Knicks coach Tom Thibosdeau’s hand was forced.
His starting five was not passing the eye test or analytics measures, and was experiencing issues on both ends of the court. The Knicks’ second unit was far more proficient than the collective starters prior to the team facing the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center on Tuesday night. The bench began this week ranked second in the NBA in outscoring opponents by 3.9 points. Conversely, the starters were a negative 3.7.
While point guard Kemba Walker wasn’t the only source of the Knicks’ troubles, the four-time All-Star was clearly not having the positive impact on the court team president Leon Rose and Thibodeau had envisioned when the organization signed the 31-year-old Bronx native and New York basketball icon to a two-year, $17.9 million deal this past August.
The statistic that was most glaring was that the Knicks were plus-14 points per 100 possessions when Walker was not on the court. So on Monday, Thibodeau informed the media that he was not only replacing the 6-foot-1 Walker, who was averaging a moderate 11.7 points on 42.9% shooting, including 41.3% on three-point attempts, 3.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 24.5 minutes in 18 games played, as a starter, but he would be out of the rotation period.
“It’s a tough decision to make, but you always have to do what you think is best for the team,” said Thibeodeau. “I view Kemba as a starter, and so it’d be tough to play three small guards together. 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,” he expanded.
“But I have to do what I think is best for the team.” Veteran Alec Burks, in his second season with the Knicks, moved into the starting point guard spot and joined Evan Forunier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson to begin the game against the Nets. He led the Knicks with 25 points in their 112-110 defeat to drop them to 11-10.
When the NBA schedule began last night (Wednesday), the Knicks were ranked 19th in scoring at 106.5 points per game and 17th in opponent points allowed at 106.4. They host the Chicago Bulls on Monday at Madison Square Garden tonight and the Denver Nuggets at MSG on Saturday (1:00 p.m.) before beginning a three-game road trip next Tuesday against the San Antonio Spurs. They’ll also play the Indiana Pacers next Wednesday and the Toronto Raptors next Friday.