It didn’t take long for Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau to reignite the Evan Fournier vs. Quentin Grimes debate. Thibs is declaring Fournier as the “frontrunner” to start at shooting guard.
“We need shooting,” Thibodeau said in a recent press conference. “The one thing I know is with Jalen (Brunson) and RJ (Barrett) and Julius (Randle), we have to put shooting around them. Mitch (Robinson) will put pressure at the rim, that’s what will force defenses to collapse.”
We could debate the merits of starting Grimes over Fournier, but that’s a futile discussion. There’s no reason to believe Thibs will bench Fournier in favor of the younger Grimes. Playing youth over veterans is not in his nature. And for what it’s worth, I think Immanuel Quickley should be starting alongside Jalen Brunson in the backcourt.
Grimes vs. Fournier is one small part of a bigger issue for the Knicks. They need to play Grimes, Quickley, and Obi Toppin more — plain and simple. Not because they are trying to tank, but because they can help the Knicks win now. And make no mistake about it, this trio will help New York win games, which is Thibodeau’s only priority.
Toppin is an elite cutter who stretches defenses through sheer force of will and is an improving defender. Grimes is the quintessential 3-and-D wing who should play consistent minutes on any team, even elite contenders.
Meanwhile, IQ has elevated his teammates more than any other Knick over the last two seasons. His lineup numbers on Basketball-Reference are eye-popping. Almost every single lineup combination with Quickley over his first two seasons nets a positive point differential. Unleashing IQ à la Tyrese Maxey and Darius Garland is the most realistic way for the Knicks to go from a fringe playoff team to a top-six seed.
This is a Thibs problem, but it doesn’t mean Leon Rose and the front office are off the hook. By burying the young guys, Thibs diminishes their trade value. Why would a team trade for young guys who are struggling to get minutes on a bad team? That was an undeniable factor in the Donovan Mitchell trade negotiations.
The Knicks nailed two of three offseason moves they needed to make — they signed Jalen Brunson as a lead guard and extended RJ Barrett. But they still have Randle and Toppin on the roster.
Randle can’t block Toppin’s minutes as much as in years past. Grimes needs opportunities to prove himself even if Fournier starts. Quickley deserves a chance to play a major role. If Thibs doesn’t see this, the Knicks are going to stagnate for another season.
Follow Danny Small on Twitter @dwsmall8.