Reddish thinks he can be a star; Knox feels mixed emotions leaving Knicks

cam reddish, hawks, knicks

The New York Knicks essentially kicked the can further down the road after swapping Cam Reddish for Kevin Knox and a future first-round pick (via Charlotte).

The Knicks front office did a solid job flipping Knox’s expiring salary for a potential All-Star with two years left in his rookie deal.

This early, the difference between the two young NBA talents is noticeable.

In his first media interview after the trade, Reddish was oozing with confidence that Knox lacked during his disappointing three-and-a-half seasons with the Knicks. Reddish was bold and declared he’s ready for the next step after a roller coaster two-and-a-half seasons with the Atlanta Hawks.

“I think I could be a star,” Reddish said after the Knicks beat his former team, 117-108, Saturday night in Atlanta. “I thought I could be a legit star. That’s what I’m working to be. So, it’s pretty simple.”

In Reddish’s view, the plan is pretty simple. But in reality, with the glut of wings in the Knicks roster, the path to realizing his goal is complex and a challenging one.

New York coach Tom Thibodeau was non-committal when pressed about Reddish’s role as the Knicks are on a roll. Winners of three straight and eight of their last 11 games, Thibodeau hinted that he’s not willing to rock the boat that kept them afloat. At 22-21, the Knicks moved to a tie for ninth in the Eastern Conference with the Washington Wizards.

Reddish is confident that he’s still on track to his goal, but he’s also aware of the situation in New York.

“I’m not expecting to come in and play 35, 40 minutes,” Reddish said. “I’m just gonna come in and work my tail off and then the rest takes care of itself.”

Reddish was held out in Saturday’s game due to a sprained ankle, but he said he’s feeling better now, hinting that he’s close to returning to action.

“I’m excited. I’m ready to get started,” said Reddish, who is getting reunited with his college teammate RJ Barrett.

The two spoke on the phone for five minutes after the trade was finalized. Reddish said it was more of catching up with each other and Barrett letting him know to come in ready and play hard — two of Thibodeau’s tenets.

Growing up in Norristown, Pennsylvania, Reddish said he went to a couple of Knicks games and have played against them. But Saturday night’s win against his former team was the first time he observed this new iteration of the Knicks team play from a different vantage point.

“I haven’t watched that much,” Reddish said. “I only got to watch one game. They play well together, which is what I love to do, play together, play like a team.”

On the other hand, Knox is looking forward to a fresh start though he didn’t get it right away. Knox was a healthy scratch Saturday night and watched his former teammates dismantle his new team while he watched on the bench as he did for the most part of his tenure in New York.

“It was mixed emotions at first,” Knox said in an interview with Bally Sports-Atlanta. “But I’m happy for a new start, a fresh opportunity. It’ll probably hit me next week but other than that, I’m just really happy to be here.”

After a promising rookie year, Knox fell off the rotation and never earned a meaningful role when the defensive-minded Thibodeau took over from David Fizdale. While Knox improved to become a three-point threat, he hasn’t put together his length and athleticism on the defensive end.

Knox is excited to spread his wings in an uptempo style that suits his offensive skill set in Atlanta. He said he spoke with Atlanta coach Nate McMillan and they wanted him to have a workout, practice, familiarize himself with what they do and go from there.

“The offense is great. They play at a fast pace and that’s kind of something that I’ve loved doing pretty much my whole life. And just really getting to play with a lot of talent on the team. So, I’m just really looking forward to getting pushed,” Knox said.

It helps that he’s familiar with the Hawks star point guard Trae Young. Knox said his family is close to Young’s family after playing against each other in the AAU circuits since freshman year. Whether that familiarity can translate on the court remains to be seen, especially after Hawks GM Travis Schlenk never mentioned Knox during a 20-minute presser while lengthily speaking about how they value the Charlotte pick they acquired from the Knicks and Reddish’s All-Star potential.

Knox is on a make-or-break contract year. If there’s anything positive about moving to Atlanta, maybe it’s because he’s closer now to Tampa Bay.

“Six hours from home. It’s not that bad. It’s way closer than New York,” Knox said. “That’s a great thing.”

While Reddish and Knox got closer to their homes, they were still far from their goals. But after their first media sessions after the swap, the main takeaway is that Reddish, while one season younger, is way ahead in their NBA journey.

