ROUNDBALL DAILY

With Quickley and Toppin, Knicks have finally found young core to build around

Dec 13, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley (5) passes the ball during the second quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

You’ve heard this before.

The Knicks are back. They’ve reached a turning point. The future is bright in the World’s Most Famous Arena For Visiting Players To Drop A 50-Piece.

Knicks fans have been preaching the gospel of young players like tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists since the days when Ron Baker was in the starting lineup. Actually, well before then. Anyone remember Landry Fields? Chris Copeland?

It’s been a sorry two decades for Knicks fans, save for a few fainting moments when Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire finally had the Garden rocking again.

But now, like the first puddles that lead into the Colorado River on the edge of the Mojave Desert, hope is on the horizon. (Sorry, I’ve been listening to Bill Walton call too many college basketball games).

Worldwide Wes and his team has finally put together a solid draft for this franchise, and the two players it acquired in 2020 may be the ones who start to return this franchise from abject failure back to respectability.

Immanuel Quickley,  the 21-year-old rookie point guard out of Kentucky, has shown brilliant flashes of potential, particularly in the preseason, when his basketball IQ, sweet-shooting stroke and decision-making ability led directly to a 119-83 evisceration of the Cavaliers back in December.

Quickley scored 22 points, racked up five assists and five steals in that eye-opening performance, one that had Knicks fans bursting with appropriately-curbed enthusiasm.

He’s struggled in sporadic minutes thus far in the regular season, averaging just 5.7 points and shooting just 25.7% from the field in 16.5 minutes per game. But his presence in preseason, coupled with his youth and athleticism (his surname describes the way he does everything) has fans and general basketball observers alike excited about his potential.

And he’s not even the best rookie on the team.

Obi Toppin, the reigning national college basketball player of the year and the eighth pick in the draft this fall, has even more potential to become a star.

The 6-9, 212-pound athletic power forward has drawn apt comparisons to Stoudemire, but he’s actually got a jump shot.

Toppin can finish over anyone around the rim, he’s smart, has long arms and could develop into a tremendous defender. He’s also crafty on offense, has the ability to score in a variety of ways in the post, and is good for a highlight-reel dunk if the opportunity avails itself. He’s also got the ability to stretch the defense with the 3.

With those two on the roster and with Toppin cleared to play on Wednesday for the first time since the opener, the Knicks have real, not-fantasized reasons for optimism. Case in point: both are now getting odds for the ROY, with Toppin just outside the Top 5 and Quickely the Top 10. It won’t take a miraculous free agent signing, a fortuitous bounce of the ping pong balls, or a coup of James Dolan (though that would help) to get the franchise back on the right track.

They’ve finally found the right approach (to draft well, hang on to young players and build from within), the right front office people and the right coach in Tom Thibodeau to make that happen.

Thibodeau’s focus on defense and his ability to get the best out of his players is exactly what this young group needs, and they’re already overachieving at 5-6 through January 12. It will be a miracle if this team hangs around playoff contention this year, but that’s not even the point. It’s about building for the future, and with Quickley, Toppin, RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks have the pieces to finally start to make some noise.

The future is finally bright for New York’s premiere basketball franchise. And who knows? Fans might not have to wait too long to see winning basketball once they’re finally allowed back in the Garden.

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