The Knicks’ two first-round picks received important validations ahead of and during Friday’s preseason finale.
Rookie forward Obi Toppin was ranked third in polling for the league’s 2020-21 Rookie of the Year award in NBA.com’s annual survey of general managers.
Point guard Immanuel Quickley also looks as if he plans to force his way into that conversation, moving into the starting lineup and netting 22 points with five assists and five steals as the Knicks closed out a 3-1 preseason with a 119-83 runaway win over the Cavaliers at the Garden.
“If he keeps doing it — we base all that on performance,” coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game when asked if Quickley has a chance to earn the starting point guard spot. “So if he keeps doing it in practice and he’s carrying it over to the games … he’s earning his way, and so we’ll see how it unfolds.”
Quickley, the 25th-overall pick out of Kentucky, started Friday with guards Elfrid Payton (hamstring), Dennis Smith Jr. (quad), Austin Rivers (groin) and Frank Ntilikina (Achilles) all held out for what Thibodeau said were precautionary reasons.
But Thibodeau noted Quickley “got our attention in practice, and if you practice well, you usually play well.”
Kevin Knox also played well for the second straight game, nailing 6-of-7 3-pointers and scoring 20 points. RJ Barrett finished with 15 points and Mitchell Robinson contributed eight points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots for the Knicks, who open their season Wednesday at Indiana. Reggie Bullock added 17 points and Julius Randle had 11 with a team-high eight assists.
Toppin, the eighth-overall selection in the draft out of Dayton, was relatively quiet, with six points and six rebounds in 27 minutes.
Earlier in the day, however, the 22-year-old Toppin was listed third in the general managers’ Rookie of the Year predictions with 18 percent of the vote, notably ahead of No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards of the Timberwolves (7 percent). Hornets point guard LaMelo Ball topped the list with 39 percent, followed by Warriors center James Wiseman (29 percent).
“Those polls and predictions, they’re pretty much meaningless. I just want him to continue to approach it the way he has — come in every day, work as hard as you can, try to improve each and every day,” Thibodeau said. “Oftentimes it’s small incremental steps that a player takes and that’s the way I want him to approach it. Then he looks back and sees he’s made a quantum leap.”
Toppin also received votes in the category asking which rookie will be the best NBA player in five years, finishing seventh, with Wiseman topping that list at 36 percent. And he was listed fifth for the “biggest steal at where he was selected in the draft,” behind the Kings’ Tyrese Haliburton (12th), the Pistons’ Saddiq Bey (19th), the Pelicans’ Kira Lewis Jr. (13th) and the 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey (21st).
Toppin and Quickley were part of a youthful quintet — with Barrett, Robinson and Knox — that closed out Wednesday’s comeback win over the Cavs. Quickley finished that game with nine points and seven assists in 24 minutes.
“He’s doing a really good job of controlling the team and getting everyone involved,” Knox said. “He’s done a good job of hitting shots as well, getting in the lane and making the right reads. I think he brings great energy at both ends of the court.”
The rookie started quickly Friday, burying two early 3-pointers and netting 15 points as the Knicks raced to a 72-35 halftime lead and never looked back.
“It was great just to get my feet wet a little bit. The coaches trusted me and I produced, but I feel like it’s just the start,” Quickley said. “I feel like my whole life I’ve kind of been an underdog, so it’s nothing new to me.”