Making Your Own Luck
The Knicks, spurred by rookie Immanuel Quickley, took another step forward in a tough loss to a great team. So what's luck got to do with it?
Happy snow day! If you’re receiving this newsletter for free and want to become a full subscriber to get one every weekday, you can do so right here:
Also, don’t forget about the push to get Julius Randle to the All Star game. Click here to vote.
Last and certainly not least, Ernie Parada - the artist behind the outstanding drawings that have been popping up in the newsletter from time to time - in finally selling some merch! His debut piece: A shirt to commemorate the Knicks newest bastion of hope:
The shirts will be on sale until this Friday at noon, and will ship the week of February 15. Limited supply, so if you’re down with IQ, click here to get yours. Now onto the newsletter:
Game 21: Knicks 115, Clippers 129
⌚️TL;DW: Talk about a game that the final score doesn’t do justice to.
In what was arguably their best overall performance of the season, the Knicks took on the very best and fought toe to toe for 40 minutes, trailing by just two with under eight minutes to go. It wasn’t built on unsustainable 3-point shooting or a bevy of wide open misses from their opponent (LA was 17-for-38 from downtown, New York just 10-of-27); this was NBA basketball at its finest, with elite ball movement and shotmaking on both ends.
Ultimately, the team that had Kawhi Leonard won and the team that didn’t, didn’t. But this was a game that showed yet again how New York has not only garnered the respect of their opponents, but respects themselves enough to believe they can win on any given night.
🗣 Quote of the Night: Patrick Patterson, courtesy of The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov:
“The team is confident, hungry, they’re young, they believe in themselves. They believe in their goal to get to the playoffs and win. They’re a force to be reckoned with. They don’t back down to anyone. They believe in one another. It shows out there, throughout their games, throughout their season being top 3 in defensive ratings out there, holding their opponent under, I think, 105 points per night and still scoring on a high pace on the offensive end. RJ, Julius, list goes on, those guys on the team contributing in so many ways to help out their team…They’re definitely a team to watch in the East. I definitely look forward to them making it to the playoffs.”
🥊 Momma Gonna Knox You Out: Reggie Bullock returned to action yesterday, which meant Kevin Knox was on the outside of the rotation looking in.
Earlier in the day, it looked like Thibs would shift everyone down a position after the Knicks announced that Nerlens Noel would miss the game with a sore groin. Instead, Taj Gibson got his first extended action of the season, Burks slotted in as the backup four, and Knox rode the pine.
I’m not making a huge deal of one game, especially since Knox’s play of late probably warranted a seat on the bench. Part of me thinks the organization is treating this like a reset of his rookie year anyway. Regardless, whatever value he has as a trade asset probably can’t withstand many more DNP-CD’s, so this is definitely a situation worth monitoring.
👋 Wave-off of the Weekend: “I got this.”
Underated storyline of the season: Randle and RJ’s chemistry together. It still isn’t all the way there, but compared to the oil and water situation we saw last year, it’s an immense sign of progress.
🔙 ICYMI: On Friday, New York beat Cleveland 102-81. The Knicks initially couldn’t do a blessed thing on offense, scoring three points in the first seven minutes of action. And then, of course, it was Immanuel Quickley time. He provided the offense with a nice spark that translated to the other end, as New York held Cleveland to just 44 points over a 32-minute stretch in the middle of the game. They won going away.
🔜 Next Up: Knicks vs Bulls in Chicago at 8pm. Click here for the halftime Zoom.
💫 Stars of the Weekend 💫
⭐️ Julius Randle: 27 points, 12 boards, 5 dimes and 4-of-5 from deep yesterday after 16, 8 & 6 on Friday night. It's now just him and Jokic averaging 20, 10 & 6, and Randle’s defense has been nothing short of a tone-setter. He continues to put the team on his back and come through when it matters most.
That these sorts of performances have almost become routine speaks to how deserving of an All-Star birth Julius really is.
⭐️ ⭐️ RJ Barrett: Forget the offensive performances (47 points over the weekend with a handful of really encouraging moves in addition to the one above); how many guys in the NBA can get it to the body from Kawhi Leonard like this and live to tell the tale:
The two-time Finals MVP took notice of the 20-year-old yesterday, saying afterwards that “the sky is the limit” (h/t Vork). He’s spot on. Barrett seemed to take this matchup personally, and while he got beat a few times (I mean, it’s freaking Kawhi), RJ more than held his own.
23 points on 14 shots makes it the seventh time this season that Barrett has shot above 50 percent from the field. He did that just 10 times all of last season. There’s a reason Clyde said during that broadcast that he thought RJ would be an All-Star by next year.
Leaps and bounds, leaps and bounds...
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Immanuel Quickley: The rookie had 50 points on 31 shots in the course of about 43 hours, at least a half dozen of which made me jump out of my seat (and possibly one that made me throw a pillow across the living room). Clapping and shouting is no longer enough for the guy the Clippers finally needed to sick Kawhi on to slow down.
More on the continued emergence of Immanuel Quickley below, but first…
I don’t think there’s a question that 30-42 would be a successful year. The better one is whether it would be the most successful year:
Scenario 1: Julius Randle keeps playing like an All-Star, RJ Barrett keeps looking like he’s a future All-Star, Immanuel Quickley finishes in the top-three in ROY voting, Obi Toppin starts to come around, and Knox finds his way back into the rotation after a midseason trade or two (and looks like an NBA rotation piece by season’s end). The Knicks continue to stay in almost every game deep into the fourth and play meaningful contests into May, but just miss out on the 10th seed thanks to a highly competitive East. They enter lotto night with the 8th best odds.
