Knicks struggles go deeper than Kemba Walker

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has long been known to be resistant to change, especially in the way he uses his starters. He is often criticized for playing them too many minutes, rain or shine, whether they perform well or not.

So it came as a surprise this week, a quarter of the season through, when Thibodeau said he would replace Kemba Walker as starting point guard in place of Alec Burks, who was a substitute for most of his career. his, not the traditional. protection point. And it’s not just Walker, a four-time All-Star signed to Knicks in the summer, was dropped from the squad. Thibodeau told reporters that Walker would not be rotated at all.

Changing a starting player at the start of this season is crucial, especially when it’s one on Walker’s résumé. At 31, in theory, Walker should still be in his prime.

But Thibodeau is trying to make amends for a pressing and frequent problem: The Knicks began sending the team into a hole the bench had to dig out. If playoff teams are consistently hurt by any part of their roster, it’s usually a thin bench. But for the Knicks, the starters – even beyond Walker – are the reason they’re a fringe playoff team instead of near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

Tuesday night’s game against the Nets is illustrative. Down by 1 point at halftime, the Nets walked out of the break with a brilliant 14-0 win over the Knicks’ starters minus keeper RJ Barrett, who missed the second half due to an unspecified illness. determined. The starters climb back into the game and quickly take the lead. But the Knicks lost to thriller 112-110 in Brooklyn – in part because the halftime break left the Nets (15-6) behind for most of the second half.

This is not an exception. In the November 10 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the defending champions, the Knicks went down double digits in the first quarter. Even against the Houston Rockets, one of the worst teams in the NBA, the Knicks fell behind. November 18 in the first quarter before ending the game with halftime and winning. Next night, November 21, against Chicago, Bulls race to start August 20 on the way to victory.

The starting lineup that the Knicks (11-10) have played in for most of the season – Walker, Barrett, Evan Fournier, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson – is not just troubled. Its true rating – a measure of how much better or worse a team or group is compared to their opponents – is negative 15.7, according to the league’s tracking number. That puts this unit on the list of the worst starters or benches in the NBA

The evidence has become undeniable. Thibodeau needs to try something else.

Walker isn’t the only problem, but he’s a big part of it. He averaged 11.7 points per game with 42.9 percent of shots from the field and an excellent 41.3 percent from the 3-point range. But Walker’s play took a tumble in November after a torrid start. In 12 games last month, Walker only shot 29.6 percent from deep. If his 3s doesn’t drop, there’s nothing else he’s doing on the field.

Because of chronic knee problems in recent years, Walker has lost his explosive start, so he has not been able to play effectively. And because of his height – Walker is listed as 6 feet tall – and slower foot speed, Walker is targeted in defense. The only way to justify keeping him in court would be if he covered the floor with his shooting, and he no longer did it.

Putting Burks on Walker’s starting lineup made it easier for the Knicks. He’s bigger – listed at 6 foot-6 – making him a more versatile defender. On Tuesday night, he’s likely to defend 6-foot-5 James Harden as quick rookie guard Cameron Thomas, who is 6-foot-3. Early in the third quarter, Burks blocked a 3-pointer Patty Mills – easier for him than Walker.

“You can go from 1 to 4,” said Derrick Rose, the Knicks reserve guard, of Burks being included in the lineup. “You are more versatile. I mean, AB is a player’s hell. One player. A great shooter. ”

But Burks failed to completely solve the starting lineup problem that made Thibodeau increasingly benched late in the game. The Knicks don’t have a lot of quick attacks and often depend on isolation for points – which would be fine if their shooters did more work on their own to open instead of just standing still. Research team nearby top of the league in contention and to the bottom in the wide open.

Fournier’s stats dropped in November just like Walker did, leaving Thibodeau barely using him in the crucial late game moments. Thibodeau called his number Tuesday night before the Nets, and Fournier rewarded him by hitting a Game of tying the pointer with 18 seconds left. But overall, Fournier shot five 12 to 13 points in 22 minutes, with no rebounds or assists. Like with Walker, if the regular Fournier isn’t a 3-point threat, there’s little reason for him to be on the pitch.

Randle, the team’s best player, faced an onslaught of doubles teams with no reliable shots around him, and he struggled. Randle fired only 41.7 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from 3 – All of them are below average in his career. All of Barrett’s numbers were also down from last year. Barrett has improved his finishing around the rim, but his shooting has always been his biggest question mark, a question he answered last year when he shot 40.1 percent from deep. Now he’s at 32.1 percent. (For his part, Barrett also got off to a slow start last year, coming only to the second half of the season.)

Thibodeau was not in the mood to discuss a roster change following Tuesday’s loss. When asked about it, Thibodeau expressed anger at the match and then left the press conference after just one question.

The chance of salvation for the Knicks is their bench trio of Rose, Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley. The team ranked third in NBA scores from the bench. Toppin is a much-needed threat at the belt and in transition and does what the Knicks in general don’t do well: cut. Quickley and Rose provided quality cinematography, especially late in the game, and Rose was one of the few. some Knicks effective in getting to the rim.

Swap Walker for Burks Swap paid dividends. He scored 25 and 23 points in his last two games, his only two games of the season. And the Knicks may need more tweaking. More roster changes mean increased vulnerability among veteran players, but as Thibodeau said ahead of Tuesday’s game: “You have to put winning first.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/01/sports/basketball/knicks-kemba-walker.html Knicks struggles go deeper than Kemba Walker

Curtis Crabtree

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