The Knicks moved from the ‘just-happy-to-be-here’ Knox to ‘I-think-I-could-be-a-star’ Reddish.

Everyone, even Hawks fans, admit the Knicks got the better player. It’s up to them to polish Reddish.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Cam Reddish’s Knicks debut will have to wait, playing time not guaranteed

“I’m not expecting to come in playing 35, 40 minutes whenever the next game is, but I’ve just got to come in and work my tail off,” Reddish said. “The rest takes care of itself.’’

Cam Reddish got his wish to get traded. But it appears the Knicks‘ newly-acquired wing finds himself in the same situation he was trying to escape.

Reddish will not be available when the New York Knicks face his former team, Atlanta Hawks, on Saturday. He will be out for a while due to a sprained right ankle, coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters Friday.

On top of that, the defensive-minded coach hinted that Reddish’s spot in the rotation isn’t guaranteed.

“It will all be based on performance. It’s a fresh start for him. We’re loaded at the wing position right now. So, we’ll see,” Thibodeau said.

As tantalizing Reddish is as a talent, he is also a polarizing one.

Reddish flashed teases of his potential during last season’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, which he capped with a 21-point effort and plus-4 differential in the Game 6 loss. But he’s failed to follow that up with an inconsistent start this season. However, it can be argued that the lack of a defined role in the loaded Hawks lineup could be a culprit, which is the primary reason why he sought a trade.

In December, his pair of 30-point games that highlighted a five-game stretch of double-digit scoring was encouraging. But it will be tough for him to find playing time in a similarly loaded Knicks team that has started to turn the corner.

The Knicks have won seven of their last 10 games, beginning on a Christmas Day blowout against the Hawks. During that stretch, the Knicks have rediscovered their defense, ranking first in defensive rating (102.8) and second in opponents’ second-chance points (10.7), opponents’ fastbreak points (8.5), and opponents points in the paint (39.6).

“That’s the other thing — the group that is playing now are playing well. So, we want to keep that going,” Thibodeau said.

Then add Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker to the mix when they become healthy, and the Knicks are stacked.

“You have to base it on who’s available and what the rotation looks like,” Thibodeau added. “No one’s playing, 10, 11, 12 guys, that’s for sure.”

But all is not lost for the 22-year old Reddish, who has the physical tools to excel as a dynamic two-way force for the Knicks if he can put it all together. Thibodeau said the Knicks scouts feel strongly about the no. 10 pick of the 2019 NBA Draft. Reddish has the size and athleticism that neither of the current Knicks’ wings possesses.

“I don’t think you could have enough wings. That’s sort of the way our league has gone and I like his versatility. He can play three positions in today’s NBA. I think that’s important,” Thibodeau said.

When Reddish is healthy and ready, his pathway to a meaningful role is by playing tough defense, which he had shown in spurts but not consistently during his first three-and-a-half seasons in the NBA.

Thibodeau said he talked to Reddish on the phone after the trade was finalized Thursday.

“I have certain thoughts [about him] because of playing against him, watching him, and getting his thoughts about coming in and just welcoming him to the organization,” Thibodeau said. “Sometimes the change of scenery is good for people. So, we’ll see how it unfolds.”

On the surface, the Knicks have won the trade. But the logjam in the wing rotation could stunt Reddish’s growth. It smells like the Knicks aren’t done tinkering with their roster.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau comes to the defense of Julius Randle as he fends off hate

knicks, julius randle

When the New York Knicks were without power forward Julius Randle for two games due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, they saw exactly how important he is to the team. The Knicks dropped both games to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors by 15 points, but they immediately started winning again once Randle returned with a vengeance as negativity brewed in the media.

Everything came to a peak when Randle was challenged after a buzzer-beater win from RJ Barrett against the Boston Celtics last Thursday. He cursed at the media and made negative gestures towards the fans mid-game, which has sparked a flurry of hate.

However, Randle is extremely important to the Knicks’ success, whether he’s scoring or not. Against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night, Randle contributed just two points with a 14.3% field goal percentage. He did record 12 rebounds and a +16 +/-.

Many attacked Randle for his poor offensive outing, but his impact was clear as a defender. The truth is, Julius draws so much attention that his teammates are given more efficient opportunities to attack the basket. That is a primary reason RJ Barrett has been so efficient recently, scoring 31 points in the victory over the Spurs.

