Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks are always evaluating lineups and player combinations.
If the tape on Friday night is any indication, Immanuel Quickley is showing them that he deserves more minutes.
Quickley sparked the Knicks second unit in a three-point loss to Cleveland. The rookie guard had 23 points, five rebounds and four assists in the defeat.
New York outscored Cleveland by 11 points in Quickley’s 28 minutes; the Knicks were outscored by 14 points when starting point guard Elfrid Payton was on the court (20 minutes).
Of course, there are five players on the court. So Quickley’s success against Cleveland was due, in part, to the players he shared the floor with. The same can be said for Payton’s off night (three turnovers, 0 assists).
Still, the Knicks have lost five in a row. Is it time for New York to put Quickley in the starting lineup?
Thibodeau was asked on Friday if how much he considers elevating Quickley to the starting lineup based on what he saw against Cleveland.
“Well, it’s a function of the group’s playing well together. So we need everybody. We’re working guys back that were out so we’re not into a rhythm yet. We’re still evaluating,” he said. “So we’ll keep evaluating, we’ll keep working to improve and then we’ll find the best combinations to go forward with. But we’re constantly evaluating and talking about who plays well with whom. And if something can help the team, we’ll do it.”
New York has been missing Alec Burks for the past two weeks. Obi Toppin is just returning from a prolonged absence. Frank Ntilikina has been out with a knee injury. So Thibodeau and his staff haven’t played a game with a full rotation yet.
But have they seen enough to determine that Quickley should start?
The early-season lineup data doesn’t present a clear case for Quickley. Of the lineups that have played at least 15 minutes together, two lineups with Quickley have the best net rating, per NBA.com. But the starting lineup of Payton, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Reggie Bullock and Mitchell Robinson has a comparable net rating in many more minutes on the court.
Still, Quickley’s threat to shoot would seemingly force the defense to extend, spreading the floor for Randle, Barrett and Bullock. But perhaps Thibodeau and the Knicks like Quickley with the second unit? Kevin Knox seems to benefit from Quickley’s presence.
“Everything’s on the table,” Thibodeau said when asked if he’s considering lineup changes amid New York’s losing streak.
Thibodeau obviously wasn’t going to announce on Friday night that he was inserting Quickley into the starting lineup. That’s not how these decisions get communicated.
But, if nothing else, Quickley gave Thibodeau and the Knicks more reason to consider expanding his role moving forward.