Kemba Walker has been dropped from the New York Knicks rotation, head coach Tom Thibodeau has confirmed.
Alec Burks will remain the team’s starting point guard after he was drafted in for Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks. Burks scored a season-high 23 points with seven rebounds, three assists and two steals as the Knicks claimed the win.
Walker had started 18 of the first 19 games of the season for New York but is averaging a career-low 11.7 points (on 42.9 per cent shooting), 3.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds over 24.5 minutes during his first season with the Knicks.
Thibodeau said: “It’s a tough decision to make but you always have to do what you think is best for the team.
“I’ve got great respect for who Kemba is as a person, number one, and all that he’s accomplished in this league.”
Four-time All-Star Walker joined the Knicks in the summer after the Celtics traded him following their 36-36 season last year. Former coach Brad Stevens elected to trade Walker to the Thunder, along with the number 16 pick in this year’s NBA draft, to secure the return of center Al Horford back to Boston.
Walker, who grew up in The Bronx, subsequently agreed to a buyout with the Thunder and returned to his home town this summer but he has not been a positive on the floor for New York. In fact, his plus-minus with the Knicks is -122 in 441 minutes. That number is exacerbated yet further by the fact that back-up point guard Derrick Rose is +113 in 390 minutes.
Also factor in that a knee injury limited him to 43 games last season and his $17.9m, two-year contract – which seemed like decent value to many pundits at the time – may prove a mistake.
The poor performances have seen Walker benched repeatedly as the Knicks’ bench consistently outperformed the starting line-up and now Thibodeau has decided to relegate him from the rotation completely.
“I don’t like the way we’ve been trending,” Thibodeau said. “I want to tighten the rotation. I liked the way the team functioned, so it will be similar to what we did in the Atlanta game.”
Burks is bigger than the 6ft Walker and a better defender, an important factor for a defense-oriented coach like Thibodeau, and with Walker tanking to averages of 10 points on 39 per cent shooting overall – and 29 per cent from three-point range – through 12 games in November, he has now usurped the former number nine draft pick by taking his place in the team.