Tom Thibodeau comes to Julius Randle’s defense after a two-point outing against the Spurs on Monday:

Julius made some good reads. They were doing a lot of switching and coming from the baseline. When he sprays the ball out like that, good things, we are going to get good shots from that. Guys getting to their spots, that’s important for him so he has the outlets.

I just want him to play the game. The type of attention he is going to get because of who he is, look, if he gets the ball and there is a commitment they’re overloading to the strong side, right? They’re coming from the baseline. I want him to make the right play, I don’t want him to fight pressure with pressure. I don’t want him to try to split things, I just want him to hit the open man because we can play off that.

Randle has found himself getting caught up in madness with the fans and media, which is a losing recipe. When the veteran PF plays with energy and confidence, he is a dominant player worthy of the $117 million contract extension he signed this past off-season.

Based on the flow of his production in line with his confidence and mental state, you can see a clear correlation. Randle needs to prove his quality with action and not fire back at the crowd after a good performance. He attempted to apologize after the NBA fined him $25K for his transgressions, but the fans clearly wanted to showcase their frustration, offering minimal cheer as his name was called out at MSG prior to Monday’s game.

The best thing Randle can do at this point is to stay quiet and regain the trust and affection of the fans. His next opportunity will come against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday afternoon at 4:30 PM.

Severely shorthanded Knicks face tall task vs Raptors with Robinson, Walker out

mitchell robinson, knicks

The New York Knicks will begin the new year severely shorthanded after Mitchell Robinson entered the health and safety protocols.

On Saturday, the Knicks announced that Robinson is the latest to test positive for COVID-19. Julius Randle, Nerlens Noel, Jericho Sims, and Wayne Selden are still in the protocols.

Robinson had nine points and 12 rebounds in their 95-80 loss to Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night. Oklahoma City’s rising star Shai-Gilgeous Alexander is the only other player from that game to enter the protocols.

Newsday’s Steve Popper added that assistant coaches Johnnie Bryant, Kenny Payne, and Dice Yoshimoto are also out.

Kemba Walker will also miss his second straight game due to a sore left knee, while Evan Fournier, who had a rough 1 of 8 shooting night in Oklahoma City, is questionable with a sore right ankle.

Walker’s injury bears watching as soreness is on his arthritic knee.

“I don’t know [how serious the injury is], because he started his warm-up, and then he stopped. And then [trainer] Anthony [Goenaga] was looking at him and just felt it, you know, let’s get [knee] examined, and then we’ll go from there,” Thibodeau said after the New Year eve’s loss.

The Knicks’ injury tally has already reached nine players. Danuel House, Jr. (dislocated finger), Derrick Rose (ankle surgery), and Luca Samanic (foot) round up the list.

Damyean Dotson and Matt Mooney got a second 10-day contract on Friday. But neither player is a center.

That leaves Taj Gibson as the only remaining center for the Knicks. New York coach Tom Thibodeau might have no choice but use Obi Toppin as small-ball five with either Kevin Knox or RJ Barrett as a power forward during the non-Gibson minutes.

The severely undermanned Knicks will be hard-pressed against the Toronto Raptors, who are nearing full strength with rookie stud Scottie Barnes listed as probable.

The Raptors are coming off a 116-108 win over the Los Angeles Clippers Friday night, drawing double figures from Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Fred Van Vleet, and Gary Trent, Jr.

The Knicks will be looking to sign a temporary big man via the 10-day hardship rule to fill the hole.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks: Obi Toppin ready to step up as Julius Randle enters COVID-19 protocols

Barely 12 hours after Tom Thibodeau revealed that Julius Randle is nicked up, the New York Knicks announced that the All-Star forward had entered the health and safety protocols.

The news came on the heels of Randle’s worst game as a Knick — a season-low five points on 2 for 11 shooting. Randle had more turnovers (3) than field goals (2).

“He’s nicked up,” Tom Thibodeau said after the Knicks escaped the lowly Detroit Pistons Wednesday night. “I think he’s giving us everything he has. That’s what I love about him. He’s not making any excuses. He just gets out there. He keeps going.”

Randle’s lackadaisical play, along with the starters, forced Thibodeau to finish the game with his bench in the final 15 minutes. The Pistons outscored the Knicks by 27 points during Randle’s 26 minutes on the floor. It was a microcosm of a larger problem for the Knicks.

