If not for the COVID-19 situation the New York Knicks are currently dealing with, it is likely that veteran point guard Kemba Walker wouldnâ€™t have played for the rest of the season. Despite the Knicks losing the majority of games that Walker was benched for, Tom Thibodeau didnâ€™t think twice about bringing him back.
That is made clear because Walker stated that he and Thibs didnâ€™t have any contact during the nine-game stretch in which he sat on the bench rooting for his teammates.
Reporters asked Kemba Walker if he had spoken to Thibodeau during the nine-game stretch after the benching:
When a player and coach are clearly at odds, you can sense a bit of hostility in the air.
Walker’s refute to being exiled came across as a bit hostile but with a positive twist. It’s clear the veteran point guard is there to support his teammates, but it was evident that he lost some respect for Thibs during the process:
â€œWas I confused?â€ Walker said. â€œNo. Iâ€™m not starting, I ainâ€™t playing,â€ Walker said. â€œSo Iâ€™m here for my team, Iâ€™m here for my teammates. I canâ€™t say it enough. Whateverâ€™s asked of me thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m here for.â€
Due to the massive number of Covid cases within the team, Walker was asked to play against his former team, the Boston Celtics. Walker had something to prove, and he had arguably his best game of the season, scoring 29 points and recording three assists and six rebounds. He shot 45.5% from 3-PT range.
This is the Kemba that we saw earlier in the season, though, a monster performance offensively and then a disappearance the night after. He would go from double-digit scoring to earning just two points in the blink of an eye, something the Knicks saw as unsustainable.
On the season, Walker is averaging 12.6 points, 41.7% shooting from three-point range and 42.6% from the field. The major reason Thibodeau elected to bench him was because of his defense.
Walker hosts a 115.9 defensive rating, the highest in his entire career. His -11.9 net rating is also the lowest of his career, indicating either a massive shift in a strategy that does not conform to Walker’s strengths or a big drop off in quality. In addition, his assist numbers are down a few percentage points.
The Knicks had a justifiable reason to move away from Walker and begin relying on some of the younger pieces, notably Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes. However, with Walker clearly frustrated about his lack of playing time, the Knicks should try to move him at the deadline.
Reports have indicated that nobody is interested in acquiring Walker, so he might have to be considered an add-on just to relieve his contractual duties for the future. The front office struck out big time in this acquisition, and Evan Fournier also seems to be a liability.
With animosity growing, the Knicks are going to have to make a few big decisions at the deadline in a few weeks, hopefully pairing Julius Randle with a top player.