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Kemba Walker out of Knicks starting rotation, Alec Burks in, Thibodeau says

New York Knicks Introduce New Signees

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: Kemba Walker #8 of the New York Knicks poses for a photo after a press conference at Madison Square Garden on August 17, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

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The Knicks’ most used and starting lineup — more than just that, the most used five-man lineup in the NBA this season — has been a disaster. The fivesome of Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Mitchel Robinson has a net rating of -15.7 in 287 minutes together on the court. Every night the Knicks bench was digging the starters out of a hole.

Substitute Alec Burks into that lineup for Walker and they have a +12.6 net rating.

Tom Thibodeau is loyal and stubborn, but with the Knicks stumbling along at 4-5 in their last nine he knew it was time to make a change. Walker is out of the rotation and Burks is starting.

Walker had sat out Saturday in Atlanta (a game Derrick Rose also missed) and the Knicks picked up a quality win on the road. The Knicks already run Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley off the bench together in lineups that have worked well, Thibodeau said he doesn’t want to insert Walker into that lineup and make it three small guards.

Walker has not meshed with Randle, when the two are on the court this season the Knicks have a -13.5 net rating (most of that linked to the starting five). Randle, coming off an All-NBA season and a three-year, $62.1 million contract extension, has regressed this season with his shooting (33% on 3-pointers this season, down from 41.1% a season ago) and other bad habits creeping back into his game. Part of that slide may be Randle had a better on-court connection with Elfrid Payton (although their net rating on the court together was -3.6). New York needs Randle to find his groove, this could be part of it.

Walker came to the Knicks with concerns — his knees and declining game at age 31 — but on a two-year contract for $17.9 million it was a smart gamble by Leon Rose and the front office. It’s too early to say it didn’t pan out — there’s a lot of season left and Walker will get other chances — but it hasn’t worked out as planned.

Thibodeau recognized that and moved on.

The first test for the new rotation is against the East-leading Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.