[caption id="attachment_337503" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
All good things must come to a swift and soul-crushing end when dealing with the New York Knicks.
For those who regularly follow KSR, you already know that we have a personal penchant for the "Kentucky Knicks" and its batch of former Wildcat players, several front office connections, and one former Kentucky assistant coach in Kenny Payne. They are the unofficial NBA pipeline for Kentucky Basketball with Julius Randle, Nerlens Noel, Kevin Knox
, and rookie Immanuel Quickley
all fitting into the short- and long-term equations.
After hiring the defensive-minded coaching genius that is Tom Thibodeau over the summer, the Knicks were rewarded with praise from both the media and fans alike. Bringing Payne on board not long after only built the excitement that the Knicks were starting to make competent moves. Then, in an unexpected twist of events, the New York front office didn't
completely butcher its offseason spending.
Instead of stockpiling 6-foot-9 power forwards who couldn't shoot, they went out and drafted an athletic freak in Obi Toppin before taking Quickley later in the first round. In free agency, they added key bench pieces on cheap deals such as Austin Rivers and Noel. Early on, the Knicks have put more of an emphasis on building for the future, playing Mitchell Robinson (22 years old) and R.J. Barrett (20 years old) more than nearly all of their teammates. Randle is having an All-Star caliber season at 26 years old. It's resulted in the franchise's best start in years with a modest 11-13 record.
Without sacrificing the present, New York is winning games right now while keeping an eye on the future. But it's been the Kentucky rookie in Quickley who has Knicks fans buzzing about his potential. His 12.4 points per game off the bench are fourth-most among his teammates despite averaging just 19 minutes per contest. Quickley has already made his mark as a microwave scorer with a lethal floater who can also run the offense when he needs to. All-Star veterans have gone of out their way to show him some love during games. Through 20 outings in the NBA, Quickley is viewed as a budding star. The only thing standing in his way appears to be the people who drafted him.
For those who regularly follow the Knicks, you already know that they waste little time trying to figure out new ways to screw everything up.
Coach Thibodeau has elected to roll with 26-year-old Elfrid Payton as his starting point guard, sticking with a player he knows can defend at a high level--even if the numbers show that the Knicks are better with Quickley on the court compared to Payton, even on defense. Quickley's on/off of +1.4, according to Basketball-Reference
, is a decent improvement from Payton's on/off of -1.1. If we want to dive deeper into the advanced stats, Quickley has a slightly better defensive rating than Payton along with a better defensive box plus/minus. On offense, it's no competition when comparing who is better--Payton shoots just 25 percent from 3-point range while Quickley sits at 37.1 percent on over twice as many attempts. Quickley's offensive rating of 114 destroys Payton's figure of 99.
Recently, it seems like no matter how well Quickley plays (even taking into account his usual rookie mistakes, of which he has been incredibly prone to), his head coach doesn't want to loosen the leash. During a five-game span that ran from Jan. 24-Feb. 1, the former Wildcat was averaging nearly 26 minutes while scoring 20.6 points per outing. In the three games he's played since then, he's down to fewer than 15 minutes per game. Elfird Payton, on the other hand, has averaged roughly 33 minutes per game over his last three.
But wait, it gets better! Earlier on Sunday, ESPN's
Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Knicks would be acquiring 32-year old point guard Derrick Rose from the Detroit Pistons. The deal reunites Coach Thibodeau with Rose, who already spent two different stints together as coach and player; first in Chicago where Rose became the league's youngest-ever MVP and later in Minnesota.
Rose, who is having one of the worst shooting seasons of his career, now joins a loaded NY backcourt that consists of Quickley, Payton, Rivers, and Alec Burks with not nearly enough minutes to go around. Now, perhaps I'm jumping the gun a bit by making assumptions about a franchise that has consistently done the wrong thing for the last 15 years now, but I don't foresee a situation where Coach Thibodeau clears the runway for Quickley to move into a more demanding role.
Making the playoffs should be the goal for the Knicks considering where they stand one-third of the way through the 2020-21 season. But sacrificing crucial learning opportunities for Quickley in favor of handing the keys of an offense to a ball-dominant, non-shooter sounds more like the Knicks of 2019 than the Knicks of the last several months. I'm not implying that Quickley has
to start this instant, but it would absolutely stunt his development if his minutes go down while Rose's go up.
My hope is the Knicks end up moving more pieces, particularly Payton. Because right now, it's hard to imagine that Thibs chooses Quickley over the two veterans for valuable minutes. Please, Coach Payne, talk some sense into your boss!