How Knicks' Immanuel Quickley can break through the rookie wall

David Vertsberger
·4 min read
Immanuel Quickley Treated Image
Immanuel Quickley Treated Image

Immanuel Quickley emerged as a surprise contributor to begin this season, a spark plug off the bench for a team lacking in deep threats and one that has to be happy to get a high level of production out of their 25th overall pick. At one point, it appeared inevitable he’d take over the starting point guard job and even make a run at Rookie of the Year.

Unfortunately, life in the NBA doesn’t come that easy, and Quickley is dealing with his version of the rookie wall as the Knicks enter the home stretch of the regular season. His 38.6 percent three-point shooting through February is down to 35.2 percent these past two months. His field goal percentage dipped every single month since January, and his streak of 13 double-digit scoring nights in 14 games turned into just a couple of 10-or-more scoring outputs in April.

There are likely a few reasons behind IQ’s recent struggles. For one, the scout is out on him after sneaking into the Knicks’ rotation as a relative nobody, and defenses aren’t letting him get as comfortable with the ball. Gone are the days of bigs soft hedging or playing back on Quickley pick-and-rolls giving him whatever floater he wanted. They’re now forcing him to beat a switch or get around the hedge of a dude three times his size, something that’s seen increasingly mixed results.

Those ticky-tack fouls Quickley drew regularly? Opponents are more willing to let him try and shoot while semi-contested than risking a foul by getting handsy. On the other end, he’s targeted defensively and put to work as he’s usually undersized against his man.

These adjustments by the league need to be met with adjustments on Quickley’s part. This is easier said than done, especially for a 21-year-old rookie point guard in this league. We’ve seen some flashes of actual non-floater rim finishing against opponents that overplay his in-between game, and improved shot selection from downtown at times, but nothing consistent yet. All the while, Tom Thibodeau slowly decreases his playing time and on-court usage.

None of this is cause for long-term concern. Quickley remains confident despite the downturn and always brings the same level of energy when he checks into a game. There’s no reason to think his career won’t be on an upwards trajectory from here no matter how this season closes out.

That said, the Knicks are going to need Quickley playing effectively down the stretch and hopefully into the playoffs. One way he can turn things around is leveraging his playmaking ability. We’ve seen IQ put up seven-, eight-assist games early this season but slowly turn into more of a scorer over time.

This is partly due to Derrick Rose sliding into Quickley’s minutes and role after the Knicks traded for him, and while the rookie has some passing ability, his smaller stature makes reads difficult especially when defenses are hounding him.

Still, there are many opportunities for him to create for others that are falling by the wayside. These more aggressive pick-and-roll coverages leave weak-side shooters and slipping screeners room to work -- if Quickley can make quicker decisions and find them.

Mar 29, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley (5) reacts after hitting a three point basket against the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden.
Mar 29, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley (5) reacts after hitting a three point basket against the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden.

Becoming more of a passing threat will create more scoring chances for IQ once the defense adjusts. He also needs to be ready to take what they give him, instead of looking for the shots that got him here.

Quickley has the speed to burn mismatched defenders and get to the rim, but he’ll often go back to his trusted floater instead. Or with big men switched on him, Quickley settles for his side-step threes instead of attacking.

Again, these are small things you don’t expect freshman NBA point guards who haven’t played the position in a year to pick up. Quickley’s already picked up a lot more than anticipated to be sure, but it’ll take more growth out of him to break through this rookie wall. The shooting will ebb and flow, but if IQ can harness more of his game in the final 15 games of this season, it will be invaluable to his team’s postseason chances.