The New York Knicks played a dominant game against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday evening, and one interesting factor that led to a more prominent defensive performance was the loss of point guard Kemba Walker, who elected to skip out on the game due to maintenance.
After the team was blown out by the Pheonix Suns, Walker indicated that needed to grow, and his squad did just that with him watching from the bench.
â€œItâ€™s a great learning experience,â€™â€™ Walker said after the blowout loss to the Suns. â€œItâ€™s a great team out there. We need to grow as a team.â€™â€™
Kemba has struggled considerably this season, scoring a career-low 11.7 points, 3.1 assists, 2.6 rebounds, and shooting 42.9% from the field. Overall, Walker has been a shell of his former self, primarily due to a lack of chemistry and experience with his teammates. However, heâ€™s posting the worst +/- of his career at -6.8, as the Knicks have lost their identity at times as an elite defensive team.
However, with Walker riding the bench against Atlanta, the Knicks relied heavily on some of their youth players, including Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes. Both played fantastic press defense, getting in the face of their assignments and forcing tough shooting opportunities. This led to just 90 total points from Atlanta, a team that hadn’t scored less than 100 since November 14 against the Milwaukee Bucks, when their seven-game win streak started.
The question needs to be asked: Are the Knicks better one Kemba Walker isnâ€™t on the floor as often?
In the absence of the veteran PG, Alec Burks stepped in to fill his role, posting 23 points with the starting five, hitting 7-of-17 shots from the field and 4-of-7 shots from three-point range. Burks also contributed seven rebounds and three assists. Overall, he was far better on offense and provided adequate defense in combination, which helped the Knicks post a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.
In the month of November, Walker has started in 12 games, in which the Knicks have lost eight, winning five. New York has won despite his lackluster offensive efficiency, posting double digits in the points category just once in those five wins. Heâ€™s also shot just 29.6% from three-point range in November, an insufficient number that isnâ€™t a reflection of his regular-season total, which sits at 41.3%. Walker started off extremely hot in October, posting double-digit points in every single game, but has since tapered off in a significant way.
Thereâ€™s an argument to be made that Immanuel Quickley should be earning more minutes, which should be taken away from Walkerâ€™s playing time. Looking at Quickley, he offers more as a defensive player and has also been extremely efficient this month. In November, Quickley is hitting 45.5% of his field-goal attempts and 43.8% from three-point range, recording double-digit points in 8-of-14 contests.
In fact, over his last five games, he has recorded a low of nine, which came against Atlanta on Saturday evening, and a high of 16 against Phoenix. Quickley has also been far more efficient as a facilitator, recording seven assists against Atlanta in the win.