As we look ahead to what should be an evenly-matched series against the Cavs, Immanuel Quickley may be able to unlock the Knicks’ advantage.

So, the dust has settled. 

The New York Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers, in what is sure to be the stuff dreams are made for many NBA sickos, are set to face off against each other for the first round of the 2023 Playoffs this coming weekend. 

It comes after a year of major highs — multiple lengthy win streaks, the emergence of Jalen Brunson and re-emergence of Julius Randle as two star-caliber players, and the sustained success of a deep bench unit — as well as major lows — a Randle injury to end the season that has his status questionable for the kickoff of the Knicks’ postseason, some real question marks around the play of RJ Barrett, and New York’s overall team defense looking lackluster for stretches at a time this regular season. 


One player that has been the center of major conversation and debate the last several weeks, though, is third-year guard Immanuel Quickley. He is, in my mind, the Knicks’ biggest success story this season, a leading name in Sixth Man of the Year award musings, and simply one of the most energetic and consistent players that New York has trotted out all year. 

As the series against Cleveland approaches, though, I wonder how he will perform and fit against such a tough Cavs defense, assuming he’ll be integrated into the closing lineups and alongside starters throughout games as he has been during the season. 

In his four games against the Cavs this season, he averaged 10.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 0.5 steals per game in an average of 25 minutes per game. It’s worth noting that as the season progressed, Quickley was played for more minutes, which is a testament to how head coach Tom Thibodeau values his time on the floor against such a defensively-minded team like Cleveland. 

For starters, when thinking about his impact on offense, one of Quickley’s favorite methods of creating advantage is to get downhill in the pick-and-roll and use a variety of crafty moves to keep his smaller, guard defender on his back and over-eager to recover, often leading to floaters, kick-outs, or drawn fouls.

In this action alongside a majority bench lineup against the Cavs, Quickley manages to force Raul Neto to chase him around the paint while Deuce McBride sets up the play. He makes his way to the right-hand side of the key and immediately uses an Isaiah Hartenstein screen to drag Neto out with him and off balance as he drives to the paint, forcing a shooting foul. 

This is exactly what Quickley should do as he goes back to mainly manning the second unit to open up this series. Even with Brunson on the floor with him, though, he can still throw defenders off and use his speed to his advantage to get something going from the midrange against an excellent Cleveland defense. 

While he is very good at doing this by simply driving after a beat, he can also rely on a big like Hartenstein to successfully set screens for him.

Quickley has kicked his sophomore habit of rejecting just about every screen, becoming much more patient and deliberate in his use of the big man. Here he lets Hartenstein establish contact, and once he has the space against Garland and has put Jarrett Allen, an elite defender, in the cat-and-mouse game, he uses a quick fake and change of speed to get his trademark floater over Allen’s contest. While I wouldn’t bet on this action working every single time (in fact, it did not work in a prior action against Garland), it’s a great strategy for them against the Cavs’ bench unit and a way to throw their “Twin Towers” in Allen and Evan Mobley off. 

Aside from his driving ability, Quickley remains an underrated passer. In his six-assist game against the Cavs on Jan. 24, he helped to get several Knicks going doing what he does best: getting defenders off balance. 

A weapon that New York was sorely missing in their last postseason appearance was one Quentin Marshall Grimes. He is sure to be a target for Quickley to hit on drives like this as he draws Grimes’ defender from the corner and his own in Caris LeVert, opening up a wide-open three-point shot for the second-year marksman. 

He did this two other times during the game for Julius Randle as well, showing that even with someone like Randle, who likes to stutter step into his long-range jumpers, as opposed to someone like Grimes, who has one of the fastest catch-and-shoot jumpers in the league, Quickley is able to use his speed and dribbling to his advantage as a pass-first, score-second guard. 

One of the more exciting pairings with Quickley as a facilitator, though, is Hartenstein. I-Hart is known as a passer himself, and that opens up a world of opportunities for the two of these players on the floor together as they can play a very exciting two-man game against a Cleveland bench that doesn’t quite hit the same notes on defense that their starters do. 

Here we see another drive from Quickley after a pass out from RJ Barrett, who found nothing at the rim. This might be a theme to watch, given that Barrett loves to get to the basket but may not be successful in doing so considering the Cavs’ paint presence on defense. Once Quickey has control of the ball, he immediately treats his defender as a turnstile and runs right through his arm toward the paint. 

Waiting for him as he runs into the area with Quickley is Hartenstein, who executes a great cut and finish to the rim after getting a mismatch on defense. This sequence is not what New York had in mind to finish off with — after all, this only happened as a result of Barrett not finding what he was looking for — but it’s something that the Knicks should really try to run more often as a pick and roll or pistol action with Hartenstein and Josh Hart, or even with Barrett if they are trying to get him open and going on offense. 

Obviously, we should not use regular season games to dictate the success or failure of one team over another in the playoffs. As many players have and can attest to, the postseason is an entirely different sport. It’s one game at a time, and it’ll be a formative series for many Knicks who have yet to see a round where they actually stand a chance against their opponent. With Quickley playing the way he has all season, though, and that likely carrying into this series, New York has to like their odds at out-scoring and out-playing Cleveland’s second unit. 

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