Kemba Walker Faces Huge Battle to Remain Knicks Starter

Kemba Walker, New York Knics

Getty Kemba Walker taking a floater against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Kemba Walker’s knee issues continue to be a talking point for New York Knicks fans, just as they were for Boston Celtics fans previously. Walker, who was once considered the NBA‘s version of “Iron Man” for rarely missing a game, now requires regular rest.

Struggling with an arthritic knee, Walker was unable to impact the Boston Celtics season in an effective manner last year, and it would seem that those struggles have translated over to the Knicks this season. According to Basketball-Reference, Walker has failed to register double-digits in scoring for his last three games and missed the Knicks game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on November 7th, so that he could rest.

Walker explained that was his decision. “Just felt like it was a good time for me to sit. That was on me to sit, to get some rest,” he said.

Struggling with a lack of explosiveness and a continued question mark around his ability to participate in back-to-back games, Walker’s position within the Knicks starting five is increasingly drawing more attention. When healthy, Walker is still a serviceable point guard, in his first ten games for the Knicks, Walker has averaged 12.2 points, 3.2 assists, and 3 rebounds on 43% shooting from the field and 45% shooting from three.

There’s no question about Walker’s ability to score the ball and initiate an offense, but there are qualms about whether he should be doing it off the bench.

Derrick Rose Has Earned More Playing Time

On Monday, November 6th, the New York Posts’ Marc Berman wrote about Walker’s position within the Knicks rotation, and why Derrick Rose’s impact is starting to give head coach Tom Thibodeau food for thought.

“Walker is last on the Knicks in plus-minus (minus-42), Rose first (plus-95). That’s jarring,” Berman wrote. “Thibodeau saw the hot hand and let Rose blossom. Walker was held to 15 minutes. The Bronx legend was used in the exact same pattern as the Knicks used last season when starter Elfrid Payton played the game’s first seven minutes and Rose finished it into intermission. The same rotation applied in the second half.”

Rose, who himself has struggled with well-documented injuries throughout his career, has found a home in New York and continues to be their go-to guy when the chips are down. Rose’s numbers are not dissimilar to Walker’s; in 11 games this season he’s averaging 12.5 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists on 46.2% from the field and 43.2% from three.

However, the pace at which Rose plays is far more fitting for how Thibodeau wishes to run his offense. Rose has never regained his explosiveness following his knee injuries, but he does possess a shifty change of pace, and a knack for punishing defenders off the dribble, while his 6-foot-2 frame doesn’t leave the Knicks as susceptible on the defensive end.

With Kemba Walker likely to miss multiple games this season due to required rest periods, it’s highly plausible that Rose finds himself operating as the starting point guard before long.

The Knicks Knew The Risks of Signing Kemba Walker

When the Celtics traded Walker in the offseason, it was widely believed that they felt Walker’s knee issues were a long-term problem that would limit his ability to impact winning.

Once the Oklahoma City Thunder and Walker had agreed to a buy-out, and the Knicks signed him to a two-year $17 million deal, Berman aired his concerns. “That condition doesn’t bode well for Walker to return to All-Star form,” Berman wrote, “The desperate Knicks, striking out on other targets, brought Walker home on a modest deal that could still be reworked.”

Those concerns appear to be valid, as reports have begun to surface about Walker’s inability to participate in back-to-backs again this season. Rose might also be susceptible to injuries, but his impact since being provided increased minutes can’t be ignored.

If Thibodeau wishes to find some continuity within his starting five, we could see the point-guards switch roles sooner rather than later.



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