Scenario 2: Everything the same as Scenario 1, except they make the play in and lose a tough one to Atlanta.
Scenario 3: Same as Scenarios 1 & 2, except they advance past the play in and lose a hard fought five-game series against the Sixers.
I’m picking Scenario 3 by a hair, but am highly unsure as to whether that’s the sucker’s bet, and you know what they say about the guy who isn’t sure where the sucker is.
I don’t know. Getting to the playoffs, in a year they were picked to finish last, at the expense of something like a 12 or 16 or 22 percent chance at a top-four pick? And ending up with two picks in the low to mid teens instead? Walt Perrin found Donovan Mitchell and Immanuel Quickley at 13 and 25 in two of the last four drafts. I’ll take my chances.
Speaking of Quickley…
Making Your Own Luck
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
In my 28 years rooting for the Knicks, I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to say that the franchise got lucky.
This feels significant. Like, what boss’s wife did I screw in a past life to deserve perpetual existence as an unlucky fan? Yes, the Knicks have occasionally been good, but never lucky, or at least not lucky in a way that lasted. Linsanity was probably the closest, and that was over in three weeks. That’s almost insulting to the notion of actual luck, like winning the lottery and someone telling you a month later that it was just a loan you needed to repay (with interest).
So when I’m watching 25th pick go off for at least 25 points for the third time in four games, I don’t feel one iota of guilt. Do I deserve this? What do any of us really deserve? What I do know is that this is, without question, the closest thing to genuine luck that this organization has experienced since drafting Patrick Ewing, and I for one am not about to ask questions.
But what if there’s no such thing as luck?
What if, as the Roman philosopher Seneca posited many centuries ago, we all make our own luck, and it really comes down to putting in the work in time for the next opportunity to arise?
(In that case, than we as fans certainly deserve Immanuel Quickley. If sticking with this tire fire of a franchise doesn’t qualify as putting in the work, than I don’t know what does.)
But what about the Knicks? Does Leon Rose, in his very first draft as team president, deserve such a fortuitous bounce? And if my past life led to multiple decades of suffering, then what karmic retribution does Tom Thibodeau get for burying young player after young player on the bench in previous coaching stops?
If anything, you’d think that he might be the last coach who deserves one of the six players to be averaging at least 25 second-half points, three second-half threes and six second-half free throws per 36 minutes:
Then again, Thibs preaches preparation more an anyone, so maybe he’s most deserving of all.
And as the above graphic shows, these are anything but empty calories. He is doing the two things that every perimeter star needs to do in the league today to succeed: get to the line, and be a threat from deep. On Friday night, he did both on the same possession:
Ooo boy…it might be snowing outside but it sure is getting hot in here.
Is it going to keep up? Probably not. After all, there’s only been one rookie in NBA history to even average 2.5 made 3-pointers and five made free throws per 36 minutes. If IQ keeps this up though, Luka Doncic will have some company:
Wherever he winds up though, we are just about past the point where Immanuel Quickley is a cute story. There is nothing left for defenses to figure out. They know exactly what’s coming, and they’re simply unable to stop it.
On one hand, the moment you let him get past you and he has you on his hip, you’re toast:
On the other hand, if you play him to drive and don’t come up above the line for a hard contest, you’re toast:
Quickley is up to 36.5 percent from deep after starting the year slowly (22.2 percent over his first seven games; 41.1 percent over his last 10). That part of his game is only going to improve.
The same goes for his passing, which is the sole knock that’s warranted, if such a thing is even conceivable. Quick is “only” averaging 4.8 assists per 36 minutes, and sometimes gets floater happy when there are open men on the perimeter just dying for a kick-out.
Two things on this though:
He’s played in all of 17 career games
He’s already showing signs of improvement there as well:
All of the signs are there.
Is it enough to project that this kid will be anything more than an elite 6th man, or perhaps even a tertiary creator who moonlights as an engine for second unit offenses?
Too soon to say. But that’s the thing about luck: when you get the gift horse, you don’t look it in the mouth.
Right now, the Knicks seem to be toeing the line between giving Quickley all the on-ball development time he can handle while also playing him alongside Julius Randle and RJ Barrett to give them the best possible chance to win games. In 101 minutes, that trio has a plus 19.4 net rating, which is easily the best of any Knick threesome to play as many minutes.
And best of all, it’s just the beginning.
So on second thought…no, this can’t be just luck. Not something this good, and this promising, with this much potential impact on the future of a team that desperately needed to get one right.
The preparation is evident: Hiring Leon Rose, letting him reshape the organization as he saw fit, bringing in Brock Aller to make a draft day trade that netted the 25th pick, giving Walt Perrin the keys to the draft cupboard, seeking out an assistant coach from the most successful program in college basketball, and ultimately doing the homework required to make the selection.
The opportunity though? That started when Reggie Bullock failed a physical, thereby endowing the Knicks with enough cap space to sign Marcus Morris, who then shot eight percent higher than his career average from three in New York, which made him attractive enough to get a first round pick from a contending team. If that isn’t luck, I don’t know what it.
But then again, if the universe ever owed anything to anyone, it is the Knicks and their fans right now.
So let’s enjoy the young man who just shoehorned himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation this weekend. He may not win it, but if nothing else, he’s put to rest all the nonsense about Kentucky nepotism getting him drafted so high in the first place.
They say fortune favors the bold. If that’s true, the Knicks - and their rookie - should continue getting very, very lucky.
That’s it for today!
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