Basketball

The Knicks Have a Point Guard Problem

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Reports surfaced Wednesday that the New York Knicks would once again be benching point guard Kemba Walker; this time shutting him down for the rest of the season. Walker hasn’t performed well for New York, but there is a lot more blame to go around. While many Knicks fans will rejoice, head coach Tom Thibodeau has re-inserted back-up wing Alec Burks into the starting point guard position. With Walker and Evan Fournier, the backcourt defense has been concerning so far this season. Although Burks brings added size and strength on the defensive end, he doesn’t have the lateral quickness to keep up with explosive point guards. On the offensive end, Burks lacks the ball-handling skills to run an NBA offensive, and defenses have adjusted to this by showing him full-court pressure when he has the ball in his hands.

The Problem

The Knicks have tried both Alec Burks and Kemba Walker as their starting point guard this season, and neither lineup has produced positive results. The overall efficiency numbers lean towards Walker, but it’s such a marginal difference and they have both been well below average. Many Knicks fans were looking forward to the return of Derrick Rose, but he suffered a setback in his recovery. Starting Rose once he’s healthy seems to be the obvious solution among Knicks fans, but Coach Thibodeau has shown that he prefers Alec Burks.

Alec Burks has had an inconsistent season, and it’s not even fully his fault. As a starter, Burks is averaging 12.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 3.4 APG, while shooting 34% from the field and 33.9% from three-point range. He has a 111 ORtg as a starter, compared to 117 as a reserve. Off the bench, Burks was averaging 9.9 PPG on 41.9% shooting from the field and 42.5% from three.

The Solution

The Knicks have some options who they could try out at the point guard position down the stretch of this lost season. Thibodeau has already shown some flexibility with his lineups in the last couple of games. He inserted big man Jericho Sims into the rotation and even ran some lineups with both Julius Randle and Obi Toppin on the floor. In his two starts, Immanuel Quickley averaged 16.5 PPG and shot 46.4% from the field and 42.9% from three. Quickley clearly gels with the starters, as he adds both pace and space to a struggling offense. With Quickly on the court, their offensive rating jumps up to 113.5 from 107.4, while the opposition’s offensive rating falls to 106.8 from 114.3. The Knicks are a much better team, both offensively and defensively, when the young guard is on the court.

During Sunday’s loss to the 76ers, the Knicks tried out “Point RJ” for a few minutes. While RJ Barrett plays the vast majority of minutes at the wing positions, he might be worth a try in limited minutes as the point guard. He plays with enough pace and aggressiveness to make up for his lack of facilitating skills, as he consistently gets to the basket and gets to the free-throw line. In Barrett’s last 22 games, he’s averaging nearly 24 PPG and 6 RPG.

While Miles McBride has only played 153 minutes this season, he’s been tearing up the G-League after being drafted 36th overall by New York in the 2021 NBA Draft. McBride has started two games for the Knicks this season but hasn’t shown much at the NBA level. For McBride, adjusting to the NBA level may have some bumps in the road, but the Knicks should let their young guys play through their mistakes. McBride is averaging 29.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 10.3 APG while shooting 47.1% from the field and 50.0% from three in his G League appearances.

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