Knicks’ Kemba Walker is forcing Tom Thibodeau to make a tough decision at point guard

Alexander Wilson

On Thursday night, the New York Knicks might have lost to the Washington Wizards, giving up 124 points, but veteran point guard Kemba Walker showed up to play while his teammates struggled.

Giving up 124 points in four quarters of play is a representation of abysmal defense, and while the Knicks nearly matched Washington’s offensive master-class with their own, it wasn’t enough to secure a victory at home.

The Knicks shot a measly 31% from three-point range as a team, but Walker himself shot 50% from deep, connecting on seven shots. In the game, he recorded a high of 44 points but also contributed eight assists and nine rebounds.

This was Kemba’s most prolific performance as a Knick, coming off two solid games after being banished by Tom Thibodeau after a November 26 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Walker has now scored double-digit points in three consecutive games after claiming he “hated” being on the bench and that he hadn’t spoken to Thibodeau once during his nine-game exile.

The veteran guard had strong words regarding his banishment, and if the Knicks weren’t down significantly due to Covid protocols and Derrick Rose undergoing right ankle surgery, it is likely that Thibodeau would’ve never called upon Walker to make a return. Nonetheless, he’s making a strong case to regain the starting job after losing it as a result of poor defense.

Don’t get it twisted, though — Walker still provides lackluster defense on average. His defensive rating this season is 114.6, the worst over his entire career. He currently houses a -8.8 net rating, his lowest since his rookie season in Charlotte back in 2011. While his three-point percentage is up to 42.1% a season on 6.0 attempts per game, his defense represents such a massive liability on a team that already struggles with giving up points, his presence can be seen as a net negative.

However, if his scoring remains this consistent, it will be incredibly difficult for Thibodeau to leave him out of the starting five. When RJ Barrett returns, Thibs will have a big decision to make between Alec Burks and Walker at the starting guard position. Burks has served as the PG after the benching of Kemba, but he lacks natural facilitation abilities.

With Rose out for a minimum of eight weeks, I would expect to see Walker feature in the starting point guard role moving forward and Burks coming off the bench in his usual offensive catalyst role.