Randle’s net rating of minus-6.3 is currently one of the worst in the league (387th in the league and 90th among 98 players who average more than 30 minutes per game). That’s the second-worst net rating among Knicks starters next to Kemba Walker’s minus-8.0, although it has improved since he returned from nine DNPs.

While Alec Burks supplied the points with a career-high-tying 34 points, 19 in the fourth quarter, Randle’s backup, Obi Toppin, provided the energy on both ends.

Toppin was plus-36 in 22 minutes. The sophomore forward finished with modest numbers — nine points on 3 of 5 shooting, four rebounds, one assist, and a steal — but his energy, constant movement, and defense helped the Knicks erase a 14-point deficit.

“Obi — the energy he plays with and guarding (Saddiq) Bey who had it going pretty good,” Thibodeau said. “So we had a number of guys who stepped up.”

Toppin held Saddiq Bey to 1 of 5 shooting in the fourth quarter after the Pistons’ forward torched the Knicks with 24 points on 8 of 14 shooting in the first three quarters.

Toppin hasn’t played more than 28 minutes in his NBA career except for the Summer League. But that is bound to change with Randle on the sidelines.

Randle can use the time in protocols to rest and recover from whatever is ailing him besides COVID-19. But most importantly, use the time to zoom out and see what Kemba Walker saw during his banishment from the rotation.

Walker admitted the banishment as a blessing in disguise and came back with a different mindset. Perhaps Randle could take a cue from Walker.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks: Grimes carves solid role as RJ Barrett works his way to shape

quentin grimes, knicks

RJ Barrett shook off some rust with a scintillating fourth quarter in Minnesota as he brought the New York Knicks home in a hard-earned 96-88 win Tuesday night.

Barrett hit his final three shots to overcome a woeful 0 for 7 shooting in the first three quarters. He scored all of his eight points in the final 5:49 to stave off the depleted Timberwolves’ challenge.

“[RJ] made big plays down the stretch for us, and that’s what I like. He didn’t force and then he found a rhythm by the end of the game. I thought he read the game very well down the stretch, and that’s the big thing,” said Tom Thibodeau effusive in his praise.

Barrett said he’s happy to get the opportunity to get back into the game and catch his rhythm down the stretch after his shooting struggles.

Over his last two games, since his return from the health and safety protocols, Barrett has only played an average of 25 minutes. His shot — 7 of 25 from the field and 2 for 12 from downtown — is still shaky most of the time.

“The first two games, I’m just trying to play within the team concepts and find my rhythm again,” Barrett said. “Any time you’re out for 10 days, it’s going to affect you whether you have COVID or not.”

Barrett said he only experienced mild symptoms, and getting tired easily is one of them. But he quickly added he’s feeling better after catching fire in the fourth quarter.

As he continues to work into game shape, rookie wing Quentin Grimes seized the opportunity to prove that his 27-point outburst against Milwaukee before he also had COVID-19 was not a fluke.

Grimes had his third consecutive double-digit scoring in Minnesota. He poured in nine of his 11 points in the second quarter, helping the Knicks build a 17-point lead.

Over his last three games dating back to his breakthrough performance against the Bucks, Grimes averaged 17.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals, and five triples per game on a staggering 44 percent.

Derrick Rose’s ankle injury has opened up a spot in the second unit, and Grimes walked into it and grabbed it. Grimes had seen his role grow since his return averaging more playing time (28 minutes) over Barrett.

Thibodeau has fallen in love with the rookie’s 3-and-D play that helped solidify their defense in recent games. The defensive-minded coach hinted that Grimes would be a regular fixture in the second unit moving forward.

“I really thought at the start of the season, the bench really played well together. That was a big plus for us,” Thibodeau said. “When you move some of those guys, their chemistry changes. Then you have to find a way with that. You’re getting more and more information [as you do that].”

“So, we know Quentin is a very good player. He provides something that we need — high energy, very good defense, shotmaking, and real toughness.”

Grimes came into the NBA with a reputation as a tough 3-and-D player. But some people thought he was a reach at the 25th pick. But Grimes’s recent play proves the Knicks’ scouting department got it right.

