Kemba Walker

Kemba Walker Returning, Will Start

Knicks point guard Kemba Walker will return tonight against the Timberwolves after missing the team’s previous nine games due to a sore left knee, the Knicks’ PR team has announced (Twitter link).

Tim Bontemps of ESPN tweets that Walker will start at the point for New York. He’ll displace combo guard Alec Burks in the starting lineup and probably siphon off some minutes from fellow guards Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes. Key reserve point guard Derrick Rose is out for an extended period of time as he recovers from an ankle surgery.

Walker, a Bronx native, has had an up-and-down first year with his hometown club. After opening the season as the team’s starting point guard, his defensive deficiencies led to his benching. COVID-19 issues compelled head coach Tom Thibodeau to re-insert Walker into the starting lineup, and he promptly enjoyed some of his best games of the season.

In his 24 games with the Knicks, all starts, Walker is averaging 13.6 PPG, 3.6 APG, 3.5 RPG and 0.8 SPG this season. The four-time All-Star, 31, will be counted upon to help stabilize the team’s point guard position. At 22-22, the Knicks currently occupy the No. 11 seed in a hyper-competitive Eastern Conference this season.

Atlantic Notes: Irving, Brown, Tatum, Walker, Reddish

Kevin Durant‘s knee injury, which is expected to keep him out four-to-six weeks, won’t change Kyrie Irving‘s mind about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, Adam Zagoria of writes.

“Kev’s gonna heal, Kev’s gonna be OK,” Irving said on Monday after the Nets lost in Cleveland. “And we’re going to have to deal with that as his teammates, but in terms of where I am with my life outside of this, I stay rooted in my decision and that’s just what it is.”

Irving will continue to be limited to road games unless he gets vaccinated. He suggests that will remain the case the rest of the way.

“I’ve made my decision and I’m standing by it…I stay rooted in what I believe in,” Irving said.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Celtics will approach the trade deadline with the intent of building around their two best players, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (video link). He said Marcus Smart, Dennis Schröder and some young players are available and Boston would like to find another play-maker or wing player. “(The Celtics’ approach) is to build around Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, not to break those two up,” Wojnarowski said. “The hard part for Boston is what are the other tradeable assets they want to move on from? They don’t want to trade Robert Williams, their young center. That’s a player they see at the center of what they’re doing moving forward.”
  • Kemba Walker missed his ninth straight game Monday due to a sore knee. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t want him back until Walker is confident he can play on a regular basis. “The big thing regarding Kemba is I want him to feel as good as possible and a player like him in the situation he is in, I want him to trust where he is with his body,’ Thibodeau said. “When he’s ready, he’s ready. He’ll let us know. We trust him. What I don’t want [is] to get into a situation where it’s on-off, on-off.”
  • Cam Reddish has yet to make his Knicks debut due to a sprained ankle, but the newly-acquired forward believes he can blossom in New York, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. “I feel like I can be a star,” Reddish said. “I feel like I could be a legit star. That’s what I’m working to be. It’s pretty simple.”

Knicks Notes: Reddish, Brunson, Randle, Walker

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau met with newly acquired Cam Reddish on Saturday and told him that playing time will have to be earned, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. The Knicks didn’t part with any rotation pieces in the Thursday trade that brought Reddish to New York, sending out only Kevin Knox and a draft pick, so Reddish will have to supplant someone else to get his minutes.

Reddish is still dealing with a sprained ankle, so there’s no firm timetable for him to make his debut with the Knicks. Once he’s ready, it sounds like he will have to stand out in practice before being placed into the rotation.

“You don’t lock into one player, you lock into our team,’’ Thibodeau said. “So it’s not just Cam’s development or just (Immanuel Quickley’s). It’s everyone’s development. I’m looking forward to working with Cam. Practice is important to me. You have to earn what you get, it’s that simple.’’

There’s more on the Knicks:

  • Executives around the league believe the Reddish trade may eventually lead to an even bigger deal, Berman states in a separate story. Sources tell him that the front office has already contacted the Mavericks about Jalen Brunson and has reached out to the Pistons about Jerami Grant and the Pacers about Myles Turner. The Knicks are particularly interested in Brunson, whose father Rick has served as an assistant coach under Thibodeau and was the first client for team president Leon Rose when he became an agent.
  • The Knicks may be more willing to part with Julius Randle, who is having an uneven season after winning Most Improved Player honors last year, Berman adds. Randle may not be suited for the role of team leader, Berman suggests in the wake of a public dispute with fans last week. Rumors that John Collins may be available could spark another trade with the Hawks.
  • Kemba Walker has now missed eight games after feeling pain in his left knee during warmups and didn’t make the trip to Atlanta for Saturday’s contest, notes Steve Popper of Newsday“It’s a one-game trip,’’ Thibodeau said. “We thought it would be better, don’t get on the plane, stay at the practice facility, get your treatment, get your workout, get a much better workout there. Because it’s a one-day thing, we just thought it made more sense that way.”

