The last few days have been a whirlwind of emotions for NY Knicks fans. Almost half the team entered the health and safety protocols: Obi Toppin, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickly, Deuce McBride, Quentin Grimes, Kevin Knox, Nerlens Noel, and our very own Walt “Clyde” Frazier (he’s okay and made his return to the booth on Thursday. Christmas came early).
Then, on Wednesday the Knicks announced that Point Guard Derrick Rose will miss 6-8 weeks with ankle surgery. The following night, to match New York’s lowest low with its highest high, Kemba Walker scored 44 points with 9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 0 turnovers. But they lost 124-117 to the Wizards. Kemba’s resurgence was all for naught.
NY Knicks: They need Kemba Walker now more than ever
The big question going into the night was simple: Can Kemba keep it up and replace Rose?
Since being acquired from the Detroit Pistons last season for Dennis Smith Jr. and a 2nd round pick, Rose has been New York’s most consistent player and arguably their most important.
The team is 35-27 since acquiring the former MVP. Despite his nagging ankle discomfort the last couple of weeks, Rose is averaging 12 points and 4 assists with a 51% eFG in 24.5 minutes.
It would take too long to list how important Rose is to the team. Whether it’s his improved three point shooting, his selfless shot creation, or his mid-range game, most NY Knicks highlights seem to involve Rose in some way.
Above all, Rose has provided a much-needed coherence and stability over the last year and a half. Can Kemba Walker replicate that stability?
Since returning from the bench, all signs point to yes. He’s scored 29, 21, and 44. While still a ball dominant player by nature, he knows when to defer to an open teammate and when to ride the hot hand. Rose-esque.
While unlike Rose, he’ll continue to start. Although I’m curious to see how he looks with the rest of the bench unit once everyone is healthy. The effort and pace with which he’s been playing will fit right in with Quickly and Toppin. Thibs insists he’ll only play as a starter, but after playing 43 minutes tonight, it’s clear we’ll see him in many different lineups.
His defense continues to leave a lot to be desired. Perhaps Mitchell Robinson’s place back in the starting lineup can make sure they don’t get destroyed in the pick and roll, but Walker will continue to be a defensive liability. However, the wear and tear on Rose throughout the years has left him an average-below average defender, and the Knicks will have kleptomaniac Deuce McBride to back him up to ease the burden.
The joy and fire Kemba has played with over the last three games has shown a life and an identity that New York can grab onto, similar to Rose’s arrival last year.
With that being said – will a rejuvenated Walker be enough for the NY Knicks?
At this point, all signs point to no.
Julius Randle looks unrecognizable from the All-NBA player he was last year. For every night Evan Fournier is lights out he has three where he’s unplayable. The team’s overall defensive effort and wherewithal is not there.
In short, the team looks like they just don’t have it.
It looks like Kemba will have no problem holding down the fort at the Point Guard position, quelling the season-long conversation and controversy. But the Knicks have much bigger problems on their hands.