The Knicks clearly are running out of games to make one last-gasp push for the playoffs, but Immanuel Quickley finally shaking the dreaded sophomore slump was going to be one of several imperative factors for them to have even the slightest chance.
The second-year guard has emerged from a nearly two-month shooting skid with five consecutive strong offensive performances, including 48 points off the bench in the team’s back-to-back road victories this week against the Clippers and the Kings.
“Quick’s been playing great. I think the biggest thing with him is he’s playing free,” Julius Randle said of Quickley after scoring a career-high 46 points in Monday night’s win in Sacramento. “He’s kind of clearing his mind and going out there and hooping and trusting his work.
“He’s probably one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around, especially for a kid that young. So he’s just got to keep going, keep playing like that.”
Quickley’s shot had betrayed him for at least six weeks earlier in 2022, averaging 6.6 points while connecting on just 30.7 percent from the field and 26.6 percent from 3-point distance over a 19-game stretch through Feb. 25.
Entering Wednesday’s game in Dallas against the surging Mavericks (winners of 11 of their past 13 games), however, Quickley is posting 18.8 points per game and shooting 52.0 percent (13-for-25) from 3-point range over his past five appearances .
“He’s really coming on right now,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Obviously, the way the game was officiated last year is different than this year, but I think he’s figured it out now. It’s been an adjustment for him, but he’s figured it out. And so, he’s playing at a high level, and I think he’s simplified things now.
“I think when he’s open, he shoots. When he’s guarded, he makes the play. He’s playing really great defense, hustling. He’s rebounding the ball, doing a lot of really good things. He’s crafty. He’s not afraid of big moments. When he plays like that, he’s really, really good.”
Even while he was slumping offensively, the 22-year-old Quickley stressed that he was concentrating on other areas of his game to make an impact.
“I feel like I’m defending a little bit better, so that helped me out, trying to rebound a little bit more. Finding other ways to affect the game other than just scoring, so that always helps,” Quickley said. And I got some great teammates. RJ [Barrett] and Julius played great [in Sacramento] and we’re getting some wins now, so that’s what it’s all about.”
With Kemba Walker shut down for the season, Derrick Rose sidelined since December ankle surgery and rookie Quentin Grimes also missing the past six games with a knee injury, Thibodeau even stuck with Quickley and rookie Miles McBride (20 minutes) as his backcourt duo for much of the fourth quarter against the Kings.
“I just think that he’s being who he is as a player,” Randle said of Quickley. “He’s not really worried about playmaking and stuff like that. He’s a scorer. He’s a shooter. He can shoot the ball and knows how to put the ball in the basket. That’s who he is at heart and he’s not worrying about the other things as much.
“And I’m not saying that he can’t do it. He can. But those things naturally will happen if he is who he is, which is a scorer. And because he works on all the other stuff, he’ll have counters and he’ll be able to get to that, but naturally, he’s just gotta put the ball in the hoop. That’s what he does.”