Things aren’t exactly blooming at Madison Square Garden right now, especially over the last two weeks. The New York Knicks have found themselves stuck in the mud as they’ve dropped from 5-1 and first place to 7-6 and seventh place. One of the most frustrating stats fans are pointing to is the awful defense the Knicks have played. Last year, head coach Tom Thibodeau had this team playing great defense, finishing fourth in the NBA in defensive rating. However, things have not translated into 2021-22. The Knicks currently sit fifth-to-last in the same category.

But fans are also asking Tom Thibodeau to play a duo more often: Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin.

Quickley has been playing well over the last few games as it seems as if he is out of his early season slump. Over the last five games, the former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging 11.6 points per game on 46% shooting from both the field and from deep. All while averaging three assists per game in 20.5 minutes per game.

The advanced stats also say Quickley has been a valuable player for the Knicks this season. His offensive rating is 112.6, fourth-best on the team. His defensive rating sits at 100.2, which ranks third on the Knicks among players who play more than six minutes a night. The 12.4 net rating slots him in fourth place on the team.

The Maryland native has also shown that he is getting better as a distributor as well. His 18.5 assist percentage puts him in fourth place on the team (min. four games played) behind Julius Randle, Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker. Add that with the fact he has three assists for every turnover places him second on the team behind just Alec Burks. His assist ratio is 20.1, placing him behind just Derrick Rose for the highest on the team among players who have played at least four games. 

All of the numbers show that Quickley is arguably the second-best guard on the team. While reading all of the stats, one name that remained beneath Quickley’s: Evan Fournier.

Before the season began, Thibodeau mentioned how Quickley and one other man were always at the Training Facility in Westchester: Obi Toppin.

Toppin has also raised his game, despite fans still wanting to shield their eyes when they see the New Yorker start to line up for a three pointer. The slashing power forward brings a jolt when he steps on the court. His high-flying ability combined with the fact that he was born in Brooklyn (and graduated from Ossining High School in Westchester) has made him a fan favorite. 

He has also made a case for more playing time. Over the last four games, Toppin is averaging nine points in just 13.9 minutes. Over that span, he has cut down on the long range shots, taking just half a trey a game. Knowing that he is best from closer to the rim, his field goal percentage over the last four games is at 56% on six shots. Toppings per 36 indicates 18.5 points per game along with 7.8 rebounds per game and a shade over two blocks per game.

Now if Knicks brass thinks Toppin’s defense is still suspect, they should look at his defensive rating which sits at 99.8, second on the team among players who play six minutes a game or more. The only man in front of him: Derrick Rose. Toppin’s defensive rating is higher than Mitchell Robinson’s and Nerlens Noel. Toppin’s offensive rating is at 117.1. That leads the team among players who have played more than five games this season. The 17.3 net rating also places him in first place on the team among players who have seen the court in more than five games this year. Toppin’s 1.75 AST/TO places him fifth on the team while his turnover ratio of 7.8 slots him in third among players who play at least 10 minutes. 

Toppin has made a case that, when he steps on the court, is maybe the second best big man on the roster 

However, Toppin should not be taking any of Randle’s minutes. But, there has to be a way in which Thibodeau can incorporate the small ball lineup into the game plan. Time to flex your brain muscles, Coach of the Year.

The bond Quickley and Toppin have is special. Those two men have become very close over the last year. It’s clear that they have been pushing each other to become the best basketball players they can be. That has also translated on the court, especially when they are running the court together. 

They each have made a case for more minutes. They have been able to produce in their limited minutes. Again, it’s time to flex your brain muscles, Coach of the Year.

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