It's Grimes Time
The New York Knicks may have struck gold when they selected Quentin Grimes 25th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft. After a strong Summer League, Q-Dot looks primed for a break out sophomore campaign.
Don’t overreact to summer league, or so the saying goes. No matter how good a player may (or may not) look, you’ll hear that line repeated ad nauseum over the two week summer stretch by evaluators and media members. But when a player balls out, can we react a little bit to it? And if not, then what’s the point? Because watching players develop parts of their game is fun, it’s what we do here at No Ceilings. So excuse me for a moment if I have a little fun and react to the Summer League that Quentin Grimes just had.
What I love about Grimes is that he’s such a fun developmental case to follow. We tend to forget that Grimes was a projected top 10 pick before he entered his freshman season at Kansas. Grimes struggled to adjust to the next level and he fell off the map for a bit. When you’re billed as a sniper and you then struggle to put the biscuit in the basket, it’s not a good look. But Grimes kept working and after a semi-breakout junior season that culminated into a final four berth, Q. Dot landed himself back on the NBA radar and ultimately as a first round selection by the New York Knickerbockers.
Sometimes (as our own Tyler Rucker likes to repeat) it just takes time. Development is not some linear path where every prospect develops on the same trajectory and timeline. Even the blue chip top high school recruits often waiver. After a strong rookie season and an impressive Summer League, I’m personally ready to put Grimes back onto that lottery talent type trajectory.
So Metcalf, I ask you this, am I overreacting to Summer League or is it possible to use that experience to propel you to the next chapter of your development?
The way I tend to approach Summer League with non-rookies is first, evaluating what role the team has them playing, and second, what new skill they have developed. A lot of the times, teams give their second year guys the reins to run the show and it either propels them to a bigger role the following season or shines a light on some improvement areas that further cement their place as a role player (not a bad thing). So, after my incessant rambling, no, I don’t think you’re overreacting at all. If anything I think Grimes is closer to being the best guard on the roster than he is to being the eighth man in the rotation. I’m not saying he’s the best guard yet, but if those are the two ends of the spectrum and I have to place him somewhere, it isn’t a difficult decision.
Watching Grimes’s development since he lit up Michigan State in his college debut has been one of my favorite things in basketball. He shared a similar development path to his fellow Jayhawk recruit Ochai Agbaji as they both continued to add something new and meaningful to their games every season, and they both continuously broke my heart by returning to school for another season. I’ve always been fascinated by Grimes’s talent and versatility, but I admit it was often an irrational fascination. Before we dive into his game going forward, I’m fascinated to know how you viewed Grimes throughout his college career and what has surprised you, either good or bad?
Maybe it was my affinity for the film He Got Game that I watched about a thousand times growing up, but shooting guards that can score on and off the ball were always my favorite archetypical player. But after Grimes' rocky start in college I didn’t really watch him as intently as I wish I would have in retrospect. Grimes re-piqued my interest during his junior year run, but after watching Baylor put him through hell in the final four, I thought he was a borderline late first/early second round guy that was bound to be more 7th-8th man than legit starter in the league. The adjustment to the speed of the NBA game is tough for just about every prospect transitioning to the next level, and I thought Grimes struggles to get off clean looks in college against NBA caliber defenders like Davion Mitchell and the eventual National Champion Baylor Bears meant Grimes could be in for a rough transition to the league.
One of the reasons I thought the percentages weren’t there for him is because he had to adjust his shot for the length and speed of college defenders. Caleb Houstan similarly struggled with those issues this year. For as pretty as Grimes’ shot could look, he would often adjust by holding onto the ball for an extra split second before his release, leading to him shooting a bit on the way down instead of getting off a quick clean release at the peak of his shot. His misses would front rim and still often do. At the highest level every split second counts. NBA players are longer and faster closing out and contesting, which means the release has to be consistently faster. But this is an issue that Grimes has really cleaned up and he’s now more frequently shooting at his highest point.
But it isn’t the smooth shooting that has shocked me about Grimes. Shooters shoot as they say. What’s been the most surprising part of his game has been the pace in which he’s played. Grimes is thriving with the ball in his hands, not only in getting his own shot but also in orchestrating the offense and making plays for others. I don’t envision him as some primary playmaker during the NBA regular season, but is there a world where he ups his usage from 15% to the low 20s while slightly increasing his assist percentage?
