When the New York Knicks initially signed Kemba Walker after a sign-and-trade deal with the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder, they envision him being an immediate upgrade over Elfrid Payton.
Walker has elite offensive attributes — lethal agility paired with quality shooting efficiency. However, he’s had a somewhat tricky time gelling with his new team, failing to make an impact on defense and not doing enough with the ball in his hands to provide opportunities for his teammates.
According to Fred Katz of The Athletic, veteran PG Kemba Walker is a common cause of poor scoring and defensive efficiency.
Whenever Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Randle or Mitchell Robinson plays next to Walker, the Knicks get outscored. But every one of those players is individually in the green when Walker is on the bench.
Walker is undoubtedly still developing chemistry and learning a new offensive system, which takes time, so his production should increase as the season progresses. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Derrick Rose earn starting minutes and Walker sub in behind him.
Essentially, the Knicks find themselves digging out of early holes due to Walker’s inefficiency on defense and lack of transition scoring, while Rose provides a different approach. Rose acts as a game manager and has the athleticism to push the floor with gusto and drive to the rim physically. He’s entirely different than Walker in almost every way, especially on defense, where his plus-minus blows his compadre out of the water.
The only statistic keeping Walker in the conversation was his elite 3-PT shooting to open the year, but he’s since cooled off. The former Celtic has shot under 30% from deep over his last three games, which has made him a liability. He’s averaging just 3.2 assists per game, a career-low up to this point, despite playing in just 26.5 minutes per.
While Walker’s numbers may indicate an inconsistent player learning a new system on both sides of the ball, let’s not forget just how important he is to the team’s success. Increased offensive efficiency opposite Rose is a necessary trade-off compared to the PG duo the Knicks featured last season. The defensive side has taken a hit, but Walker makes up 10-fold with his offense, and until he finally perfects his chemistry with Julius Randle, the work-horse of the starting unit, it will be rocky — it’s worth the wait.
In the meantime, Thibodeau may consider starting Rose and subbing in Walker behind him to provide the Knicks with better starts. The Knicks can’t afford to keep digging out of early deficits and expecting to win.