Immanuel Quickley’s rise from a casual bench player to SEC Player of the Year felt like it happened overnight.
The sophomore guard showed signs of potential during his freshman campaign, but they came in unpredictable waves. Even in the early stages of his second season as a Wildcat, it was Junior Nick Richards that (rightfully) stole the spotlight. It wasn’t until this past January that Quickley’s star went supernova.
From the win over Louisville back on Dec. 28 of 2019 up until the season was canceled on March 12, Quickley’s NBA draft stock rose from “definitely coming back for a junior season” to “potential first-round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft”. It just kinda happened. Everyone saw it happen, but it’s like one day he just became Kentucky’s best player.
In reality, the coronavirus pandemic might become a chance for him to increase his chances of how high he might be selected. There likely won’t be live, in-person interviews ahead of the draft. There won’t be a Combine or one-on-one workouts. No one has any idea how the actual draft is even going to work. But Quickley ended the season playing the best basketball of his life.
Head coach John Calipari recently said that five Kentucky players will enter the draft process and Quickley is most definitely one of them. Odds are some of them will come back. In what is already being touted as a historically weak NBA Draft, Quickley would enter on an incredibly high note while still gaining momentum. He’s already in the discussion of being picked in the 30-35 range. But he also has to figure that he might miss out on a sizable chunk of money even if he does go to the NBA Draft.
As more players decide to either come back for another year of college or make the leap to the pros, Quickley will always hold a slight upper hand. He still has the hot hand. All of the best performances from his career are from within the last few months. He still would have had plenty to gain from individual workouts with NBA franchises, but this is a solid substitute.
Outside of Quickley, only four players in the entire nation averaged above 18.6 points while shooting at least 47.8 percent on over five 3-point attempts per game through conference play. Quickley and Michigan State guard Cassius Winston are the only two to record those numbers on a Power-5 team and they are also the only two draft prospects of the five total. Quickley’s play culminated in him being honored as the conference’s top player. This is the only film that is going to be available that isn’t a Zoom video-conference.
For some of Kentucky’s other draft hopefuls such as Ashton Hagans and Nick Richards, who are slated to go somewhere in the second round if they do enter the draft, they don’t have the quality of film from SEC play that Quickley does. They needed those individual workouts more than anybody to enhance the perception about them or show off something that they wouldn’t typically use in an actual game.
For someone such as Tyrese Maxey, Kentucky’s stud freshman who is a projected lottery pick, he’d still find his way into the first round no matter what might have happened. Had Quickley kept performing at such a high level into the SEC Tournament and a deep NCAA tournament run, maybe he’s in Maxey’s position, as well? Or maybe he stumbles a bit in those games and finds himself in the same position as Richards and Hagans? Either way, he’s lucky that experts think he’s as a potential first-round pick. This wasn’t what most predicted back in October.
What makes Quickley such a tantalizing draft prospect is his ability to score the ball from all different areas of the floor. His defense during his second season at Kentucky was reliable enough and he wasn’t the most impressive athlete, but he could shoot the ball better than any of his teammates. Heading into the NBA – where outside shooting is prioritized more than ever – he can make a living from day one.
Jumping from a shooting mark of 34.5 percent from deep on 2.4 attempts per game as a freshman to 42.8 percent on 4.8 attempts as a sophomore is no fluke. As we previously mentioned, Quickley bumped those outside shooting numbers even higher in the later portion of the season. He excels at the catch-and-shoot more than any other aspect of his shooting, even out to NBA 3-point range.
As coach Calipari has referenced in the past, Quickley could play point guard if required and taught to do so. To compare, in his one season in Lexington, Jamal Murray played mostly next to point guard Tyler Ulis before settling in as the Denver Nuggets lead guard once he made it to the NBA. Quickley could take a similar path. Although the two are far different players.
Here are a few reasonable active-NBA comparisons I can think of for Quickley:
Denis Schroder (OKC)
Tim Hardaway Jr. (DAL)
Tyler Herro (MIA)
And here are a few “best-case” comparisons:
CJ McCollum (POR)
Bradley Beal (WAS)
Devin Booker (PHX)
At this moment in time, Quickley probably plays most like McCollum does; an incredible shooter who is constantly moving all over the court in search of an open shot. He can turn their outside jump shot into a mid-range floater with the snap of a finger.
While Quickley is not nearly the finisher or passer that McCollum is right now, neither was the Portland guard back when he was in college. But Quickley can assuredly grow into that role; it’s just going to take time.
Other than his ability to shoot the ball from deep, Quickley’s NBA traits are mostly unpolished. We haven’t seen him run the point guard position, something that NBA teams would have liked to check up on during pre-draft workouts. While his knack for always making the right first pass is outstanding, he doesn’t (or hasn’t been able to) show a keen awareness that he can run an offense. He can properly read defenses when he’s off the ball, but can do the same when he’s the one controlling the action? At 6-foot-3, he’ll always be stuck in between being a one or two guard.
He doesn’t have the height and athleticism of a Brad Beal or Tim Hardaway Jr., although a 6-foot-8 wingspan (Quickley actually stated that he thinks his arms are closer to 6-foot-9 or 6-foot-10 in length) will save him in that department. Adding muscle – and he sure needs to – will help alleviate those concerns, as well. Bulking up will only help him improve his finishing ability, which he struggled to do inside the paint at Kentucky. If Quickley wasn’t shooting from beyond the arc or at the free-throw line, his efficiency was not that great. Building on his floater will help, but he has to be able to attack an NBA defender without backing off for a more difficult shot.
But Quickley’s future won’t be determined for a while. No one knows for a fact if we’ll even have a basketball season in 2021. For now, he’s still a rising prospect.