Adam Tatalovich (left) was hired by the New York Knicks as an international scout this year with the help of his mentor and good friend, Kelvin Sampson (right). Sampson is the head coach of the University of Houston Cougars, where Knicks rookie Quentin Grimes played for two seasons. (Photo from Adam Tatalovich Twitter account and Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports)

Grimes had been on the Knicks’ radar way before the NBA Draft as one of their new scouts, Adam Tatalovich, had extensive intel on the former Houston standout. Tatalovich unofficially worked for Grimes’ coach at Houston, Kelvin Sampson, last college season before the Knicks scooped him up last February.

It was Sampson who recommended Tatalovich to Knicks GM Scott Perry when the team was looking to beef up their international scouting department.

“When that position came up, I called Scott and said: Look, there’s a young man in Adam Tatalovich. Here’s his story. I couldn’t recommend him highly enough. He’s got a great work ethic. He’s good, and he’s ambitious, and he’s task-oriented. Whatever job or task that you want him to do, I think he’s going to be outstanding,” Sampson told Empire Sports Media before the season began.

Tatalovich first burst into the basketball scene under Michael Jordan and late Kobe Bryant’s trainer Tim Grover after graduating from Indiana University. Before the Knicks, he had stints with the Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Pelicans, and Sacramento Kings as video coordinator and pro personnel scout. He also coached in Australia (NBL) and China (CBA) before returning to his roots in Serbia at the height of the pandemic last year. Just recently, he acquired Serbian citizenship to stay in Eastern Europe. Tatalovich is also involved with the Serbian national basketball program as an assistant coach.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau raves about Quentin Grimes, suggesting more action for the rookie

quentin grimes, knicks

The New York Knicks might have something special with rookie Quentin Grimes out of Houston. The shooting guard stands at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, but showcases incredible energy as his most valuable attribute early in his career.

Despite the Knicks struggling through a cold streak, they secured an impressive victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, Christmas Day. They are gearing up to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night at 8 PM, a winnable game considering they will be without D’Angelo Russell and Patrick Beverley.

However, the Knicks are still going through lineup changes with players returning from the NBA health and safety protocols list.

With RJ Barrett still gaining back his stamina after dealing with Covid, head coach Tom Thibodeau utilized Quentin Grimes more prominently to help supplement his minutes. Against Atlanta, Grimes played 25 minutes, recording 15 points, two assists, two steals, and two rebounds. He shot 5 of 12 from three-point range and played solid defense, earning the only positive +/- off the bench.

After the game, the Knicks’ coach raved about Grimes’s qualities, specifically hitting on his defensive contributions.

“The energy and defense, that’s a big component,” Thibs said. “He is a terrific wing defender for a young guy.”

The best way to get into Thibodeau’s good graces is to play aggressive defense and provide unparalleled energy. Grimes runs up and down the floor without missing a beat, utilizing those young legs to provide his team with a spark.

“He’s high energy, he’s tough, he takes the right shots, he plays defense,” Thibodeau said.

Another efficient development regarding Grimes is his shot selection. The Houston product is hitting an impressive 45.5% of his three-point attempts, including 42.3% from the field. He hasn’t been a shot creator, but simply getting in the right positions to knock down good opportunities. He’s hit 95.5% of his field goals off assists. Every single three-point field goal made this season has been assisted, which is something the Knicks need with several players taking on the role of creators.
Thibs didn’t only mention Grimes but also fellow rookie Miles McBride, who has also just flashed signs of potential this season.

“The intensity that he plays with, he is all out and so is Miles McBride and that is a different weapon that we have,” Thibodeau said. “Both of those guys have been terrific. You can add Jericho [Sims] to that. I love our young guys. They are great workers, they are competitive, they are smart and those types of guys always get better.”

The rookies and youngsters have been an essential factor in keeping the Knicks alive and in games this season, despite falling below .500. Their schedule is lightening up a bit after a tough stretch the past few weeks. They will take on Minnesota, Detroit, Oklahoma City, Toronto, Indiana, and back-to-back games against Boston. All of these teams are sub .500 squads, giving the Knicks a bit of hope to string together a good stretch of wins and get back into playoff contention.

Knicks: Julius Randle finally learns to co-exist with Kemba Walker

knicks, kemba walker, julius randle

Call it the Knicksmas Day miracle.

The New York Knicks could not have wrapped a perfect Christmas gift for their win-starved fans.

The Knicks’ methodical 101-87 victory over a decimated Atlanta Hawks team can be easily downplayed because of the absence of star villain Trae Young and several key starters. But for those who are wired, the Knicks made a statement win. This is by far their most significant win and could be a turning point of the season marred so far by disappointments.

