Quickley is putting up 16.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 48.5 percent shooting from the field and 38.9 percent from deep over his last 22 games, nine of which he started in the absence of RJ Barrett.
Beyond the individual numbers, Quickley is playing winning basketball for New York, wreaking havoc as one of their peskiest defenders and naturally floating between play initiator, connector and finisher. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has run with him to close games, playing him a career-high 33 minutes per night in this stretch, an understandable response to Quickley’s chart-topping plus-minus numbers.
Make no mistake: the Quickley leap is here, and it is spectacular.
The most enamoring part of this development is how different it is than imagined. Quickley first snuck into the rotation as a rookie by providing energetic scoring bunches off the bench.
He was a scrawny, inconsistent flamethrower, often compared to Lou Williams, one of the best sixth men in NBA history but ultimately just a scorer by trade. Many thought Quickley was similarly limited, shoving him in the “combo guard” label and not expecting a higher ceiling.
Year Two began Quickley’s turnaround. His shot wasn’t connecting at the same rate, but the strides he made defensively, with his playmaking and inside scoring, looked promising.
Fans hoped Quickley would evolve into an average defender, but he was already a plus on that end. They feared a jumper-happy repertoire, but watched IQ improve his athleticism and fearlessness around the rim.
The poor shooting took away from the growth narrative, but now everything’s come together. Quickley’s deep ball is falling, he’s more picky and efficient within the arc, and the rest of his game all saw further advancements.
It starts on the defensive end, where the once overlooked, skinny guard is now an absolute hawk. The Knicks are allowing just under 10 fewer points per 100 possessions with Quickley on the court versus off, representing via numbers what onlookers have been seeing.
Quickley is the team’s pseudo coach and anchor whenever he’s on the floor, constantly vocal, keeping traffic directed and matchups intact. He plays to that level of energy too, rotating and scrambling with high effort.
He’s not all hustle though, in fact Quickley defends at a pure technical level, not gambling for high amounts of steals and blocks.
He’ll squeeze, slip and otherwise fight through screens, using his ridiculous length to get an arm through and discourage all available lines of sight. He attaches himself to opponents’ hips, always keeping in stride while extending his limbs anywhere they could cause trouble.
If Quickley gets beat, he’s quick to recover or slyly rotate accordingly, making sure to communicate to the rest of his team. These are rare instances though, as Quickley’s developed superb footwork that allows for quick stop-and-go’s and effective closeouts.
In the past, bigger players would have success attacking Quickley one-on-one, but he’s grown stronger and can’t be picked on the same way. His help defense is on point too, having proven himself as one of the few guys that have mastered Thibodeau’s defensive schemes and executes it to perfection.
Of course, defense doesn’t end with the missed shot, but the defensive rebound, a weak point for the Knicks this season. Thankfully, Quickley has been one of the best rebounding guards in the league this season, averaging over five per-36 minutes.
Offensively, the scoring bursts that light up Madison Square Garden are back, but in more efficient fashion. Quickley’s improved shot selection and finishing ability are paying major dividends.
Quickley calmed some of his more aggressive scorer tendencies from deep, refocusing on taking more catch-and-shoot looks and threes coming from right behind the line as opposed to Stephen Curry-range. This has brought his average back up closer to expected and kept defenses more honest.
Inside the arc has been the bigger revelation. In his rookie year, Quickley seemingly got into the paint for free throws or a floater. He’s gotten much more confident going all the way to the rim, while connecting on his in-between looks at a higher rate.
Everything with Quickley is decisive and savvy. He could always use his shiftiness and speed to get in the thick of defenses, but where he used to penetrate without a plan, now he’s smartly probing for exactly the right opportunity.
Quickley keeps defenders on his back off pick-and-rolls as he reads the defense, now more cognisant of the weak side passing lanes available to him. If they want him to score, Quickley will take what’s given to him, whether that’s his patented floater, the moving short baseline jumper he’s developed, or a rim attack.
The assist numbers aren’t there, but few are questioning Quickley’s decision-making or selfishness. He seems to always make the right play this season.
What does this year mean for his future with New York? Quickley is due for an extension off his rookie contract, and sure looks like he’ll get a hefty one given his play.
As he should. The flashes Quickley displayed in years past have become recurring images, and it’s been one of the biggest developments for this Knicks era.