Atlantic Notes: Celtics, IT, Smart, Durant, Boucher, Carter, Kemba

Following 10-day stints with the Lakers and Mavericks, Isaiah Thomas is once again a free agent. Meanwhile, the Celtics have an open spot on their 15-man roster after waiving Jabari Parker. Appearing on the Toucher & Rich radio show in Boston, president of basketball operations Brad Stevens was asked whether a reunion with Thomas was possible, and while he didn’t rule it out, Stevens also didn’t suggest it’s something Boston is pursuing.

“I’m a huge Isaiah fan, always have been,” Stevens said, per Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston (Twitter link). “… Our roster situation right now is complicated enough that we’ve got to get through next month to see where it lands and what it looks like. We’ll make other decisions, whether we have spots or adds or whatever the case may be. Isaiah is everything everyone has made him out to be.”

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • The Celtics have ruled out Marcus Smart for Friday’s game in Philadelphia due to the health and safety protocols (Twitter link via Marc Stein). Smart had originally been listed as questionable, suggesting perhaps he registered an inconclusive or false positive COVID-19 test, but based on the latest update, it appears he had no luck testing out of the protocols.
  • The NBA announced today that the league has hit Nets star Kevin Durant with a $15K fine for using profane language during a media interview and failing to comply with an NBA Security interview as part of the review process.
  • In his latest rumor roundup, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report identified a pair of under-the-radar Atlantic trade candidates, writing that Raptors big man Chris Boucher is considered available and that the Nets are believed to be exploring the idea of trading guard Jevon Carter.
  • Although Knicks point guard Kemba Walker appears to be nearing a return from his knee soreness, there’s no guarantee that he’ll return to the starting lineup right away, and he may not play both parts of back-to-back sets again this season, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post.

Knicks Notes: Walker, Quickley, Grant, Randle

The Knicks are paying the price for counting on a pair of point guards in their 30s who have a history of health issues, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. The team entered the season with Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose atop its depth chart at the point, but Walker has missed time recently due to knee problems and Rose is out indefinitely following ankle surgery.

As Bondy outlines, playing without a reliable point guard has created some additional offensive problems for the Knicks, who have the NBA’s 23rd-most efficient offense and rank last in the Eastern Conference in assists per game.

“The defense has pretty much been there,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said after a weekend loss in which the Knicks scored just 75 points in Boston. “It’s the offense has been inconsistent.”

New York’s injury absences have resulted in Immanuel Quickley taking on more point guard responsibilities as of late, notes Steve Popper of Newsday. Thibodeau lauded the second-year guard for the progress he has made in that role while acknowledging there’s still work to do.

“There’s stretches in the game where you have to settle the team down and get the team organized,” Thibodeau said of Quickley. “I think that will come in time. The more he does it the better he’ll get at it. I love his versatility. You can play him with the ball, you can play him off the ball, and that’s what makes him so valuable to us.”

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • Thibodeau said on Monday that Walker is getting “close” to returning to action from what the team has called a sore left knee, Popper writes for Newsday. Asked whether Kemba remains sidelined due to healing or conditioning, Thibodeau replied, “Probably a little bit of both. Each day he’s doing a little bit more. The main thing was letting his knee calm down. It’s done that and now ramping it up again.”
  • Following up on Shams Charania’s report on New York’s interest in Pistons forward Jerami Grant, Fred Katz and James L. Edwards III of The Athletic consider whether the 27-year-old would be a good fit for the Knicks and what a trade might look like. The Athletic’s duo suggests a hypothetical package of Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, Obi Toppin, and the Knicks’ 2022 first-round pick (lightly protected), but observes that a three-for-one swap could be tricky for Detroit to accommodate.
  • Last season’s Most Improved Player has seen his numbers dip so far this season and has shot just 36.7% (19.4% on threes) since Christmas, but the Knicks remain confident in Julius Randle‘s ability to battle through adversity. “I don’t want anyone get wrapped up in any personal dilemmas or any of that stuff,” Thibodeau said on Monday without directly mentioning Randle (link via Ian O’Connor of The New York Post). “…There are going to be ups and downs throughout the course of the year. You’ve got to be mentally tough when you face adversity. Everyone does, right? It’s probably the most important thing in life. Sometimes it goes our way, sometimes it doesn’t. Just navigate through it all.”

Atlantic Notes: Walker, Johnson, Tatum, VanVleet

Though Knicks point guard Kemba Walker just missed his third consecutive game (a 104-94 win over the Pacers) due to left knee soreness, team doctors have determined that there is no structural damage to the ligament that would require surgery, per Steve Popper of Newsday.

