Kemba Walker got off to a terrible start to his first season in New York and was taken out of the rotation after just 19 games, but the Knicks continued to struggle without him. When Walker was taken out of the rotation, the Knicks were 10-9, and they just went 3-7 without him. Though it seemed the Knicks were trying to avoid re-entering Walker into the rotation, Thibodeau ran out of options as Immanuel Quickley and Miles McBride entered health and safety protocols and Derrick Rose went down with an ankle injury.
Walker was reinserted into the starting lineup on December 18th in Boston, and he put up 29 points in 37 minutes in a 114-107 loss. The Knicks are just 1-2 since Walker’s return, but he’s had a positive +/- in all three games while leading New York in scoring over the three-game stretch. It’s a small sample size, but there have been obvious visual changes in Walker’s play compared to the beginning of the season.
It may be because the Knicks were short-handed and missing many of their key players due to health and safety protocols, but Kemba Walker has been much more aggressive in his second chance as the starting point guard. At the beginning of the year, Walker was primarily looking to facilitate the offense and play off of Julius Randle. In the past three games, Walker has isolated more and broken down the defense. As a result, he was able to create more opportunities for himself and others. Thursday night against Washington, he had his best game since his Charlotte days, finishing with 44 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists, all season highs.
When Walker was out of the rotation, New York’s offense was often stagnant, as Alec Burks isn’t a natural at the point guard position. While Burks can be the primary ball-handler in spurts, their starting lineup was much less fluid with him as the starting point guard. Walker’s ability to attack the basket and finish at the rim has changed the entire offense for New York, opening up more opportunities for Julius Randle and Evan Fournier.
When Julius Randle is working downhill and attacking the basket, he’s nearly unstoppable. With Walker on the court, it has opened up many more of these opportunities. While they still need to build some chemistry through playing together more, the duo open up the court for each other and create scoring opportunities for the rest of the team.
While many Knicks fans are starting to turn on Randle and Fournier, they have had some of their better games with Walker on the floor. The lack of chemistry shown by their starters at the beginning of the year was jarring, but they’ve looked much better recently. With RJ Barrett returning on Christmas Day against Atlanta, we’ll get another look at the original starting lineup.
New (Old) Starting Lineup
The key for New York will be balancing Randle’s isolations with Fournier and Walker’s drives to the basket, while still getting enough touches for Barrett. Although Randle hasn’t played up to par, he’s still remarkably unselfish and is a willing passer. He doesn’t need to be as ball-dominant as last year, and he seems to be understanding his role in the offense more and more lately.
The Knicks are likely going to return to their original starting lineup, with Alec Burks coming off the bench. If Walker and Fournier continue to be aggressors, even with the return of Barrett, the Knicks should continue to improve offensively. Even without Derrick Rose, their bench unit of Quickley, Burks, Obi Toppin, and Nerlens Noel should still be one of the best in the league. The Knicks have a stretch of games against subpar teams coming up which will likely make or break their season, and they go into them with Kemba Walker back at starting point guard.
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