I really do think that is the ultimate upside with him. The off-ball shooting paired with the physical defense was the immediate sell with him, but even going back to his freshman season at Kansas, it always felt like there was more playmaking and overall creation that was just begging to be released. Season by season, his usage continued to rise, and he kept showing a bit more in terms of playmaking. I know the immediate pushback is that Grimes had a career assist-to-turnover ratio of just under 1.1 throughout his college career, but I cannot stress enough how much I hate using that stat to judge a player’s playmaking capabilities in college.
Something that you said, though, that is really crucial when envisioning a player’s long-term role is “I don’t envision him as some primary playmaker.” Whenever the community talks about playmaking or creation, the first thing everyone does is leap to “well can he be a primary option?” The answer to that is almost always no, but that doesn’t mean that his creation skills should be viewed in a drastically different light. To meet that threshold as a primary option is obscenely difficult in the NBA, but to elevate the team’s overall offense, each player still has to have some level of playmaking/creation ability where they can attack closeouts, run a second side pick-and-roll, or simply keep the ball moving. I agree with you that Grimes won’t be this primary offensive option, but he does have a lot more to his on-ball game than he gets credit for. If Grimes carries over what he showed in Summer League to the regular season (with the obvious leveling out due to competition), what type of role would that propel him into, and what would that mean for the Knicks overall?
I think that question can be answered differently based on how the Donovan Mitchell situation plays out. Is Grimes going to be in New York or Utah when the regular season starts? Approaching the question with the assumption that he’ll still be in New York with no Mitchell trade, I think that he eventually ends up as the starter sandwiched between Brunson and RJ Barrett. It would shock me if it happened early on in the season as Thibs is loyal to his vets and I still expect that Fournier plays a major role until Leon and co move him. In that scenario, and Knicks fans would probably disagree, Grimes should be the first guard off the bench. Two-way positional versatility is too important in today’s league and Grimes is the prototypical NBA swingman that can pass, dribble, shoot, and defend.
Grimes' handle is certainly a bit underrated as he has a little more shake than I think he’s been given credit for, but it’s the shooting that creates the playmaking opportunities. You mentioned how Grimes doesn’t have to be a primary guy to get playmaking reps and I agree as Grimes will have plenty of opportunities to create off quick decisions when the ball swings his way. NBA teams want to play .5 basketball with players that can keep their head up and make quick calculated decisions. Grimes' processing flashes in the summer league were impressive.
Watch on this possession how fast Justin Lewis reacts to the threat of Grimes’ shot as he comes off of the screen. Grimes is ready to let it fly if Lewis is late to react, but once he realizes he can attack the hard close-out and get down hill, he displays some of that playmaking feel, recognizing that if he puts pressure on the hoop he’ll get Simonovic in a two-on-one and when Marko over-commits to the drive, he’ll be able to drop it off Penny Hardaway style to Jericho Sims following him to the rim.
These quick hit actions off movement are where Grimes should bread his butter and I think this next action is a great example of the kind of sets you can run for him. Grimes comes off a pitch from Sims into a ball screen and when faced with the hard hedge he has the patience to survey the floor and make the correct read. Moody commits the cardinal sin of leaving the strong corner as he tries to tag Sims rim roll and Grimes makes a crisp pass for an easy corner bang out.
These actions remind me of the type of playmaking opportunities that movement shooters like JJ Redick ran with Jordan and Embiid or Duncan Robinson runs with Bam Adebayo. I think Grimes can find that same synergy with Simms, Robinson, and Obi.
But like I mentioned earlier it’s the threat of the shot that leads to hard close outs and hard hedges. Grimes has real shooting gravity, but more importantly, what he displayed in Summer League was shooting versatility. How do you foresee Thibs taking advantage of Grimes shooting versatility this season?
Unfortunately, I don’t have high hopes for some new, dynamic offense that the Knicks will implement. Thibs’ offenses have traditionally been outdated and simplistic. Last season, they ran isolation the eighth most in the league and pick-and-roll the fifth most. It would be shocking if Grimes commands a prominent role in either of those situations as he didn’t even qualify for the isolation tracking data and finished the play as the pick-and-roll ball-handler 14 times, shooting 0-9.