For the first time, the Knicks’ stars aligned. Their 19-3 start was everything the New York front office envisioned when they’d added Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier in the offseason.

All five starters scored in that sizzling start on a cold Christmas day. Walker, Fournier, and RJ Barrett each hit a triple while Julius Randle made his first two of a season-high six three-pointers. Mitchell Robinson contributed a slam dunk off Walker’s brilliant playmaking.

Walker capped his best week as a Knick with a triple-double. Randle regained his shooting touch. Fournier got going.

After three weeks of not hearing his name, Walker was serenaded with ‘Kemba Walker’ chants when he checked out with 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists. Randle led the Knicks with 25 points on an efficient 9 of 15 shooting and tied Fournier (15 points on 6 of 12 shots) with a team-best +21 plus-minus rating.

Walker‘s resurgence from the end of the bench is New York’s biggest story. But equally important is Randle’s acceptance of Walker as the central figure that holds the key to this team moving forward.

During the postgame interview with the ABC/ESPN broadcast, Randle acknowledged Walker as the heart and soul of the team.

“I think we’re just feeding off each other,” Randle told reporters in the postgame presser. “I think we were deferring a little too much or trying to figure out how to play with each other, and those things take time. We kind of got a second shot at it.”

It’s been sweeter the second time around.

The Knicks were 1-9 during Walker’s banishment. They have split their four games since his return.

“I’m over it,” Walker said of his benching. “It doesn’t matter anymore at this point. I just take it as a blessing. I think it was a blessing in disguise, to be honest.”

“God just works in mysterious ways, man. He’s blessed me. He’s helped me stay humble, grounded, and he just got me through a tough situation. I just continued to work, and time went on, and guys go down, and I’m back. [The] first game against my old team, I’m back in the starting lineup, and the rest is history from there. Everything happens for a reason.”

New York coach Tom Thibodeau had a different reason when he yanked Walker out of the rotation. Thibodeau said that he only did what he thought was the best for the team, adding that he wanted to add size to the point of attack.

When Randle signed a $117 million extension in the offseason, it was trumpeted as his token to help the Knicks organization maintain flexibility to add a co-star that will make them a contender.

While Walker, with his balky knees, isn’t the co-star he would have expected, the former four-time All-Star represented the dynamic scoring and playmaking they sorely lacked in their first-round exit in last season’s playoffs. Walker’s charming homecoming story was celebrated, but 20 games into the season, his fit next to Randle was questioned as losses piled up.

Thibodeau essentially picked Randle over Walker. And it took a COVID-19 outbreak and a Derrick Rose ankle surgery to give the Knicks a second shot at making the Randle-Walker pairing work.

A move out of desperation has become a source of inspiration.

The Knicks’ image around the league took a hit with every Walker sympathy. It was such a bad look for an organization wanting to attract top-flight stars and to Randle who couldn’t adjust next to a ball-dominant star.

Walker seized the opportunity. Thibodeau noticed that his starting point guard returned with an aggressive approach that wasn’t there in his first 18 games.

“I have,” Walker said. “That’s the exact mindset I’ve had. Just come out and be aggressive. I just have a tendency to kind of not want to step on toes, and I think that’s what I did early on. I was here, and I wasn’t being as aggressive. But I think being out and seeing how the game has been going and flowing put me in a different mindset.”

Walker came back a changed man.

He averaged 26.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, and seven assists since Thibodeau re-inserted him to the rotation. He’s doubled his three-point attempts, shooting 39.5 percent of a staggering 10.8 attempts per game. His 5.8 free throw attempts are proof of the change in his mindset. Most importantly, the Knicks have outscored their opponents by 9.3 during Walker’s 40.2 minutes on the floor. 

It was a stark contrast to his career-low numbers in his first 18 games: 11.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 free throw attempts, and the most damning of it all, his -122 plus-minus total. 

“I’m happy for him. As a teammate, as a brother, I’m happy for him that he’s able to come out and be who he is. I’m sure when he signed to come here, this is kind of what he envisioned, playing the type of basketball he’s playing right now,” Randle said of Walker’s remarkable turnaround. “So I think we just honestly feed off each other, and the team will go as we go.”

Randle embraced the opportunity — a great sign of maturity. It was just one game, but the Knicks have finally unlocked how they can make it work. It’s just a matter of consistency.

