RJ Barrett is one year removed from his rookie season with the Knicks, and he still has endured the typical ups and downs young players invariably go through at the start of their NBA careers.
Barrett, Julius Randle and other Knicks have been impressed regularly by rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley’s confidence and ability to impact games off the bench throughout their 9-11 start, including Friday night’s 25-point performance in a win over Cleveland at the Garden.
“I kind of just look at it as he’s a rookie, man. He’s a rookie. It’s my second year, and I’m still going through it,” Barrett said after the game. “It’s kind of just basketball. I think everybody goes through it, no matter what.
“We’re just encouraging him, and he’s playing really hard. That’s all we can ask for. He’s playing hard and he’s making plays. He’s making winning plays. He’s scoring the basketball. He’s really bringing it for us and we appreciate him.”
Tom Thibodeau has consistently shot down queries about inserting the rookie out of Kentucky into the starting lineup over Elfrid Payton, but Friday’s game was the latest instance of the coach sticking with a hot Quickley in the fourth quarter to close out a victory.
Quickley, the 25th-overall pick in the 2020 draft, acknowledged that part of his comfort factor has been the presence of assistant coach Kenny Payne, who was with him in that role at Kentucky under John Calipari before joining Thibodeau’s coaching staff this season.
“It’s helped me transition, great, honestly,” Quickley said. “Not even from the basketball side, but just from somebody that I know is going to push me day in and day out, somebody I can talk with, almost like a father figure, basically. It’s just great to have him, honestly.”
According to Thibodeau, he met Payne several years ago through current Knicks executive William Wesley, and they had held several conversations together before various drafts about players coming out of college.
“I thought he was very insightful. I had not seen him coach on the floor before. But I had heard great things from people I have great respect for in the industry, starting with John Calipari,” Thibodeau said Saturday ahead of Sunday’s home matinee against the Clippers. “We wanted to have an emphasis on player development and teaching ability, and so I thought he would be a good fit for us. I’m very pleased with our staff. We have a number of great teachers and I think that’s been a big plus for us.”
The 21-year-old Quickley certainly has been a quick study. He particularly has shown an ability to bounce back from poor outings, such as following Tuesday’s 1-for-11 shooting night in Utah by hitting five of eight 3-point attempts Friday night against the Cavaliers.
“We saw it right from the first day he got here the way he approached things,” Thibodeau said. “He’s a student of the game, a great worker, a great attitude, a great approach. And the ups and downs of an NBA season, I think he prepares himself very well and his confidence comes from his preparation.
“He has great concentration, great effort every day. And he can play well even when he doesn’t shoot well. He obviously has a lot of confidence in that shot and his all-around game. And he’s one of those guys who will continue to get better and better with each game. So very pleased with his progress.”