One rookie talked about his focus and attention to detail, the confidence positive performances are giving him.
The other stressed his belief in himself and his teammates despite difficult times, that despite shaky outings it has done nothing to change his self-assurance.
This dynamic happened during the regular season, too — only Immanuel Quickley was the former and Obi Toppin was the latter.
Their roles have reversed in the postseason, as the Knicks have fallen into a 3-1 hole against the Hawks in their first-round playoff series. Toppin has been a spark off the bench and has played so well there is talk of possibly using him with Julius Randle in the same frontcourt to flip the series’ momentum. Quickley has struggled to merit minutes, failing to produce after such an impressive regular season.
“I love it when people count me out,” Quickley said over Zoom following Monday’s practice. “I feel like that’s how my whole life in basketball has been, when people say you can’t do something or you’re not good enough or that’s not possible. I feel like that kind of drives our team as well. When we came into this season, everybody was expecting us to be in the lottery.”
Before the season, Toppin was supposed to be the Knicks rookie who would make an instant impact. Instead, it was Quickley, the 25th-overall pick out of Kentucky. He was seventh among rookies in scoring (11.4 ppg) and fifth in 3-point shooting (38.9 percent). Toppin didn’t have nearly as much success until the playoffs, where he’s been active and averaged more points (7.5 to 4.1) and minutes (13.8 to 11.0) than he did during the regular season. He’s coming off a career-high 13-point performance in the Game 4 loss. Quickley, meanwhile, has scored eight points over the last three games while shooting 4 of 20.
“We’ve got two young guys that are rookies that are in the playoffs, and they’ve been terrific all season long,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “[Quickley has] had some shots that he normally makes. But he can play well without shooting well. He learns as he goes. I’ve been very pleased with our rookies.”
Quickley agreed with Thibodeau that he can help the team even if his jump shot isn’t falling. Of course, his ability to stretch opposing defenses and get into the lane is what made him valuable. The 6-foot-9-inch Toppin, the eighth pick in the draft and college basketball National Player of the Year at Dayton, has done things that he didn’t show during the regular season, like hitting a 3-pointer in three of the four games in the series, and even putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket himself.
“I just really feel like I’ve just been locked in, studying a lot of film, paying attention to every little detail possible that I need for each game,” Toppin said. “I feel like the more details I know on the defensive side, I feel like the offensive side will just come to me if I just play my basketball and play team basketball.”
Both Toppin and Quickley believe the Knicks have plenty of fight left in them. Toppin cited the advantage they would have with a potential Game 7 at the Garden. Quickly pointed out how they have been proving people wrong all year.
“Everybody’s still confident,” Toppin said. “We’re taking it game by game. It’s not over yet.”
That remains to be seen. Getting regular-season production from Quickley and this version of Toppin continuing to progress would at least be a start.