Assessing Kemba Walker’s Impact on the Knicks

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It’s been an eventful few years for Kemba Walker, who joined the Knicks this offseason after two inconsistent seasons in Boston. The Knicks got him at a bargain, at just $8M a year for two seasons. It’s a homecoming for Walker, who grew up in New York and had a career-defining moment in college at Madison Square Garden. He is just a year removed from his last all-star appearance, and just two years removed from averaging over 25 PPG in Charlotte.

Starting PG

The Knicks have been in search of a starting point guard for a decade, and they’ve started a different point guard on opening night every year since 2009. Last season, their starting point guard was Elfrid Payton, who was the weakest link on their entire roster. The addition of Walker in place of Payton has opened up the floor more for Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, but they haven’t quite taken advantage.

Walker has been inconsistent but has had some high highs. He had a season-high 26 points, including 17 in the first quarter on November 12th in Charlotte, then shot 8-11 with 16 points in the Knicks’ win over Indiana at home on November 15th. He’s shown flashes of excellence controlling the offense, especially at the end of the Knicks’ win in Philadelphia on November 8th.

While Walker has had his moments, he’s been a disappointment so far this season. His on/off ratings are alarming, as the Knicks are 30 points better per 100 possessions with Kemba Walker off the court. The entire Knicks starting lineup has struggled while the bench has continued to prosper, but the point guard rotation has the biggest gap. Of the 10 rotational players for New York, Walker ranks last in on/off rating (-26.2) while Derrick Rose ranks first (+22.0).

The Fit

It’s not as simple as “Kemba Walker is washed,” a narrative that’s been circulating around the Knicks’ fanbase. Of course, many fans are just being reactionary, but there are actual concerns regarding Kemba Walker. The starting lineup clearly doesn’t gel together, and it’s not just because shots aren’t falling, although that’s part of the problem.

Last season’s Knicks went 41-31 but struggled to put the ball in the basket at times. In the offseason, they brought in two scorers, Walker and Evan Fournier, both from the Boston Celtics. Although they developed some chemistry in their short time together in Boston, the Knicks starting five hasn’t gelled together. It seems that Walker and Julius Randle haven’t developed any chemistry yet, as Randle plays too slow for Walker to thrive.

Walker doesn’t bring any value on the defensive end and his inconsistency on offense has rendered him useless in many games. The Knicks’ starting lineup has struggled defensively so far this season, while their second unit has been great defensively. Switching out Derrick Rose for Kemba Walker has been the idea of many Knicks’ fans, but they have similar playstyles and wouldn’t make too much of a difference.

Instead of trying to alter the starting lineup, Coach Thibodeau should give the starters time to adjust and build chemistry, as they have in the past couple of games against Phoenix and Los Angeles. Against Phoenix, Walker caught fire in the 3rd quarter and put up 17 points despite a Knicks loss.

On the year, Walker is averaging just 11.4 points and 3.1 assists per game but has been an efficient shooter, shooting 42% from the field and 41% from 3-point range. Both his points and assists are career-lows, but he’s playing the fewest minutes per game of his career (24.6 MPG). Walker has had great stretches and poor stretches, but when he’s attacking the basket he’s still a dynamic point guard, which is exactly what the Knicks need with Julius Randle as the primary playmaker.

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