Given Thibs’ hesitancy with young players and more “traditional” offense, I expect that we see Grimes in more of the same situations as last season, which is essentially spotting up. I think this is a poor use of his skills, but he did at least prove to be exceptional shooting off the catch. Last season, 66.7% of Grimes’s shots came off the catch, and 51.1% of his possessions were spotting up where he ranked in the 91st percentile with 1.2 points per possession (PPP). With the insertion of Jalen Brunson and the large offensive workloads of RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, I expect more of the same from Grimes as purely an off-ball option.
What I expect to happen and what I hope happens are two vastly different things, though. We both agree that Grimes should see a much more significant role this season, and a great way to kickstart that is by running him off more screens. Last season, Grimes ended possessions running off screens only 7% of the time, but he ranked in the 68th percentile with 1.05 PPP.
As we can see, Grimes is a willing and intelligent off-ball mover with terrific shot preparation. It isn’t anything overly complicated, but Grimes lifts out of the corner off a stagger screen. As he comes off the second screen, he immediately recognizes that his defender is cutting under the screen. Grimes gladly counters by sinking back to the wing, instead of continuing to the top of the arc, displays perfect footwork, and decisively knocks down the three.
Grimes can also be used in a myriad of ways off-ball, especially with his willingness to play physical and set screens. The Knicks initially get the easy switch as Grimes sets the down screen which initiates the Randle-Quickley pick-and-roll. Again, not overly complicated, but Grimes’s job wasn’t solely to get the switch. Instead, he runs off a screen, curls up to the wing, and displays his typical textbook off-ball shooting mechanics.
Like we’ve been saying, though, Grimes has so much more to offer than “just” an off-ball shooter. Running him off screens can create opportunities for him to attack downhill and create for others as you astutely pointed out. The tape shows that he’s more than capable of it, and the numbers back it up as well. Grimes likely won’t be a pick-and-roll operator or relied on to create out of isolation, but handoffs are a perfect way to get him more involved. Last season, only 4.8% of his possessions were handoffs, but he ranked in the 97th percentile with 1.39 PPP.
I expect that Grimes will again be pigeonholed into a spot up role, which is disconcerting given how dynamic his offense could be. There is a lot to work with there that I think is more promising than anything any other two-guard on the roster offers. To be able to show that, though, Grimes will have to win over the trust of Thibs, which has been a nearly insurmountable obstacle for most young players. The number one way to do that, however, is through defense. Even though Grimes’s offense typically gets the attention, I think he has some fascinating defensive upside. Where are you at with him defensively?
Fans of Thibs coached teams often get frustrated by the pace in which Thibs distributes minutes to young players, but I feel that it’s often a bit overstated. Making young players earn their minutes on the court with smart two-way play could be frustrating for fans who would rather see them play through their every mistake, but I think it makes the neophytes (word to Clyde) better in the long run. With that said, I think that you did a great job visualizing the ways in which Grimes is most likely to get his shots, and so I think the best way for him to make the jump into the twenty-five minutes per game range would be to try to find himself in a Reggie Bullock plus type of role. I know that isn’t sexy, but it’s valuable. Bullock’s combination of shooting and defense from the wing was something that New York missed last year, and I think that Grimes can step up and fill that gap.
As currently constructed New York doesn’t really have a wing stopper (yes I know Cam Reddish is on the Knicks, I said what I said). In a wing heavy league that’s not ideal. As a rookie I thought Grimes showed enough positive flashes on-ball that I think if the focus next season is to go out and defend the team’s best wing, he’d be up for the challenge.
When Grimes was sped up as a rookie he could sometimes have happy feet and be a little jumpy, but even as a rookie he was able to show positive flashes of defensive versatility by guarding one through four. Grimes is strong, gives good effort, and he’s unafraid of lining up across from the league’s best players.
There’s no perimeter threat in the league more dangerous than reigning NBA Finals MVP Steph Curry and when Grimes had the chance to check him, he took the challenge head on and made Steph work for his looks. Against guys like Steph that’s all you can really do. Grimes moved his feet, switched his stance, didn’t bite on the pump fakes, anticipated the jumpers, and finished with high hands to contest as well as you possibly can against Wardell. These are two rock solid possessions out on an island against the best shooter of all time.
I don’t necessarily want Grimes guarding quick shifty guards full time (yet), but Grimes does a good job here in a big end of game spot against Ja Morant. Grimes closes the gap causing Ja to have to make a decision, he cuts off the drive to the right forcing him left, and does a good job pushing him into the help, ultimately leading to a Morant turnover.