“He warmed up in OKC, tweaked something,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s got some soreness so we’ll let it clear up and then we’ll go from there.”

Thibodeau removed Walker, who had begun the 2021/22 season as a starter, from New York’s lineup entirely in late November. COVID-19 and injury absences necessitated a pivot, and Walker played well in his return. During his six games back, Walker averaged 19.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 6.0 APG for the Knicks.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Celtics All-Star wing Jayson Tatum discussed his experience with 40-year-old veteran swingman Joe Johnson, a former seven-time All-Star signed by Boston to a 10-day hardship exception. The team opted to not sign Johnson to a second 10-day deal after his first expired. “We all enjoyed the time that he was here,” Tatum said, per Jared Weiss of The Athletic (Twitter link). “The ultimate professional and somebody a lot of us look up to and obviously, we would have loved to [have] kept him around.” Johnson played in just one game during his 10 days with the team, scoring on his only field goal attempt. Tatum said that Johnson continues to watch Celtics games and that he and Johnson still text each other.
  • Tatum also noted that his body is in better shape returning from COVID-19 protocols this season, Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald tweets. The Celtics forward was hit hard by the novel coronavirus during the 2020/21 NBA season. “I feel a lot better with everything,” Tatum said, per Murphy. “My quarantine was shorter, my body feels a lot better, comparing my first couple of days back practicing than last year when I first came back.”
  • Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet is letting his play do the talking, emerging as a legitimate candidate to be named to his first All-Star team this season, writes Nekias Duncan of Basketball News. Duncan observes that VanVleet is one of just three Eastern Conference guards, along with James Harden and Trae Young, averaging at least 20 PPG and 6 APG, while boasting a True Shooting percentage of 58% or higher. VanVleet is averaging 21.3 PPG, 6.7 APG, and 4.9 RPG, with a 58.5% true shooting percentage, across 31 games. The 27-year-old, who won a title with Toronto in 2019, boasts an overall shooting line of .441/.405/.880.

Knicks Notes: Toppin, Walker, McBride, Protocols

Knicks fans have been calling for Obi Toppin to get more playing time, but he put up disappointing numbers Friday in his first career start, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Replacing Julius Randle, who is in health and safety protocols, Toppin scored just five points in 27 minutes in a loss at Oklahoma City.

“The second unit, those guys play well together,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The big part of it is (Toppin) running the floor. When you have Alec (Burks), Derrick (Rose) and (Immanuel) Quickley throwing the ball ahead and getting those easy buckets, it gets you into a rhythm and easy scores. It’s his first game starting. You have to be ready to go. That intensity, you can’t ease into the game. You (have) got to go.’’

Toppin has shown improvement in his second NBA season, with his averages of 8.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game roughly doubling what he did as a rookie. He has been part of a bench unit that has frequently outplayed the team’s starting five, and he believes he can succeed as a starter if given more time.

“This is the first time all of us have played together on the court, the stating five,’’ Toppin said. “We had to find a rhythm. With everything going on, with new people starting, new people coming off the bench, we all haven’t played with each other a lot.’’

There’s more on the Knicks:

  • Kemba Walker was a late scratch for Friday’s game after experiencing pain in his left knee, Berman adds in a separate story. Berman notes that the decision to hold Walker out was made during pre-game and it comes after he played both ends of a back-to-back this week. “He started his warm-up, and then he stopped,” said Thibodeau, who isn’t sure how long Walker might be sidelined. “And then (trainer) Anthony (Goenaga) was looking at him and just felt, let’s get him examined, and then we’ll go from there.’’
  • The loss of Walker led to the first career start for rookie Miles McBride, who learned of the assignment about an hour before game time, Berman notes in another piece“I wanted to step up and do the best I could,’’ said McBride, who exited the protocols earlier this week. “I’m still trying to get in a rhythm. The whole team is — with guys going down. It just happened like that. I couldn’t do a lot of thinking or reacting. I had to go with the flow.’’ 
  • The Knicks currently have two starters and three assistant coaches in the health and safety protocols, and Thibodeau tells Steve Popper of Newsday that the team is doing its best to adjust. “There’s nothing you can do other than follow the guidelines,” he said. “You want everyone to be healthy. You want them to be safe. That’s your first concern. Forget the basketball part of it, take care of it yourself.”

Knicks Notes: Walker, McBride, Rose, Barrett, Toppin

Reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Kemba Walker‘s banishment from the Knicks‘ rotation may have been a blessing in disguise, according to Fred Katz of The Athletic. Walker admits he wasn’t aggressive enough at times to start the season.

