Breaking down Kemba Walker's resurgence since returning to Knicks lineup

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Kemba Walker mean muggin on floor and one white uni at MSG
Kemba Walker mean muggin on floor and one white uni at MSG

When Tom Thibodeau first sidelined Kemba Walker, a former multiple-time All-Star and then-starting point guard, indefinitely one month ago, many credited the Bronx native for his professionalism despite the demotion. Though disappointed, he didn’t request a trade or lash out in any way towards the franchise, but kept bringing his positive energy to the bench and rooting hard for his team.

This approach appears to have paid off for Walker, who got a second chance with the team facing half a roster out due to health and safety protocol and has taken full advantage. He’s poured in some big scoring performances and played at a new level, making fans of his banishment feel silly.

What’s changed for Kemba? And can this stretch last for him after a couple of stinker shooting nights and lingering flaws defensively? Is his place in the rotation cemented, or still subject to change? And should he have been benched in the first place?

Walker missed 10 games before starting against the Celtics in Boston over a week ago, putting up 29 points on lights out shooting in a loss. Following a 21-8-5 night against the Pistons at home, Walker went berserk against the Wizards with 44 points, nine rebounds and eight assists with seven threes.

Since then, Walker eked out a triple-double on Christmas and had a 10-point effort against the Timberwolves. The incendiary shooting and scoring he displayed prior was too good to maintain, but more of what propelled it would help make Walker's case going forward.

Walker attacked the paint with much more aggressiveness, finishing inside to open up his jumper. He found his floater touch and an additional gear to speed by defenders. He’s still getting trucked and eating hardwood on every rim attack, no comfortable trend for a player of his age and injury history, perhaps partially why his pace slowed down.

Kemba’s playmaking was also improved, as he actively looked to find more shooters and cutters on his drives. His assist rate over the last six games is up to 25.2 percent from 20.6 percent the rest of the year.

There’s an overall increased burst and effort to Walker’s game. You can see it in his dribble drives and defensive rotations. The ten games of rest certainly helped, but now he’s back in the meat grinder.

Walker will need to keep this edge in order to keep his rotation spot. The point guard is there to set the tempo and offense, so when Walker is meandering into sets and not testing the defense with his quickness, he becomes expendable. Even on nights he shoots poorly, he can initiate the offense quickly and be in the right spots defensively.

Dec 23, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Kemba Walker (8) celebrates after making a three-point basket against the Washington Wizards during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 23, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Kemba Walker (8) celebrates after making a three-point basket against the Washington Wizards during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Those are the things he’s done lately that weren’t there when he got benched. He only cracked double figures in three out of 11 games prior, and has recorded his only two games above five assists in his comeback.

One thing to note: the Knicks poor start defensively and needing additional size on that end was often cited as a reason for Walker’s benching. Yet New York performed just as badly, if not worse, after the change, and is back up to standard in their last five games, albeit against weaker opposition. It’s safe to say Walker was not the sole reason the defense has fallen off.

So what does this all mean for Walker going forward? He has his starting spot, for now. A repeat of 10 games ago now appears unlikely, given these explosive performances.

This doesn’t mean Walker is assured his spot for good. On the chance he regresses back to when he was playing like the worst point guard in the Knicks rotation, a shake-up would be due. Thankfully, those days should be over.

Just how well Walker can continuously play is up in the air. To think he can continue averaging 20 is optimistic, but he doesn’t need to for the Knicks to maximize his abilities.

However this shakes out over the rest of the season, Walker’s renaissance has been fun to watch.