and around the rim. All of those arguments are right, and those pluses are only amplified by Quickley’s ability to match Grimes’ energy on defense. It makes you wonder about what will happen when Barrett, who has been sidelined but is ramping back up to return, is reinserted into the starting lineup sending Quickley back down to the bench.
This could end up having a very positive impact on a struggling Knicks bench. Right now, their bench is a solid 55.5 in defensive rating amongst league bench lineups, and they are sixth overall in the league for bench efficiency. With the placement of Quickley back alongside them, they could go back to being the stopgap lineup that existed last season as their starting lineup from 2021-22 really struggled to put games away. It seems the roles have reversed a bit this year, so having Quickley to once again stabilize an already promising bench unit would do wonders for New York as they seek to maintain a six seed or higher in the Eastern Conference, and as they go up against defensively minded teams like the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers throughout the year and potentially in the postseason.
Immanuel Quickley has become so much more than what first met the eye for head coach Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the Knicks team. He represents a defensive identity that the Knicks have been eager to reestablish just as eagerly as they’ve been wanting to get good point guard play back at the Garden. With his impact, New York will be able to go deep into the regular season as a solid defensive team who can actually compete in the early portion of playoff basketball.