MIAMI — Quentin Grimes’ rookie year started extremely slowly as he was used strictly in garbage time until early December.
But the Knicks’ 2021 first-round pick has impressed Tom Thibodeau so much with his ferocious demeanor, the shooting guard out of the University of Houston is now the coach’s choice to stay in the rotation over Cam Reddish.
Yes, the ballyhooed 2019 lottery pick out of Duke the Knicks traded for nearly two weeks ago is behind Grimes in the pecking order. Ironically, the Hawks asked for Grimes in the trade and the Knicks said no thanks.
In a one-on-one interview with The Post at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland Monday night, Grimes said not playing early was a blessing in disguise.
“It really benefitted me,” Grimes said. “During that time period I was just staying in the gym, coming back late at night. Thibs always told me back then, ‘stay ready.’ That time prepared me for right now. I stayed true to my work ethic and I was ready for a night like [Monday].”
The Knicks didn’t win in Cleveland despite their fourth-quarter comeback, but Grimes gained what will likely be a permanent spot in the rotation going forward. The 21-year-old keyed the comeback with his 3-point shooting and rabid defense on Cleveland’s All-Star-caliber point guard Darius Garland.
“Every game I try to come in and try to play defense against someone who has it going and try to slow him down a little bit,” Grimes said. “Coach says I have to go in with energy and hustle.”
With starting shooting guard Evan Fournier benched, Grimes played the entire fourth quarter. He wound up with 12 points, making 4 of 6 3-pointers, and was a team-high plus-21.
In 30 games, Grimes, selected 25th in the draft, is averaging 5.5 points but shooting 40.5 percent from 3-point range, where a large percentage of his shot attempts come from. Though he’s shooting 41 percent overall, his effective field-goal percentage — which adjusts for 3-pointers being worth more than 2-pointers — is 57.2 percent.
“It took time to just figure out my role every time I’m on the court,” Grimes said. “I feel more comfortable. The coach has great confidence in me offensively and defensively. He said he has great confidence every time I’m on the court. He said, ‘if you have the shot, shoot it.’ That’s what I try to do every time I’m on the court.”
Thibodeau made an interesting remark Monday, indicating the team can use more “tough” players like Grimes. It could’ve been a shot at Fournier, the Frenchman who has hardly established himself as the closer even if he’s started every game.
Multiple NBA insiders have told The Post across the years Thibodeau has never been a big fan of some European players, feeling sometimes they can lack a certain on-court grit.
“He plays hard on every possession,” Thibodeau said of Grimes. “There’s a physicality to him, a toughness to him. And those things are important, a competitiveness. Multiple efforts. He takes the right shots. That’s important. It’s a big part of winning. You need toughness.”
Grimes and much of the second unit became part of the Knicks’ comeback from 15 points down in Cleveland — a game they lost by two points.
“It was great,” Grimes said. “This is the game you want to play in, trying to come back any way possible. We were tied. We didn’t come out with the win but it was a learning game for me. We have to play harder for 48 minutes.”
While Grimes is a mainstay, looking like a poor man’s Klay Thompson, Reddish could still find a pathway to playing.
If Thibodeau decides to pull Kemba Walker from the rotation again and slide Alec Burks back to starting point guard, wing minutes will open up.
“It is what it is,” Grimes said. “Cam is coming in and learning the offense. He’s trying to figure out what Thibs wants from him. He’ll be a contributor for us but right now Thibs is playing guys he’s comfortable with. But Cam can definitely help us in the future and down the line for us to make a playoff push.”
Grimes isn’t the lone professional athlete in his immediate family. His brother, Tyler Myers, is a longtime defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks. Myers grew up with his father in Calgary while Grimes was raised in Houston with his mother.
Grimes converses with him often on the group chat their parents set up. They’ve arranged a family reunion Feb. 27. The Knicks have an afternoon matinee vs. the Sixers with the Canucks facing the Rangers that evening.
Perfect scheduling so far for a rookie season that is starting to go perfectly.