Former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy has compared the drafting of Immanuel Quickley late in the first round to the selection of Charlie Ward.
Both, Van Gundy said, are point-guard steals.
Ward was taken 26th in the 1994 draft. Twenty-six years later, Quickley was snared at 25.
Different players, but Van Gundy’s point is teams usually don’t find long-term rotation players that deep in the draft.
The Heisman Trophy winner out of Florida State played just 44 minutes as a rookie. He was out of the rotation until Van Gundy took over as an interim coach for Don Nelson late in his second season.
“I was a project,’’ Ward told The Post.
A defensive specialist during his 10-year Knicks run, Ward is the head coach of the boys basketball team at Florida High in Tallahassee. With the Knicks, he played under Tom Thibodeau, then an assistant. Ward was an assistant with Thibodeau on Van Gundy’s staff in Houston.
“He’s definitely an offensive guy who can score the basketball,’’ Ward said of Quickley. “Our games are different. But you need late first-round picks that can play a role and be productive and potentially be a solid rotation player. Most times you look at high draft picks and put a lot of weight on them. But it’s all of them. Anyone who comes in the system, you’re trying to find the right fit. I think he fits a role.
“He’ll continue to develop as a defender. But he’s young still. He’s getting an opportunity to play, unlike myself, his first year. It’s a good opportunity for him to gain experience. And moving forward, he’ll continue to develop his offense but also continue to develop his defense.’’
Ward says fans must have faith in Thibodeau as he keeps Quickley as a reserve. It has paid off with the trade for Derrick Rose, who seamlessly formed a dynamic duo with Quickley as the backcourt tandem off the bench.
Ward said Rose’s addition was a good move for “veteran leadership’’ to be a mentor for Quickley, 21.
“The blessing in my situation is I didn’t have to come in and play right away,’’ Ward said. “I had some good veterans like Derek Harper to teach me the position.”
Thibodeau could consider lifting Rose and Quickley to starting roles, but the “Why fix what ain’t broke” adage should hold.
“I do trust Thibodeau and his decision-making,’’ Ward said. “He knows his team and what he needs when it comes to putting guys in the right position. If time passes and they need Immanuel to start, he’ll be prepared. When you’re a starter, you play a certain way. When you’re coming off the bench, you play a certain way because you may not play as much.’’
Quickley, a plus-30 in the past two blowout wins, still has to pass through the rookie wall without incident. Ward believes Quickley has to work on his slight body.
“When you’re 21, sometimes guys have to lose weight or put on muscle mass,’’ Ward said. “I’m sure he’ll continue to get his body in the proper shape needed, not that he’s not in good shape now, but I’m sure he’ll hit the weight room to develop and become stronger than he is right now. That’s the key for all young players to develop over the course of your years and not be the same person when you come back.’’
Ward, who played for the Knicks from 1994 to 2004, sees a franchise finally on the right track after seven non-playoff seasons.
“I think [Thibodeau] is the right coach,’’ Ward said. “It’s about stability. When you have instability in the administration and coaching, it trickles down to the players. Having coach Thibodeau, they believe in him. He’s allowed to have a few seasons to get things turned in the right direction. I know they are headed in the right direction. He’s going to make sure they are competing. They also have pieces they’re looking to build around and they can make inroads to get close to or get in the playoffs. It’d be a great step.’’