To everybody’s surprise, the New York Knicks finalized the acquisition of Kemba Walker after a buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier this week. Kemba was traded from the Boston Celtics to Oklahoma City this off-season, but never played a game for his new team. At 31-years-old, Walker was looking for a new challenge, immediately signing with his hometown Knicks upon being released into the free-agent market.
After what seemed to be a soft entrance to free agency for the Knicks’ front office, retaining some of their own players, they made a big splash with the acquisition of Walker and French sharpshooter Evan Fournier.
As an added bonus, the Knicks also extended star power forward Julius Randle on a four-year, $117 million deal. Surprisingly, they managed to keep their best player at under $30 million per season, opening up a ton of financial flexibility for the future.
The idea of adding a super-star player to pair with Randle in the future is very much a possibility, as Julius was keen on solidifying a deal before the season began. In fact, he mightâ€™ve learned a thing or two from watching Dennis Schroder implode and miss out on an $84 million extension.
What will Kemba Walker bring to the Knicks?
Walker will add a dynamic threat at point guard to help take the pressure off Randle, especially in the postseason. Last season, Walker played in 43 games, averaging 19.3 points, 4.9 assists, and shot 42% from the field. Heâ€™s only two years removed from playing in 82 games and averaging 25.6 points. Over the last five seasons, heâ€™s earned four All-Star appearances.
The primary issue with the former Celtic is injury. His knees simply arenâ€™t what they used to be, and while he showed burst after making a return after the All-Star break, it is evident he’s slowed down quite a bit. The Knicks are hoping Walker can remain healthy. He is still a productive point guard who can lead an offense as a shot creator and facilitator.
On paper, the Knicks replaced Elfrid Payton with Walker and Reggie Bullock with Fournier, giving them a solid injection of offensive prowess. Considering Kemba signed a contract paying him just $8 million per season over two years, if they get the most out of him, the Knicks will walk away big winners in free agency. Walker stated after choosing the Knicks that heâ€™ll be working hard this off-season to prepare his body for the year ahead, especially under a tough head coach in Tom Thibodeau.
Thibodeau understands that he has two injury-prone point guards, but balancing Derrick Rose and Walker should mitigate fatigue to a degree. Payton averaged 23.6 minutes per game last season, so splitting up the time should lower the probability of injury.
To give you some perspective on the scoring difference, Payton averaged 15.5 points per 36 minutes last season. Even during Walkerâ€™s injury-affected season, he averaged 21.8 points per 36 minutes. The Knicks lost several contests by a small margin, and that point differential could be the difference between winning and losing.
To inject a bit more confidence in Walker, after the All-Star break last year, he averaged 20 points per game with a .584 true shooting percentage, which wouldâ€™ve been the highest of his entire career over a full season. It all boils down to health, and if the Knicks maintain their bodies, in turn keeping the point guard rotation fresh, they will be in great shape moving forward.