Does Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker make the Knicks top seed contenders?

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The New York Knicks utilized their remaining cap space to sign point guard Kemba Walker after he finalized a buy-out with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Knicks started off free agency, retaining some of their own, spending the majority of their available funds on three-year contracts with Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, and Derrick Rose.

The front office had a straightforward approach, show loyalty to the players who impacted them the most during a play-off worthy 2020-21 season, and fill weaknesses with strengths. Having secured the 4th overall seed in the Eastern Conference last season, the Knicks are looking to take the next step forward, and their newest additions should contribute toward that goal.

Evan Fournier’s impact:

When the Knicks signed Fournier, they saw an upgrade over Reggie Bullock, who signed a three-year contract with the Dallas Mavericks. Fournier, who is capable of playing shooting guard and small forward, has the ability to create shots and drive to the basket, whereas Bullock was more of a catch and shoot specialist.

Fournier averaged 17.1 points last season, including 3.4 assists, and shot 45.7% from the field. However, his most important statistic is his three-point percentage, which lands at 41.3%.

With similar shooting percentage is compared to Bullock, Fournier was offered a four-year, $78 million deal because of his ability to open up the floor and take pressure off of Julius Randle. He’s head and shoulders above Bullock as an offensive weapon, which should elevate the Knicks’ offensive production, therefore giving them a better opportunity to move up in the standings.

Kemba Walker’s impact:

Relying on Elfrid Payton to get the job done last season was a tough reality for head coach Tom Thibodeau, who quickly replaced him with Derrick Rose upon his acquisition. Payton averaged 23.6 minutes per game, and Walker will undoubtedly steal those minutes and provide more efficiency as a shooter and floor general.

However, Kemba has dealt with injury in the past, specifically with his left knee. He missed 45 games over the past two seasons, including 29 last season and two in the playoffs. However, he was fantastic after returning during the second half of the year, so it is clear he can still play at a high level when healthy.

Paying him an average of $8 million per season, they are getting him on a steep discount, similar to the contract Payton signed last year to stay with the Knicks for one season.

Splitting minutes between Rose and Walker will help mitigate fatigue and injury, providing the Knicks with two more than capable point guards who can lead the offense and take even more responsibility away from Randle.

Last season, Randle was double-teamed frequently, especially during the postseason. Pulling assignments away from him and toward other playmakers should increase their efficiency, hopefully allowing them to secure an even higher seeding and home-field advantage for the postseason.

So can the Knicks compete as a top seed in the Eastern Conference? Absolutely, but it all boils down to health at the end of the day.

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