Immanuel Quickley fitting in with Raptors and raising his asking price

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The idea that a point guard is the coach on the floor probably came about two minutes after James Naismith ordered someone to cut the bottoms out of those peach baskets. (Those commercials are canon, right?) We’ve long been expecting the guy with the ball in his hands to carry out the coach’s stylistic preferences on the floor.

When he starts spouting the organizational philosophies, though? That’s when you’re on to something with your coach-player synergy.

“The mindset just has to be to come in every day and give everything you have, with great effort and great attention to detail,” Immanuel Quickley said last Sunday after the Toronto Raptors beat the Charlotte Hornets, their first game after Scottie Barnes’ injury.

Quickley had been asked about the idea of chasing the last Play-In Tournament spot.

“Everybody is talking about the result of the plan. But I think if you put everything you have into every day, I think that’s the most important part about it. Obviously, we have to go out and compete as well. Just going out and, whether it’s a practice, a game, film session, just being present in that moment and trying to get better in that moment is a big part of winning.”

It was a more verbose repurposing of coach Darko Rajaković’s “win the day” mantra. Or maybe it was his way of lowering expectations for a Raptors team without Barnes (and, now, Jakob Poeltl, taking away their two most important defenders). Winning enough to catch teams above them, even if they are as uninspiring as the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks, is unlikely.

Regardless, Quickley is getting what the Raptors want to put into the world, and in a context without Barnes and Poeltl, that is as important of a development as can occur for the rest of the season. Quickley’s most complete game with the Raptors came on Thursday night, when he notched a career-high 18 assists to go along with 21 points and nine rebounds in a loss against the Phoenix Suns.

In eight games since the All-Star break, Quickley is averaging 20.9 points, 8.3 assists, 6.5 rebounds and just 2.1 turnovers per game. For a player who mostly filled a combo guard role off the bench for the New York Knicks before his trade to Toronto, that production is massive, even if it would be better if it were happening alongside Barnes.

That cannot be controlled. Most importantly, Quickley hasn’t changed his game to fill Barnes’ void. His best and most important skill remains his shooting, especially off the dribble, and he is launching 8.6 3-point attempts per game. If he keeps firing away at this pace, continuing to shoot 43.5 percent will be a challenge, but that is OK.

His mix of shooting and setting up his teammates has been excellent, and Quickley has bent his game to how the defence is playing him. On Thursday, that meant looking for Gary Trent Jr. or Gradey Dick beyond the arc.

Moving from a reserve role to starting was already a big step, as it means he is seeing better defenders nightly. With Barnes out, he now moves to the top of the opposition’s scouting report, too, along with RJ Barrett.

“Anytime somebody that plays 40 minutes a night is not in the game, I think everything changes,” Quickley said. “But you try to keep it the same as much as you can. Scottie probably gets me four open shots a game. It makes my job really easy.”

Ultimately, that is still his role on the next competitive Raptors team, or at least the front office hopes it is. His shooting is a key part of fully unlocking Barnes’ best skill, his playmaking. They want both to be able to function with or without the ball, but it makes sense to have the ball in Barnes’ hands frequently because of his size and his ability to play over the top of the defence.

Quickley showing he can still fill a bigger role when necessary is important, though. It also will inform what comes next. Quickley will be a restricted free agent in the offseason once the Raptors inevitably extend him a $6.1 million qualifying offer. His position as an RFA could end up helping the Raptors add talent this summer, but that does not mean the contract he ends up signing is meaningless to the Raptors.

Assuming Barnes signs a maximum-level rookie-scale extension this offseason, that means he and Barrett could make about $64 million combined starting in the 2025-26 seasons. (There are no official cap projections for that season, which is when Barnes’ next contract would kick in. Barnes’ maximum starting salary will be 25 percent of that season’s cap. Next season’s cap is currently projected to be $141 million.) If Quickley pushes $30 million annually, that trio could eat up about 65 percent of the cap. That isn’t a disaster from a team perspective, but it will only heighten the importance of the Raptors finding some gems in the draft and the depths of free agency.

Last offseason, Nets swingman Cameron Johnson made the most money as a restricted free agent, getting a four-year, $94.5 million contract. Quickley will certainly be looking for more than that. It would not be especially surprising to see Quickley’s representation point to Tyler Herro’s four-year, $120-million extension signed two offseasons ago, even if that deal has not aged especially well.

With his recent play? Well, Quickley might be on his way to earning just that.

(Photo: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

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