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Is Kemba Walker’s replacement Alec Burks the key to turning around the Knicks season?


It’s been a rocky few weeks for the New York Knicks, with head coach Tom Thibodeau shaking up the starting rotation after a string of poor performances.

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Ahead of their thrilling 112-110 road loss against the Brooklyn Nets, Thibodeau revealed that he’s not only removing Kemba Walker from the starting lineup, but the rotation altogether “as of right now.” The immediate results have paid dividends. 

Walker has appeared in 18 games this season but has been a shadow of himself. In 24.5 minutes a night, he’s averaging career-lows of 11.7 points, 3.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds per contest on .429/.413/.800 shooting splits.

To put it simply, the Knicks starting group of Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson just hasn’t worked through the early part of the season. According to NBA.com, the group has logged a league-leading 287 minutes together, but as it stands, they’ve posted an offensive rating of 103.3 and a defensive rating of 118.9, resulting in them being outscored by 15.6 points per 100 possessions.

The starting group has registered the 27th-ranked offence and the worst defence in the league by a long way.

While Evan Fournier has kept his place among the starters, Alec Burks started his second game in a row in place of Walker on Tuesday, with the four-time All-Star behind Derrick Rose (34 mins) and Emmanuel Quickley (37 mins), who both played big minutes behind and alongside Burks.

Fournier is averaging 16.5 points in the two games since Walker went to the bench and came up clutch for the Knicks, burying a 3-pointer with 17.7 seconds to go to tie things up at 110-110. A pair of free throws from James Johnson iced the win for the Nets, before Fournier’s heave at the buzzer for the win rattled out.

Burks got the start in the Knicks’ 99-90 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night, registering 23 points, seven rebounds and three assists, then followed it up with another strong outing in Brooklyn.

He led the team in scoring with 25 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals in 39 minutes, pushing the Nets all the way to the final buzzer.

Prior to the Hawks game, the Knicks were 5-8 in November. They now sit at 11-10 on the season, good for seventh in the Eastern Conference.

Burks, Rose and Quickley impressed down the stretch against the Nets in a three-guard lineup and carried their offence, combining for 13 of the team’s 26 fourth-quarter points.

Rose finished with 16 points, a game-high nine assists and five rebounds, while Quickley added 12 points, seven boards and two assists.

(NBA Getty Images)

Burks provides an interesting play for the Knicks with his efficient shooting and floor spacing ability, helping create room in the paint to maximize the rest of the team, most notably All-Star forward Julius Randle. 

In the month of November, Burks is shooting 47 percent from the 3-point line and 43.9 percent from the field, posting double-digit points in six of his last seven games. 

Walker’s playmaking is a big miss for the Knicks, but without him in the lineup, Rose and Randle have assumed more playmaking duties. Tonight Randle was superb, facilitating the offence from the elbow, finding cutters and kicking it out to the 3-point line. 

He finished with eight assists, as well as some big-time buckets down the stretch.

  

It’s unclear what the plan is for Walker at this stage, with his name appearing in trade rumours over the recent days, but if Burks, Rose and Quickley continue to fire for the Knicks, Thibodeau will certainly have something to think about.

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