Opposing teams will now be wary of loading up on New York Knicks‘ All-Star Julius Randle next season with the arrival of the four-time All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and Frenchman shooter Evan Fournier.
Walker and Fournier, formally introduced as the newest Knicks Tuesday, are viewed as much-needed offensive upgrades to Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock.
â€œWeâ€™re going to be really good,â€ Walker said. â€œMy ability to get in the lane. Hopefully, I can draw multiple defenders and just get rid of the basketball. Trusting my teammates. I know this guy [Evan] right here is going to light it up. For sure heâ€™s going to shoot the crap out of the ball. We got a bunch of young guys who we just drafted who are really, really good, who Iâ€™ve been really impressed with watching summer league. And some of the other guys who have been here, the guys from last season. Me and Evan plan on coming here, bringing some leadership and just adding on to what they already got going.â€
The Knicks’ new backcourt is expected to complement and space the floor for Randle, RJ Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson in the starting unit.
It was a solid offseason for the Knicks as they were able to upgrade and still maintain their bench depth with the re-signing of veterans Derrick Rose, Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, and Taj Gibson, who all played vital roles in their surprising playoff run last season. Then there’s the pair of Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin, looking to improve on their sophomore year. Their rookies — Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride, and Jericho Sims — have shown plenty of promise in the NBA Summer League that they could be rotational players in their first year.
Their suddenly new-found depth is a welcome problem for two-time NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau.
Randle, whom the Knicks locked up for four more years via a $117-million extension, remains the key cog of the team. All the Knicks’ offseason moves were geared toward easing up the heavy load he carried last season as their offense went down with him when the Atlanta Hawks zeroed in on him in the playoffs.
“We brought back some key guys but you know, Leon (Rose) and Wes (William) and Scott (Perry), the guys did a great job of just making us a more versatile team, putting more shooting on the floor and guys that can create and get down shots as well. I’m just excited,” Randle said on The Jump, a few hours after the team’s introductory press conference for his new teammates, Walker and Fournier.
“It seems like these guys — just by talking to them, playing against them — will fit into our culture and will work out really well. So, that’s obviously a plus. I just think [the offseason moves] just make us a lot more dynamic.”
The Knicks’ offense will be more dynamic with Fournier, a better shot creator than Bullock, and Walker, who is miles ahead, a better playmaker and shotmaker than Payton.
It will also help that Walker and Fournier are coming in with an already established chemistry, having played together in the second half of last season with the Boston Celtics. What makes their addition more promising is their willingness to embrace reduced roles in Boston, which they are willing to do again in New York, judging from their introductory presser.
â€œItâ€™s going to be fine,â€ Walker said. â€œMe and Evan, we are two very, very unselfish guys. Weâ€™re just going to get the ball moving and find the right shot, play some defense, try to get some stops. I think weâ€™re going to jell super well. Iâ€™m super easy to get along with. So is Evan. So itâ€™s going to be fine.â€
Randle couldn’t be more pleased when he heard Walker talk about unselfishness. That trait has what pushed the less-heralded Knicks team to overachieve last season.
“Yeah, absolutely! I’m right there with him,” he told The Jump after listening to Walker’s interview. “I think that was the important thing about our team last year was everybody was unselfish. At the end of the day, all it matter was our team was winning. And just that mentality right there says it all. Those guys are, obviously, great players. They’re gonna bring a lot to the table for our team. But at the end of the day, everything is about winning. And I feel like that’s their mindset so it’s gonna be fun.”
Fournier has built a reputation as one of the most hardworking players in the league, so much so that his cerebral approach to the game has been underrated. The newly-minted Olympic silver medalist has a methodical approach to building chemistry with his new team.
â€œWell, first of all, I think we need to learn each other,” Fournier said. “What guys do best, what they enjoy, where they are efficient on the court, and then after that, itâ€™s just playing free. Drive and kick, just making the right play, moving the ball, playing good basketball. It sounds simple, but at the end of the day you just have to be willing to do it.â€
The willingness and togetherness of the Knicks team, last season under defensive guru Thibodeau, were the biggest draws for Fournier to choose New York. It was the cherry on top of his long desire to play at his favorite arena, the Madison Square Garden, in front of the loudest fans in the NBA for 41 games every year.
“I’m like that, too! I play for coach Steve Clifford for three years. In a lot of ways, [he and Thibodeau] are very similar. I know I will gonna enjoy working for him. And it’s New York, it’s the Madison [Suqare Garden]. The team is getting better and better. It was just a great opportunity. You probably don’t know that but the French press knows, I’ve been saying for years that I’ve always wanted to play for the Knicks. Now, it became a reality,” Fournier said.
The dream offseason, relative to what the dry free-agent market offered, is now officially over. The reality now sets in for the Knicks.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Randle said. “I don’t want to judge anything until we get on the court. But I have all the faith and confidence that Thibs — I know he’ll put us into the best position on the floor and bring out the best in us as a team. We’ll be fine.”
Fine will be an understatement if everything clicks for the Knicks.
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