When that happens, this Knicksmas Day miracle will turn into the gift that keeps on giving.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau knows the ingredient to winning games: ‘When we have a flow’

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

The New York Knicks needed a momentum-shifting win, and they secured that against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, Christmas day. Despite not having Trae Young, who circled the game on his calendar against the Knicks, Atlanta did their best to spoil a big home game for New York.

The Knicks gained back several bodies from the NBA health and protocols list, enjoying play from RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, and Quentin Grimes. All three made a significant impact, combining for 37 points, with Toppin and Grimes coming off the bench for 28.

However, this game had a different feel to it than previous ones, as head coach Tom Thibodeau noted after the victory. He pinpointed a difference in flow and balance, which helped the offense create better opportunities and a focus on more efficient defense.

“Just the start of the game, the unselfishness, how hard we play. Getting some bodies back, but the unselfishness on both sides of the ball. There were a number of really good plays that got people great shots.”

“Unselfishness” seems to be a keyword in his explanation, passing the ball with vision and not thinking about one’s self. Power forward Julius Randle seemed to embody that, allowing Kemba Walker to execute at his peak performance and maximize strength while playing in a secondary role. Previously, Randle was trying to do all the hard work, leaving Walker in no man’s land. The chemistry between those two players is essential, and if they can find a healthy balance, it is clear they are difficult to stop.

“The attack, getting stops, starting with our defense getting into the open floor. Making the extra pass, getting the swing of the ball,” Thibs listed on.

The extra pass is something the Knicks have failed to execute, especially with a myriad of shooters to feed. Evan Fournier launched six three-point attempts, hitting 50% and finishing with 15 points. His flow and rhythm seem to be far more balanced, which Thibodeau noticed considering Walker’s 12 assists.

“The last five of the half, I thought Kemba had control of the game, and I thought he had two or three kick-aheads to Evan that gave Evan rhythm. When you have a flow like that, the balance to the scoring is a lot better.”

Kemba only scored 10 points, but he posted 12 assists and 10 rebounds, good for his first triple-double of the season. The return of Walker has proved to be a significant difference-maker, posting four consecutive games with double-digit points and breaching 40 points against the Washington Wizards in a disappointing loss last Thursday. However, his play has been inspiring, and Randle had nothing but great things to say about Walker after Saturday’s win.

“Man, he’s honestly like, he’s the heart and soul of our team. We talk about it all the time, it’s me and him, the team will go as we go. If we come to the game and bring energy, we fight, we compete, everybody else is going to do it too. He’s been doing a great job every night coming out, leading us, bringing energy, and just going every game. He means a lot to our team for sure.

Knicks: Kemba Walker’s NY homecoming story turns a new chapter

kemba walker, knicks

Just last week, everybody wondered where the banished New York Knicks starting point guard Kemba Walker was heading next. But the hometown kid refused to let his celebrated homecoming story end in a disheartening fashion. The consummate pro that he is, Walker stayed ready.

A nine straight, healthy DNPs could have shattered any player’s confidence. But not Walker, born and raised in a tough hood in the Bronx.

“I’m built for this,” said Walker last week.

His cheerful disposition and professional approach to the volatile situation became a source of inspiration.

You can’t knock a good man down. Fate has its quirky way of delivering good karma.

A COVID-outbreak and a Derrick Rose’s ankle injury that required surgery gave Walker the opening he needed to get out of the doghouse. And he’s played like a mad dog.

“He’s one of our leaders,” Walker said of Rose. He’s been playing extremely well. We’re gonna miss him for sure. But you know, that’s the way this league works. Guys, unfortunately, go through injuries. Next man up.”

Walker wasn’t only the next man up. But he turned into the Knicks’ main man.

The All-Star point guard from his Charlotte days and the kid that rocked the Garden during his stellar run from Rice High School, Gauchos to UConn, returned to claim his rightful place.

Three games later, Walker has cemented his spot in Tom Thibodeau’s rotation.

He delivered big game after big game that crescendoed in a season-high 44-point explosion in Knicks’ 124-117 loss to the Washington Wizards Thursday night at the Garden.

It took two Kyle Kuzma dagger 3s to rip the hearts of Walker and the Knicks inside the final two minutes. 

“He played a monster game,” Thibodeau said of Walker, “but we came out with a loss. So it’s a shame to waste that type of effort with a game like that.”

