Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau announced Monday that Alec Burks would be the starting point guard for the foreseeable future. This move has been met with mixed reviews, but most Knicks fans understood the reasoning behind relegating Kemba Walker to the bench. In his place, Alec Burks will be promoted to the bench, while
Walker has been the weakest link in the starting lineup, as the Knicks have been much better with him off the floor. As a small guard who struggles defensively, he needs to be the aggressor on offense in order to provide value to his team. Unfortunately, he hasn’t fit alongside Julius Randle. Taking him out of the starting lineup was necessary, but taking him out of the rotation completely may not be necessary.
New Starting Five
Alec Burks got his first start of the season in the Knicks’ win against the Hawks in Atlanta, as Kemba Walker was out on rest and Derrick Rose was out with an ankle injury. While Immanuel Quickley is more of a point guard, the Knicks have enough ball handlers in their starting lineup that Burks running the point works perfectly well. Their new starting lineup of Burks, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Mitchell Robinson will be much better defensively than before.
The Knicks have improved defensively throughout the season regardless, and this move will surely push them forward even more. They’re 7-0 when holding their opponent to 103 points or fewer, and just 2-9 when they allow 104 or more. Pushing Burks to the starting lineup will increase their defensive intensity and skillset, as Burks has great hands and size compared to Walker.
Burks is streaky, but he tends to catch fire when the Knicks need it most, as he has against Houston and Atlanta this season. On the season, Burks is averaging 10.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and 1.1 SPG while shooting 42.6% from the field and 45.1% from 3 (4th in NBA) while playing 22.3 MPG. He was a huge part of the Knicks’ success in 2020-21, coming off the bench and often finishing games off with his 4th quarter heroics. In his last nine games, Burks is averaging 14.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 1.9 SPG while shooting 45.6% from the field and 50.0% from 3.
While Immanuel Quickley was believed to be next-in-line as the starting point guard with Derrick Rose out with an injury and Kemba Walker struggling, it was Burks who got the nod. He isn’t the starter, but this is still a huge promotion for Quickley, if Walker is actually completely out of the rotation once Rose is back from his ankle injury.
The 2nd year guard was one of basketball’s most electrifying rookies in 2020-21 despite being picked 25th overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. IQ’s start to the season was underwhelming as he struggled to put the ball in the basket, but Quickley has caught fire lately and has shown growth from last season. In his last 12 games, Quickley is averaging 12.0 PPG and 3.2 APG, while shooting 46.5% from the field and 43.1% from 3. His assist totals have been inconsistent as he’s played more SG than PG, but he put up 7 assists in Atlanta with Derrick Rose out.
Many Knicks fans wanted Quickley to start at point guard last year in place of Elfrid Payton, but he never got that opportunity. During the offseason, he worked on his playmaking and defensive abilities, and major differences can be seen in both aspects of his game. Quickley has built incredible chemistry with Obi Toppin and Derrick Rose and will continue to run with the fast-paced bench unit that has kept New York afloat amongst the starters’ struggles.
Kemba Walker’s Future in New York
The storybook homecoming for Kemba Walker didn’t go according to plan, but he could still make an impact for New York if they can figure out a role for him. Walker is still a capable scorer when he’s aggressive offensively, but a Rose-Walker-Quickley bench would probably be too small for Tom Thibodeau to be comfortable running every night.
Walker could fit a role similar to Jordan Clarkson‘s on the Jazz, where he comes in and shoots as much as he can off the bench. Clarkson is a little different from the traditional sixth man, and Walker can probably play a similar role, playing little defense and getting as many shots as impossible off as a scoring punch. For now, Walker will be out of the rotation so long as Derrick Rose is healthy, but he’ll get situational minutes to prove he’s still a viable option.
Walker was traded from Boston to Oklahoma City, who bought him out before he was signed by New York. There is apparently a trade market for Walker according to many reports, including a swap with the Houston Rockets for John Wall. Despite this, the Knicks will probably hold on to Walker, and I’d assume they’ll try to carve out a role for him on the bench.
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