In trying to get back on track and regain the fifth seed, the Knicks are managing their expectations while also keeping an eye on the future. What does it hold for Josh Hart and Immanuel Quickley?
Despite losing three of their last five games, the New York Knicks are attempting to regroup from a down period while moving in the right direction from a long-term perspective. After missing the playoffs last season, New York has improved the talent on the roster and the result has been a steady climb up the Eastern Conference standings. After years of maintaining flexibility, making astute free agent signings and developing young players, the Knicks finally seem ready to acquire a star, too, after years of being on the outside looking in for big-name players.
However, there are still a few avenues the Knicks have to take care of and decide on this offseason. The Knicks may not see any star players available this summer but they might want to explore the OG Anunoby route again. With the recent freefall of the Dallas Mavericks, New York could have another excellent draft pick in the 2023 NBA Draft to throw into their rotation of young players. However, the priority this offseason might be showing and investing in what’s already on the roster. I’m talking specifically about guards Immanuel Quickley and Josh Hart.
Both players are key assets to New York’s plan. After moving Quickley around in the background and toggling his minutes both up and down throughout the year, the former Kentucky Wildcat has emerged as a key threat off the bench, an ideal backup (and backcourt mate) to starting guard Jalen Brunson and a leading candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award. As for Hart, the recent trade to bring him from Portland to the Big Apple has energized and solidified the bench as a final piece with his defensive versatility and offensive flexibility.
Both players are eligible for new money deals this offseason. Hoopshype’s Michael Scotto stated that Josh Hart will look to decline his $13 million player option with the intention to re-sign somewhere in the range of a three-year or four-year deal with New York. Meanwhile, Immanuel Quickley will become extension eligible off of his rookie contract, which would allow New York to get the first crack to lock him in long-term and future keep the young star guard in NYC for the foreseeable future. Between their recent play, the team’s recent play and an unfortunate injury to Brunson resulting in a minutes reshuffle, both Quickley and Hart have a chance to further push the team in Brunson’s absence and cash in at the end of the year.
First things first, the Brunson injury stinks and the Knicks can’t completely replace him with one of Quickley or Hart. Brunson has been one of the league’s best isolation scorers and has offered a formidable one-two punch with Julius Randle offensively. Brunson should start once he returns and the Knicks should be careful with that return, opting to get him as much rest as he can before integrating him slowly.
With Brunson out, Hart moves into a more important role as the first player off the bench, while Quickley moves into a starting role. Quickley’s ability to manage and run the offense and create spacing on the outside has been viable off the bench but magnifies when he’s in the starting lineup. It puts a bit more pressure on the likes of RJ Barrett to increase his scoring, due to Quickley not being the same isolation scorer Brunson is.
Look at Josh Hart pic.twitter.com/m50OQWbKq7— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 11, 2023
Hart is just a versatile player, which allows him to play a multitude of roles. If Quickley is struggling, New York can go to a “no point guard” system with Hart, Quentin Grimes and Mitchell Robinson around Randle and RJ Barrett. If Grimes struggles, Tom Thibodeau can make a simple one-for-one switch. If Barrett struggles, slide Hart in at the three and not only do you maintain the defensive effectiveness on the perimeter with the Quickley, Grimes, and Hart trio, but Hart at the three allows New York to remain impactful on the glass, thanks to his rebounding prowess.
So what does that mean for both players financially? Hart seems locked in for a contract for a high-level role player. At 28 years old, the former Villanova Wildcat could see as much as $56 million over four years — something that gets him paid to match his role locks him in for the rest of the prime, and more importantly, show to the rest of the league that if you play well, the Knicks will properly compensate you. Hart has also expressed a desire to stay in New York after shuffling from Los Angeles to New Orleans to Portland over the last five seasons. This should be done relatively quickly.
As for Quickley, this will be interesting to watch. While he is a bench player for the Knicks, the numbers suggest that he could be a starter for several teams. Not only has been effective on the floor but his advanced statistics have him as one of the most impactful players in his role since his arrival to the league. If IQ didn’t have the veil of restricted free agency around him, he’d be one of the malleable free agents in the league — perfect for a rebuilding team like San Antonio and Houston, excellent for a team that needs another young player like a Chicago or a defensive boost like Denver, Quickley’s ability to impact the game on both sides of the floor at both guards position and work properly off a star is ideal for pretty much any team in the league.
Knowing that Quickley might be able to get the number he wants if he hits the RFA market, something around $18 million sounds right if they can get there. While one could view that as expensive for a sixth man, Quickley is viewed more as a variable sixth starter. New York would be wise to get this done as soon as possible because if not? Quickley can get more if he decides to wait a bit to test the market. Also, consider this – an improved profile by Quickley, whether it be some significant games as a starter in Brunson’s absence, some notable moments in the playoffs and even winning the Sixth Man of the Year award? That could change the math on Quickley and his potential free-agent profile.
From the micro level, the New York Knicks are in the midst of a tough stretch after a winning streak and have concerns about when their star point guard will return. In the macro, the team took another huge step forward, found a near-star in free agency in Brunson, an elite role player in trade in Hart and it all seems sustainable for the long term. With that success and some potential playoff success, the Knicks will have some future decisions to make.
And it starts with Josh Hart and Immanuel Quickley. Both players are key to the team’s current success and could be even more important with Brunson dealing with his leg injury. Hart has seemingly locked himself into a deal to signify his elite role player status, while Quickley, who gets the biggest boost from Brunson on the mend, could be in line for much more if he can play his cards right.
The Knicks have to regain the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, but the game within the game involves Quickley, Hart, and the potential deals that linger in the offseason and whether or not Quickley improves his profile enough to make his next deal a top of the line priority for the franchise.