Their shameful defense allowed Kuzma to walk into rhythm threes after missing his first six attempts. Thibodeau didn’t offer any excuse. He admitted to what everyone saw.

“Oh yeah, it was very poor,” Thibodeau said of their defense. “We didn’t have control of the ball. We didn’t have a stance and vision on a weak side. So, it’s gonna be hard to win like that.”

For a while, it looked like Walker was poised to give the Knicks their first win streak since Halloween. He had the Garden rocking and chanting his name again after a scintillating 23-point second quarter that ended with a fallaway jumper before the buzzer.

The Knicks sat on a 64-57 cushion at halftime.

“It felt great,” Walker said. “It was a good time. I really wish we could’ve won, to be honest. It’s always tough when you play really well like that and don’t come out on top. It was definitely a very special night.”

Things fell apart in the third quarter as the Wizards grabbed the lead on a 12-0 run. The Knicks veered away from what worked in the first half. The ball stopped moving, just like in their earlier losses.

“That’s one of the things they do with their switching [defense],” Thibodeau said of the Wizards, “and that’s where you got to be careful not to turn it into an isolation game. You got to keep it moving or when you get the penetrations is to spray it out.”

But Thibodeau thought they had good sequences of great ball movement that led to wide-open threes which didn’t fall.

The Knicks only logged two assists on an ugly 8 of 22 shooting in that third quarter of doom. Julius Randle, Evan Fournier, and Walker each missed three-point attempts at the height of the Wizards’ run. But Walker recovered and dropped 13 more points late that kept the Knicks within striking distance, 90-86, heading into the payoff period.

“When you’re shorthanded like we are right now, we can’t afford not to play with great intensity on every possession. So, that’s where are,” Thibodeau lamented.

RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, and Quentin Grimes were cleared from health and safety protocols. But it was only Toppin who saw limited action. The high-leaping forward produced only two points, three rebounds against three fouls in 13 minutes.

Thibodeau held Barrett out for conditioning reasons while Grimes got cleared late Thursday that the rookie couldn’t squeeze in practice before the game. Newcomers Damyean Dotson and Danuel House, Jr. played spot-up minutes.

But the Knicks could have survived if Walker was fresh down the stretch.

Playing a season-high 43 minutes, Walker lost steam in the fourth quarter. He missed five of his last six shots. Nevertheless, he proved that he’s still an elite player when given the opportunity.

Over his last three games, since he returned to the active lineup, Walker is averaging 31.3 points on a tremendous 44/44/91 shooting splits, 7.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists against a single turnover in a jaw-dropping 40 minutes. The Knicks have outscored their opponents by 18 during Walker’s staggering minutes on the floor.

His balky knees have held up so far. It’s not sustainable given his injury history, but with the impending return of Immanuel Quickley and rookie Miles McBride, Walker’s minutes are expected to drop to manage his knees.

What won’t return is the passiveness that defined his lackadaisical start to his New York tenure.

Walker is no longer just a spot-up jump-shooting point guard. He’s abandoned the ‘trying to fit in with the team’ mentality. The benching has awakened the monster in Walker. His usage rate picked up, hitting the 30s twice during the three-game stretch. Walker is no longer deferring to Randle. Instead, he’s completely taken over this decimated Knicks team.

Since his return, he’s made 19 of 21 free throws — proof that he’s back to his good old days of attacking the rim and bending the defenses to find angles for his shots and his teammates. Before his benching, Walker had only racked up 20 of 25 free throws in 18 games.

The Garden, the place where Walker had his Cardiac Kemba signature moment that jettisoned him into the NCAA glory and NBA lottery, has roared back to life with his every daredevil drive, killer crossover, and sweet pull-up jumper.

The real Kemba Walker is back.

The only question that is begging for an answer is when will the Knicks consistently return to their winning ways?

“It has been pretty disappointing, especially to our fans,” Walker said of the loss. “These guys have been cheering behind off us, trying to get us going. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been going our way.”

Since Walker’s return, the Knicks have gone 1-2, losing two tightly-fought games that went down the wire.

“We’ll change it. We’ll get there. I don’t think it will happen for too much longer. I definitely think we’re getting better. We’ll change it for those guys,” Walker said.” We’ll start racking up the wins.”

Now that he’s back in control of his destiny, Walker has started to write the next chapter of his New York homecoming story that he hopes will end in a happy ending.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo