The New York Knicks are entrusting the point guard position with veterans Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker for the 2021-22 season and beyond. After rolling with Elfred Payton as the primary starter last year, it was imperative they upgraded this off-season, spending a good portion of their salary space on the two players.
Walker, however, signed a two-year, $17.9 million deal, which is a fantastic contract from the team’s perspective. They land a potential All-Star caliber player at minimum cost who could be the difference between winning and losing in the postseason.
Even Boston Celtics general manager Brad Stevens admitted it was difficult to trade Walker given his qualities, but it made sense for the team to clear salary space and move forward.
“Trading Kemba right off the bat was not fun, was not an easy thing to do,” Stevens told the hosts. “But obviously the opportunity to get Al back and some of the things it opened up the opportunity to do as we try to build toward the future, it was just part of it.
The risk-reward margin for the Knicks significantly favors them, but there are two versions of Walker that could present themselves next season, vastly impacting the team scoring production and consistency.
On one side, Walker is extremely injury-prone, playing just 43 games last year and 56 games the year before. He averaged 19.3 points, 4.9 assists, and shot 42% from the field, his lowest mark since 2014 with Charlotte. During the first half of the season, Walker struggled considerably to get going, but after his knee enjoyed a bit of rest and recovery, his production improved drastically.
When looking at his field goals made unassisted, his total dropped to 60.6% last season, hitting a career-high in 2017 at 71.9%. He has witnessed a slow decrease in creating opportunities for himself ever since the injury became more significant. In fact, he posted a career-low 73.2% unassisted rate from two-point field goals, indicating a reduction of playmaking and versatility.
Building on Walker’s intriguing statistical fluctuations, one category that saw a huge uptick was his total points from 3-point range. Walker scored 46% of his total points from beyond the arc last season, the second-highest rate in his career, only lower than his 2019-20 campaign. This would suggest that the former Celtic take on a bigger role as a sharp-shooter, but one that receives assists rather than dishes them out. His 3-PT shots made via assists rose to 55%, his highest since 2015, which could increase even further with players like Julius Randle controlling the interior and kicking out shots. He hit 36% of his 3-PT shots on 8.2 attempts per game, a solid success rate.
With a full off-season to rehabilitation and strengthening his knee, the Knicks expect him to come back full strength, but also have a plan in place to mitigate fatigue throughout the year. This is where Derrick Rose comes in to play, as the Knicks extended him on a three-year contract this offseason. Rose played in 35 games with the Knicks, averaging 14.9 points and 4.2 assists. He was one of the primary reasons they were able to make the postseason and became the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
With a contingency plan put in place, allowing Kemba to rest appropriately to keep his knee healthy, the strategy should provide him with the necessary tools to have a good season. The negative version reveals itself as an injury-prone player that is incapable of playing consistent minutes and building continuity and consistency with his new team. Luckily, the front office also invested in Luka Vildoza and Miles McBride, and I would be remiss not to mention Immanuel Quickley playing point guard during Summer League play. They have plenty of talent to supplement any losses.
Nonetheless, if Walker can present himself as an All-Star caliber player at a position of weakness in the past for New York, the entire team will be elevated, which is what they are betting on with a two-year contract.
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