The New York Knicks' latest business trip brought back a good bit of pleasure.
Though the Knicks (9-9) are having a little bit of trouble breaking away from the logjam that is the current quartet of Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament representatives as the NBA nears a brief break for Thanksgiving, they manage to secure some noticeable victories to impress their relatives and the table over a five-game stretch out west.
Securing revenge against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that put up 145 at Madison Square Garden on the final leg of the trip might've been impressive enough. But the Knicks also managed to earn victories against the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets, the respective first and third-ranked teams on the active Western Conference ledger.
There's plenty for the Knicks to improve upon: the losses in the outlying pair to Golden State and Phoenix were not-so-friendly reminders. But only the most stubborn Knicks critic could deny the progress made on the trip, proving a solid pick-me-up for a team in desperate need of hardwood clarity and sustenance.
Three players, in particular, were rather special in the Knicks' victorious efforts ...
3rd Star: Immanuel Quickley
9.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.6 SPG
Quickley has made a professional name for himself as a shooter. But, save for Monday's finale in Oklahoma City (6-of-8 from the field, including 4-of-5 from three-point ranger), the third-year man struggled, keeping up with an unfortunate trend (currently on pace for career-worsts in shot full and three-point shot percentage).
But Quickley has been able to find other ways to contribute to the box score, carrying on a strong rebounding prescience to the tune of six in Friday's loss in Golden State. Quickley also drew Jamal Murray duty against the Nikola Jokić-less Nuggets and held him to 0-of-4 shooting in the final quarter, including one last clank to finish things off.
Time will tell what the future holds for Quickley, who has reportedly been placed on the trade block. But it's becoming increasingly clear that he's going to make the Knicks ... or another team ... quite happy this season.
2nd Star: Jericho Sims
(8.2 RPG, 7.2 PPG, 1.4 BPG)
Limited to mop-up duty over the earliest stages of the season, Sims was granted the spotlight through a combination of Mitchell Robinson's knee injury and Isaiah Hartenstein's foul trouble. He took full advantage of the extended opportunities, earning doubles-doubles in the visits to Salt Lake City and Phoenix. Despite the relative dreariness of the Sunday game in Phoenix (a 116-95 loss that featured only 42 second half points for the visitors), he was the most consistent metropolitan aspect to the tune of 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"(His) athleticism, great feet gives you the opportunity to switch more (on defense),” head coach Tom Thibodeau said of Sims. “Offensively, (he's got) the pressure on the rim, (he's) a very good playmaker on short rolls. We still haven’t seen it in the games, but we’ve seen it in practice. He’s got a real good feel for it.”
Sims is another potential tight spot fraught with uncertainty: Robinson returned on Monday and the Knicks have shown little interest in playing three centers. If the visit to Oklahoma City was his last dance in the rotation, he went out on a high note to the tune of seven rebounds and six points in just over 15 minutes capped off by an alley-oop from the arms of Jalen Brunson. Speaking of which ...
1st Star: Jalen Brunson
24.0 PPG, 6.2 APG
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by Brunson rising to the occasion. After all, isn't that what the Knicks are paying him $104 million for?
But that's exactly the point: when the Knicks have needed an answer, needed some clarity, Brunson has risen to the occasion almost every time.
Brunson put up his metropolitan career-best with 34 points on Monday against the Thunder, coming one assist short of a double-double. By hitting 13-of-14 from two-point range, becoming the first Knicks guard to sink at least 90 percent (min. 10 attempts) since November 2010 (Raymond Felton). With the exception of a no-show in Golden State, Brunson hit at least 20 points in every leg of the trip.
Just last week, Brunson was facing some brutal adversity after he and RJ Barrett were benched during the Thunder's disastrous visit the weekend prior. But the former Dallas Maverick has been worth every dollar in the midst of his first New York season, undeniably serving as the Knicks' MVP.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags
To The Garden and beyond! Get your Knicks game tickets from SI Tickets ... here!
Follow AllKnicks.com on Twitter.