The case for and against Immanuel Quickley becoming the Knicks’ starting point guard

Quickley no-look pass in preseason
Quickley no-look pass in preseason

Based on what happened in Sunday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Immanuel Quickley should be the Knicks’ starting point guard.

He had 31 points – 21 in the fourth quarter – and nearly helped the Knicks come all the way back from 25-point deficit.

New York was outscored by five when starter Elfrid Payton was on the court and outscored Portland by two in Quickley’s 24 minutes.

Understandably, there was a groundswell of Knicks fans on social media calling after the game for Tom Thibodeau to start Quickley.

Thibodeau hasn’t given any public indication that he’s going to make a change ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Utah Jazz.

One opposing scout, speaking on Monday afternoon, cautioned against starting Quickley too soon.

“He’s had some great games – but a lot of his numbers have been put up against second units. Can he do it against starting-caliber lineups? The last thing you’d want to do is put him in position to struggle for the rest of the year and ruin his confidence. That’s why (starting Payton) probably is their best call right now.

“Let Quickley continue to have success night in and night out. Let him continue to learn about NBA life. Then elevate him if he’s still playing well. But once you do it, you run the risk of hurting the momentum you’ve built if it doesn’t go well.”

That’s just one scout’s opinion, of course. The person’s opinion who matters here is Thibodeau, along with the rest of the coaching staff and front office.

Here’s what Thibodeau said last Sunday – after New York’s win over the Boston Celtics – when asked what he liked about Payton in the starting lineup and Quickley with the second unit.

“I love both guys. They’re different and bring different things to the team. It gives us great flexibility and we can mix and match. We really haven’t done a lot of that yet because of the things we’ve gone through with our injuries,” he said. «. … Elfrid, when you look at his defense and size, a lot of these guards — particularly point guards in the NBA today — they’re a load to deal with. Elfrid has a good understanding how to defend them. He can play-make for us. And when Quickley comes in he gives us a different look. I hope we get them to a point where we can play both of them together also.”

Again, that answer was from eight days ago. So Thibodeau may have changed his mind at this point. But if you look at the lineup the Knicks play most often – Payton, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Reggie Bullock, Mitchell Robinson – some numbers suggest that the Knicks aren’t in dire need of a change.

In 258 minutes played, that lineup has outscored opponents by 16 points, per NBA.com. That lineup has also accrued the most minutes among all five-man lineups this season.

The lineups that Quickley has been in most often this season have been outscored, per NBA.com.

But those numbers ignore a few issues to consider when you talk about starting Quickley:

  1. Could the current starting lineup be even better with Quickley’s shooting and play making added to it?

  2. Does it make sense to give Quickley more minutes so he can learn through mistakes in games?

  3. Would Quickley starting do more harm than good to the second unit?

  4. How much would the Knicks lose defensively if Quickley is in the starting lineup ahead of Payton?

If your answer to those questions is based solely on the loss to Portland, then it’s obvious that the Knicks should start Quickley.

But Quickley has had peaks and valleys through the first quarter of his rookie season – which is expected. And Payton hasn’t been consistent. But he’s had games (against the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic) where he’s played a big role in the Knicks’ success.

Still, if Quickley continues to play the way he did on Sunday, he may force Thibodeau to make a change.

“I think that shot-making is a huge asset for our team. That’s something that we need,” Thibodeau said late Sunday. “Shooting is what opened up the floor for us. His all-around play, he gets better with each outing, puts pressure on people. Defensively, he’s learning and as time goes on he’ll get better and better at it.

«If you could recall the preseason, he was in a really good rhythm offensively, shooting the ball. Then after getting hurt in the Indiana game, that layoff set him back some. He was out of rhythm when he came back. So I think he’s back into that rhythm,” Thibodeau added when asked about Quickley’s improvements. “That was something we were confident about. That’s one of the reasons why we drafted him, is his ability to shoot the ball.

“Also, he’s such a great student of the game. The way he prepares himself for each game, those type of guys with his type of drive, they’re going to improve. I think the second time around, when he plays a team the second and third time, he’ll have a better understanding of what they’re trying to do to him and also what they’re trying to do offensively. The way he’s studying, it’ll give him a head start. But he’s a great worker, he’s a great teammate, people like to play with him. I think he’s adjusted quite well to the NBA game, taking everything into consideration.»

Will that force Thibodeau to make an adjustment to his starting five? Stay tuned.