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Why Immanuel Quickley has emerged as leading candidate for NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year

immanuel quickley
Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

It happened on a sleepy Sunday night in a double overtime win earlier this month over the Boston Celtics.

Immanuel Quickley, also known as “HIMmanuel” given to him by teammate Jalen Brunson, had logged a team-high 55 minutes, notching a career-high 38 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. That was the night Quickley introduced himself not only to the NBA world-at-large but also to Sixth Man of the Year voters as one of the two favorites for the award.

Quickley had logged 55 minutes over six quarters for three reasons. First, Knicks starting point guard Jalen Brunson was out with an injury. Second, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau is known to overplay his main guys, and in his third season since being drafted, Quickley is one of Thibodeau’s main five guys. Third, he had played that much because he was the best player on the floor in that game. The Knicks’ win would be their ninth in a row. Quickley played the entire second half and both overtime periods. No wonder Thibodeau loves him so much.

As Mitchell Robinson said about Quickley’s impact, “He got them little dance moves. He did his
thing,” Robinson said. “He was having fun. We were giving him the ball, and he was getting

Until then, Celtics backup point guard Malcolm Brogdon had been the front-runner for the award. Since it’s become a two-person race for the award, in the two teams’ previous matchup, Quickley and Brogdon played about even in their reserve roles. Quickley scored 23, three rebounds, and two assists. Brogdon scored 22 points, two assists, and two rebounds. But in the team’s fourth meeting, where the Knicks would take a 3-1 series lead, Brogdon would sit out due to injury. Not that it mattered. Had he even played, Quickley would have still walked away, deserving the first Sixth Man of the Year award.

Quickley has been an integral part of the Knicks season turnaround, as the team is headed to the most wins since the 2012-13 season. They currently sit at 42-33, with nine remaining games. In 2020-21, the Knicks secured a No. 4 seed and were recognized for their best season in a decade, with Thibodeau being named Coach of the Year and Julius Randle winning Most Improved Player. So it’s not out of the question. Another overachieving season could net the Knicks one or two end-of-season awards.

Immanuel Quickley’s impact on New York Knicks

new york knicks
Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Quickley is averaging 13.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists this season. Further showing his importance, the Knicks are outscoring teams by 5.3 points when he’s on the floor and plus-7.8 per 100 possessions. What’s been even more remarkable is his outstanding defensive performance. Of all the Knicks in Thibodeau’s tight nine-man rotation, he has the highest defensive rating of 107.3. When he’s the primary on-ball defender, he’s limited opposing players to 43.1 percent field goals, which is the best on the team.

FiveThirtyEight’s Raptor grades him as the NBA’s 9th-best defensive point guard. If Quickley were to win, he would be the first Knicks player to do so since JR Smith in 2013, when the Knicks won 54 wins, the last time they won over 50 games and made the second round of the playoffs. Quickley deserves to be the second Knicks winner this century because he has emerged as one of the best two-way players in the NBA.

So how do Quickley and Brogdon matchup?

Points: Quickley 1,016, Brogdon 887

Assists: Quickley 239, Brogdon 219

Rebounds: Quickley 304, Brogdon 220

Steals: Quickley 67, Brogdon 39

Turnovers: Quickley 85, Brogdon 91

malcolm brogdon
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

In short, Quickley leads Brogdon in every statistical category guards are expected to thrive in, including scoring. Quickley, like Brogdon, is also a legitimate bench player. As a point guard, he backs up Brunson as the first guard off the bench. His evolved playmaking has earned Thibodeau’s trust to run the second unit, as well as sharing time with starters to finish games. When he was given an opportunity to start five games when Brunson went down, he showed what he could do in an advanced role, averaging 23.8 PPG, 4.4 APG, and 6.6 RPG. For Quickley to win the award would be a poignant parallel to Lou Williams, who was his self- professed favorite player growing up, and a three-time winner of the award.

But it’s been off the bench where Quickley has thrived. In his role as a reserve, he has been a
major component of the Knicks’ bench, having the best Net Rating in the NBA at 2.7. They also
have earned the third-best offensive rebounding rating (33), second-best rebounding % (52.7),
second-best Player Impact Estimate (52.8), and 10th-best defensive rating (54.6). Of the Knicks’
excellent bench, which features deadline steal Josh Hart, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Obi Toppin,
Quickley is the undisputed best of the bunch. As the best player on the best bench in the NBA,
the award belongs to him.

Lee Escobedo covers the NBA for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @_leeescobedo