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

Walker and the rest of the team’s starters struggled mightily in Wednesday’s 94-85 victory over the depleted Pistons, as the Knicks were carried once again by the bench group, all of whom finished with a plus/minus of at least plus-27. Walker had two points, two rebounds, two assists and three turnovers in 20 minutes.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • Prior to Wednesday’s game, Marc Berman of The New York Post suggested that rookie Miles McBride may face a diminished role, given Walker’s strong recent play. However, that wasn’t the case against Detroit — in his first game back from the COVID-19 protocols, McBride logged 25 minutes in the team’s victory, leading the team in plus/minus at plus-39 while Walker struggled.
  • Head coach Tom Thibodeau says Derrick Rose is recovering well from ankle surgery and that he’s confident in the Knicks’ guard play, Berman writes in another article for The New York Post.
  • RJ Barrett is trying to regain his shooting stroke after a bout with COVID-19, per Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. Barrett is eligible for a rookie scale extension this offseason, and how he finishes the rest of the season could have a major impact on the size of his contract, Bondy opines.
  • It’s clear the Knicks need to give Obi Toppin a lot more minutes than he has received so far this season, even if those minutes eat into Julius Randle‘s playing time, Ian O’Connor of The New York Post contends. In Wednesday’s win over Detroit, Toppin was an incredible plus-36 in 22 minutes, while Randle was a minus-27 in 26 minutes.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kemba Walker Named Players Of The Week

Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been named the Western Conference Player of the Week, while Knicks guard Kemba Walker has won the award for the Eastern Conference, the NBA announced today (via Twitter).

Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder to a 3-1 record during the week of December 20-26, averaging 27.5 PPG, 7.0 APG, 6.3 RPG, and 1.3 BPG in those four games (36.9 MPG). He had a triple-double (27 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds) in Oklahoma City’s victory over Denver last Wednesday.

Walker, meanwhile, is this season’s most unlikely Player of the Week, having fallen out of New York’s rotation entirely for 10 games before being reinserted into the starting lineup on December 18 because so many Knicks players being in the health and safety protocols.

In three games this week, including a pair of wins, Walker put up 25.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, and 8.3 APG in 41.1 MPG. Like Gilgeous-Alexander, he had a triple-double, recording 10 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds in the Knicks’ Christmas Day win over Atlanta.

Gilgeous-Alexander beat out fellow nominees Stephen Curry, Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, and Dejounte Murray in the West. The East’s other nominees were Joel Embiid, Darius Garland, Kevin Love, Tyler Herro, Max Strus, Omer Yurtseven, and Jrue Holiday (Twitter link).

Atlantic Notes: Walker, Rose, Simmons, Durant, Raptors

Kemba Walker capped off his comeback week with a triple-double in today’s win over the Hawks, leading to questions about why coach Tom Thibodeau pulled him from the Knicks‘ lineup in the first place, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Eight days ago, there were questions about whether Walker would ever play for New York again, but now it appears he has reclaimed the starting point guard job.

“I take it as a blessing in disguise — God works in mysterious ways, man,’’ Walker said of his temporary benching. “He helped me stay humble, grounded and got me through a tough situation. Guys went down and I’m back — the first game (in Boston) versus my old team in the starting lineup. The rest is history. This is not how I pictured it. But I’m not complaining, either.’’ 

After being held out of action for more than three weeks, Walker got a chance last Saturday against the Celtics due to a combination of injuries and players in the health and safety protocols. He responded with 29 points, then followed with 21 Tuesday against the Pistons and 44 Thursday against the Wizards before today’s 10-10-12 performance.

“Since he came back, he’s come out with a consistent energy,’’ Julius Randle said. “It’s a lot of fun to play with. We’re feeding off each other. We kind of got a second shot at it.’’

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • With Derrick Rose likely sidelined until at least mid-February following ankle surgery, the Knicks are searching for ways to make up for the absence of their most dependable guard, observes Fred Katz of The Athletic. The ankle has been a season-long issue for Rose, who tweaked it during the team’s second preseason game, Katz adds. Although he was able to practice the next day, Rose had to miss three games in November with ankle soreness, which lingered until the decision to have surgery.
  • There was little discussion at the G League showcase in Las Vegas about the Sixers working out a Ben Simmons trade any time soon, Marc Stein of Substack said on his latest podcast. He adds that trade talks have taken a back seat in the wake of roster upheavals caused by COVID-19. Appearing today on “NBA Countdown,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said there has been no progress on a deal or on Simmons returning to play for Philadelphia.
  • Head coach Steve Nash said the Nets haven’t received any word that Kevin Durant will test out of protocols in time to play against the Clippers on Monday, tweets Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Although it remains possible, Lewis states that it appears unlikely Durant will play.
  • Sunday’s game with the Cavaliers is still on, but the Raptors flew into Cleveland today with just four roster players and a limited number of coaches and staff members, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports. Toronto has 10 players in health and safety protocols and is hoping to have at least four hardship additions cleared by game time.