On Wednesday, New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed that Kemba Walker would be the opening night starter.
Derrick Rose, an early Sixth Man of the Year favorite, will reprise his role as the second unit leader, giving the Knicks a solid point guard rotation they lacked last season.
“Pretty much [Kemba Walker will start]. I had an idea going in what we wanted to look at,” Thibodeau said on the second day of the training camp. “The one thing I feel very strongly about is that our second unit played very well together last year. So I want them to stay intact.”
“But that doesn’t mean it will stay that way. A lot of these guys are interchangeable. So yeah, they’re gonna play with both groups. And I’ve never really been concerned with who starts as much as I am with who finishes. So the guys who give us the best chance to win will gonna finish.”
The Knicks front office, led by team president Leon Rose, had assembled arguably the deepest roster that Thibodeau will handle since 2011 when he coached the MVP Rose-led Chicago Bulls to a 62-20 record on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. That team featured a starting lineup consists of Rose, Keith Bogans, and Luol Deng as the constants while Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Kurt Thomas, and Taj Gibson rotated in the starting frontline with CJ Watson, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and Omer Asik coming off the bench.
Looking at this year’s Knicks depth chart, they resemble that depth or arguably even better in terms of a combination of talent, veteran leadership, and depth. This Knicks team is two to even three-deep in each position.
One of the Knicks’ strengths last season was their bench depth. The Rose trade proved to be a masterstroke that swung their playoff chances to their favor. The Knicks went 24-11 with Rose in the lineup.
Their bench scoring jumped from 23rd (33.9 points) to fifth in the league (39.7 points), per NBA stats tracking data, since acquiring Rose from Detroit in February.
According to Cleaning the Glass, the lineup of Rose, Quickley, Burks, Toppin, and Noel had a plus differential of +6.3 on a total of 78 possessions which ranked in the 85th percentile. That quickly jumped to +17.9 on a total of 252 possessions, ranked in the 99th percentile, when you swapped Noel with Gibson. A small sample of that second unit with Robinson in the middle had the biggest plus differential of +20.0 on 10 possessions, ranking in the 100th percentile.
Last season, there were times when the Knicks bench outplayed the starting lineup, which relied heavily on Randle. The addition of Walker and Fournier is expected to balance out a starting unit that was lacking in shot creation.
With Rose leading the way in the second unit and Quickley and Toppin expected to make a leap in their second year, Thibodeau hopes that continuity will lead to more productivity.
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