The Knicks are benching their $18 million big offseason pickup in a stunning, but possibly effective move

The Knicks are benching their $18 million big offseason pickup in a stunning, but possibly effective move
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  • Kemba Walker
    Kemba Walker
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  • Alec Burks
    Alec Burks
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Kemba Walker puts his hands on his knees during a game.
Kemba Walker is getting benched.Matt Slocum/AP Images
  • Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said he is removing Kemba Walker from the team's rotation.

  • Walker was the team's most-hyped free agent signing and looked to be the answer at point guard.

  • Walker has struggled this season and is being replaced by a player who hasn't played much point guard.

The New York Knicks' long search for a solution at point guard continues.

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters on Monday that he plans to remove Kemba Walker from the rotation and go with Alec Burks as the team's starting point guard.

It was a borderline stunning piece of news. Walker was the Knicks' biggest offseason acquisition — at least in terms of name recognition and impact.

A four-time All-Star, Walker was traded from the Boston Celtics to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the offseason. The Thunder then bought out Walker, who signed with the Knicks, his hometown team, on a two-year, $18 million deal.

The Knicks acquiring a starting point guard at a discounted price largely won over fans and analysts about the results of the offseason. At last, the Knicks had a talented guard capable of running the offense and elevating the team's ceiling.

However, about a quarter of the way into the season, Walker has not played up to expectations. In recent years, Walker has battled ongoing knee issues, and it may finally be affecting his play. Although he is shooting 41% from three, Walker is averaging career-lows in points (11.7), rebounds (2.6), and assists (3.1) per game.

While Walker has never been known as a strong defender, his effort has given him some leeway in the past. But with decreased mobility, Walker has also been a weak point in a Knicks defense that ranks 17th in points allowed per 100 possessions.

The Knicks have gotten hammered with Walker on the court, getting outscored by 13.3 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark of any regular rotation member.

The Knicks have faced a strange paradox this season: the starters (including Walker) were getting crushed while their bench rallied them out of it. Replacing Walker with Burks — a bigger, more versatile guard — may help balance the two units.

"It's a tough decision to make, but you always have to do what you think is best for the team," Thibodeau told reporters on Monday.

Thibodeau explained that with Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley coming off the bench — an effective duo for the Knicks — he didn't think the Knicks could also play Walker as a reserve.

"It'd be tough to play three small guards together," Thibodeau said. "I gave it consideration, and I've got great respect for who Kemba is as a person and all he's accomplished in this league."

While Walker hasn't been effective for the Knicks this season, it's still a startling fall for a player who was an All-Star in 2019-20 and an All-NBA Third Team member in 2018-19. It's especially jarring to be replaced by Burks, who has handled the ball in spot minutes but has rarely been viewed as a full-time point guard.

Burks started at point guard with Walker resting on Saturday, and the Knicks beat the surging Atlanta Hawks, 99-90. Burks scored 23 points and was a plus-2.

"I want to tighten the rotation," Thibodeau said Monday. "I liked the way the team functioned, so it will be similar to what we did in the Atlanta game."

Barring a major win streak or dramatically improved play, Walker will likely get a shot again at some point this season.

Last season, Thibodeau faced criticism for a strange reluctance to move Elfrid Payton out of the starting lineup. This year, his decision to pull the team's ballyhooed offseason signing just 20 games in the season, may be a sign that he's willing to be flexible.

Read the original article on Insider

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