How Quentin Grimes’ grind won him Tom Thibodeau’s trust

At the age most NBA first-round picks are at their most dominant, Quentin Grimes was learning what it took to play on the high-major level.

Unlike draft stars whose usually brief one-year cameos put them squarely in the middle on the NBA scouting radar, Grimes blended in during his freshman year at Kansas. Sixth on the team in scoring, he attempted only 7.7 shots per game and averaged almost as many turnovers as assists. It wasn’t the season that was expected for the former top-10 recruit.

But in the long run, it may have served the emerging Knicks’ shooting guard well. At least, that’s what one Kansas coach believes.

“He stayed in college for three years and that has a lot to do with [his success],” assistant coach Norm Roberts, who was at Kansas when Grimes was there, told The Post in a phone interview this week. “Understanding how to be a good teammate; understanding how to affect the game more than just scoring; understanding defensive concepts; understanding playing in big, big games, like he got a chance to do both here and at Houston; playing for a coach here and at Houston who are really demanding. That stuff really helps guys when they go to the league.

“When a kid stays in school for a period of time, and I understand guys leaving, but what happens is the stuff that we can teach them, from a standpoint of being a good teammate; understanding ups and downs; understanding that it’s not all about you; understand that, ‘Hey, you may have to play your role here,’” helps them at the next level.

Kansas Jayhawks guard Quentin Grimes (5) drives the lane in the second half of the championship game of the Big 12 tournament between the Iowa State Cyclones and Kansas Jayhawks on March 16, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO.
Quentin Grimes struggled to live up to his billing as a top-10 recruit at Kansas, but still impressed coaches with his willingness to contribute off the bench.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Grimes got better each season in college, developing into a star as a junior at Houston after leaving Kansas following his freshman season. That final year in college, he led the Cougars to the 2021 Final Four and averaged 17.8 points while shooting 40.3 percent from 3-point range. In July of that year, the 6-foot-4 guard was selected by the Knicks (via a trade with the Clippers) in the first round, and after a rookie season in which his playing time was inconsistent and a knee injury set him back, Grimes has become a key piece for the Knicks.

He is a Tom Thibodeau favorite. The Knicks’ coach often raves about his work ethic and preparation, traits Roberts mentioned in discussing Grimes’ one season at Kansas. Even though Grimes left the program, Roberts couldn’t stop gushing about the person and player.

“Quentin is the type of young man, he’s a joy to be around,” said Roberts, also a former St. John’s head coach. “Always got an upbeat attitude, always respectful, always a good teammate. He was always that way. He never came in with a bad attitude, even when things weren’t going the best for him. He always thought team and winning [first], and that’s helped him be who he is today.”

In college, Grimes learned patience, going from a role player as a freshman to go-to scorer as a junior. It has suited him well in the NBA. He didn’t play much as a rookie, appearing in just 46 games, and had a nagging left foot injury to deal with this year through almost all of training camp and the first month of the regular season.

With the Knicks, the native Texan does the dirty work as the team’s top perimeter defender and relief-valve offensive option who rarely has plays run for him. 

Quentin Grimes #6 of the New York Knicks plays defense during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on November 4, 2022 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Grimes has become a favorite of Tom Thibodeau by focusing on the less glamorous aspects of his job, like defending on the perimeter.
NBAE via Getty Images

It’s a role Grimes’ basketball journey has prepared him for more than most. So many first-round picks are one-and-done prospects who are stars in college, don’t go through personal ups and downs and haven’t had to face obstacles before. Then, they face a significant period of adjustment in the NBA when they aren’t the guy and have to figure out how to impact the game in ways other than scoring. Roberts has seen it up close at Kansas, the stud freshman and high draft pick who isn’t quite ready for the NBA and the experienced college player who is more prepared.

“I feel bad sometimes for the young guys that leave after one year, because they haven’t experienced that, and now you’re throwing them into the fire with the best players in the world,” Roberts said. “For Quentin, it really worked out for him, getting stronger, learning the game more, understanding how he can affect the game in different ways and really developing his game, because he’s going to be in the NBA for a long time and have a long career.” 

A soft opening to trade season

New York Knicks guard Evan Fournier (13) reacts after a foul against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half at Madison Square Garden in New York. Sunday, Nov.13, 2022.
Evan Fournier’s career 38 perecent shooting mark from 3-point range may be attractive to other teams, but his $18.9 million salary next season will give a lot of teams reason for pause.
Noah K. Murray

Activity on the trade front is expected to pick up on Thursday, now that players who signed contracts in the offseason are eligible to be traded through the Feb. 9 deadline.

Two benched Knicks in particular — Evan Fournier and Cam Reddish — have been mentioned in numerous trade reports, particularly since neither is in the rotation at the moment. The Knicks and Lakers have discussed the parameters of a deal, The Athletic recently reported.

Fournier, who hasn’t played in the last 15 games, is due $18.9 million next season and $19 million in 2024-25 if his club option is exercised. But the Knicks don’t appear to be willing to attach an asset to Fournier just to shed his salary, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst has reported.

New York Knicks forward Cam Reddish (0) during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at Madison Square in New York. Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.
Cam Reddish has fallen out of Thibodeau’s rotation lately, but with wing depth at a premium, the Knicks may not be in a hurry to deal the fifth-year veteran.
Noah K. Murray

Reddish, meanwhile, hasn’t appeared in the last five games, since Thibodeau cut his rotation down to nine. Even with Obi Toppin out for several weeks due to a non-displaced fracture in his right fibula, the Knicks’ coach has used centers Isaiah Hartenstein and Jericho Sims together on the second unit rather than playing the 23-year-old Reddish. Still, the 6-foot-8 former lottery pick has enjoyed some strong moments this year — he started eight games, partly due to Grimes’ left foot injury, and averaged 8.4 points on 44.9 percent shooting in 20 contests — and the Knicks are thin on the wing, making the free agent-to-be Reddish an insurance policy for now unless team president Leon Rose can land someone of value in exchange who can help on the perimeter.

Happy, happy, joy, joy

Chemistry is often cited by teams that win more than they lose. You never hear about a bad team with good chemistry. And while the Knicks are only two games over .500, a winning streak that has now reached a season-long five in a row has generated tremendous vibes in the locker room.

After Wednesday night’s 128-120 overtime win over the Bulls in Chicago, I couldn’t help but notice just how happy everyone seemed to be. Isaiah Hartenstein joked with RJ Barrett about his fouling out, telling him that is only supposed to happen to big men. Before the game, Miles McBride raved about what a great leader Derrick Rose has been for him, even after McBride took Rose’s spot in the rotation. And after Mitchell Robinson revealed he was sick, Robinson and Hartenstein had a fun time using the word in every answer with a few reporters.

Quentin Grimes #6 and Immanuel Quickley #5 of the New York Knicks celebrate after defeating the Chicago Bulls at United Center on December 14, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.
Thanks to a five-game winning streak, the Knicks have been all smiles lately.
Getty Images

“That was a sick block.”

“Sick winning streak.”

“Sick rebound.”

They laughed harder after each line.

And this isn’t necessarily new. Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle have had a friendly rivalry all year about their favorite football teams, the Eagles and Cowboys, respectively. Brunson had a number of teammates over his home to watch the first Eagles-Cowboys clash. This seems like a very close-knit group, and it clearly helps that almost the entire core is young and close to one another in age.

“I feel like right now we’ve got a really good camaraderie about the team right now,” Grimes said.

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