When the Knicks drafted Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley less than a year ago, their outlook looked much different than it does today. The two were meant to be joining a rebuild, with Toppin even serving as a potential Julius Randle replacement.
Now they’re contributors to a playoff team, newly improved and as hungry as ever. Unfortunately, that means as excited as Knicks fans are to see Toppin and Quickley grow as prospects, the honeymoon period is over.
This isn’t to downplay how the two fared last season. The Knicks were a competitive out from season tip and the two rookies played key roles in their team’s fourth-seed finish.
Quickley finished fifth on the team in scoring with 11.4 points a game, hitting 38.9% of his threes. Against lax defenses, or when his floater was on, Quickley could drop a 20-piece and pick up the slack for any of New York’s other sparkplugs having an off night.
It took a while for Toppin to get going in his rookie season, but he looked awfully tantalizing once he did. Come the postseason, his dynamic offense helped cut holes in a Hawks defense that troubled the Knicks.
Quickley and Toppin averaged 19.4 and 11 minutes a night respectively, with the benefit of injuries and Elfrid Payton. They certainly earned those minutes, but they’re going to have to earn them again, and it’ll be tougher this time.
For Quickley, bringing spacing to a lineup including Payton was an easy sell last season. Now he’s got Kemba Walker starting at the point guard, with Derrick Rose returning healthy for a full season. Quickley played alongside Rose often last year and will likely do so again this season, but unless he’s eating into a starter’s minutes again, his regular playing time could see a decrease.
In Toppin’s case, he’s still Randle’s back-up, leaving him open to more playing time strictly when he’s out-performing the All-NBA talent. There’s long been curiosity surrounding Toppin playing the center spot, but Tom Thibodeau didn’t experiment with that look much at all. Plus, a fully-healthy Knicks center rotation includes arguably three better centers than Toppin.
These two will get their minutes regardless, with foul trouble, injuries and shooting spells bound to plague any team. They’re also getting better under the wing of this Knicks development staff, as displayed by their Vegas Summer League appearance.
However, merely improving their games may not be enough to stave off their roles shrinking, they also have to change them.
Quickley is a small guard that can ideally create a ton of points out of the pick-and-roll and other means. The Knicks already employ two veteran former All-Stars that fit the same description, only better.
Down one spot over on the bench unit is Alec Burks, who can create a ton of points out of the pick-and-roll and other means, but at the wing position. If Quickley gets 15 percent better this offseason, is he a more reliable offensive threat than Walker, Rose or Burks?
Toppin may offer a different look than Randle, but that’s not enough to justify taking minutes from him. Even with a big leap, nobody is giving away minutes from their number one option.
Quickley and Toppin need to take more than the usual steps to fight for their roles and touches.
In Quickley’s case, that’s diversifying himself from his peers and giving Thibodeau a reason to play him if his shot’s not falling. That could be evolving his passing or defense, two of Rose’s and Walker’s bigger weaknesses.
If Thibodeau can’t trust Toppin at any position but the four, he needs to develop into a guy that can play those alternative positions. Whether that means grinding through a rim protecting boot camp or becoming the next Reggie Bullock from three, it’s the only way he’ll get more opportunities.
While the Knicks remain a relatively young team, they bear the culture and expectations of a tried and veteran organization. That trickles down all the way to their latest prized prospects.
Toppin and Quickley constantly displayed a commitment to their work ethic since coming to the Knicks. If they’re going to continue their ascent, they’ll have to show they’ve gone the extra mile to compete for a winner.
Source: Yahoo Sports