I preached all of last draft cycle that the Knicks number one need was positional versatility. In a positionless league the Knicks have too many one position players. Grimes is one of the few players on the Knicks roster that fits the bill (which is why I personally prefer him as a prospect to Immanuel Quickley). While Grimes doesn’t have the most impressive measurements in the world, he's big and strong enough to guard up positionally. Grimes footwork is much smoother against bigger players that aren’t as quick with the ball in their hands. There’s nothing fancy here, but with a short clock, Grimes does a good job getting up in Morris’ space, low and wide, so that his only option is to move off the ball or force up a highly contested jumper. Morris chose the latter.
Grimes is just really disciplined against shooters out on the perimeter. On this possession Grimes shows great effort fighting through the Dieng off ball screen, hustles to get himself back in the play, beats him to the spot forcing Reddish to kill his dribble, and then finishes the possession with high hands forcing a tough fall away jumper.
I’m looking forward to the on ball development in year two because he showed real flashes there last year and he had a confidence in himself on that end in Summer League that permeated through the rest of the squad.
The off ball stuff on the other hand needs some more work. NBA team defense is really hard because NBA offenses are really good. There’s lots of movement, chasing, scrambling, and switching. You can’t just plant yourself in the paint and clog the middle like you can in college. When you’re a young player, a good offense can make you make mistakes that make coaches want to pull their hair out (not that Thibs has much left). Stick too tight to your man and lose where the ball is and you might get backdoored, help too far off and it could lead to a scramble situation. Even when you’re in the right spot and you make the right rotation, if you rotate just a split second too late, it could be a bucket at the rim or an easy kick out three. It takes time to learn how to time those rotations. In year two I want Grimes to be more disciplined off the ball so that he gets a longer leash with the coaching staff.
It’s hard not to get excited about watching how Grimes' development plays out during his sophomore season. But looking beyond just this season, what are the proper expectations for Grimes long term?
That’s such a tough question because it purely depends on what your definition of proper is. Based on his draft slot, competent rotation minutes should be the expectation. However, you and I are both holding him to much higher standards because of what he’s already shown. My expectations for him this season are that he entrenches himself as the Knicks starting shooting guard.
I know those are lofty expectations for a second year player on a team looking to make the playoffs, but given how highly I view his talent, and the team construction, I don’t think it’s that unreasonable. Obviously, this may all become moot if a Donovan Mitchell deal is finalized.
Grimes’ offensive impact is an ideal fit next to the Knicks already ball dominant forwards as he is a lethal off-ball scorer who can use his shooting gravity to create for others. Additionally, the backcourt IQ of him and Brunson will be a lot of fun to watch. The ball will constantly move and the floor will be properly spaced for the necessary slashing of Barrett and Randle.
I agree that the obsession with Thibs only playing defense first guys has become a bit of a cliche, but he has pretty consistently proven to limit the roles of guys who struggle on that end. The Bullock comparison is perfect for where Grimes is right now and for what the Knicks need. There is about a three inch height difference, but when Bullock left, there was a gaping hole in the rotation that wasn’t addressed. Grimes is primed for that role.
Even though he lacks the height of more traditional wing defenders, I prefer him guarding up in a lineup as opposed to down. Like you mentioned, the pure foot speed isn’t quite there to keep up with the quicker guards, but he is an incredibly strong and physical defender. He isn’t afraid of getting into guys’ space, implementing perfect footwork, and bodying them off their spots.
Grimes’ defense in his rookie season reminded me a lot of his freshman year at Kansas. There were a lot of flashes that made it clear that he knows how to defend. Unfortunately, there were also cases of happy feet and erratic rotations that were a symptom of him adjusting to the new pace of play. In his second year, I expect a lot of those inconsistencies and overly energetic possessions to dissipate.
I know this all may seem overly reactionary to a brilliant Summer League performance, but I promise that’s not how I’m forming these lofty expectations. Grimes has done nothing but adapt and improve year over year, so why would that cease to continue this early in his career? Summer League didn’t provoke my outlook for Grimes. Instead, it proved that he’s ready for a more prominent role, it proved that he’s improved as an on-ball creator and defender, and it proved that his ceiling is so much higher than he was given credit for coming out of college.