At New York Knicks media day, Derrick Rose told reporters that Kemba Walker would be starting over him. The youngest MVP in NBA history made the announcement before Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau released his first starting lineup of the preseason.
Rose said Walker deserves the “stage” to start since he’s a New York native playing for his hometown team. While his humbleness shouldn’t go unnoticed, Rose’s preseason play may have forced Thibodeau to make a significant and awkward move involving Walker.
Derrick Rose outplayed Kemba Walker in the preseason
It’s preseason, so the games didn’t count. However, Rose outplayed Walker. He averaged 16.2 points and 5.5 assists while shooting 50.0% from the field and 57.1% from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Walker put up 10.0 points and 4.7 assists per game and shot 39.3% overall.
In the Knicks’ final preseason game against the Washington Wizards, Rose went off for 28 points and six assists in 29 minutes off the bench. Walker, who had 12 points and six assists in 19 minutes, couldn’t guard Raul Neto all night. The Wizards veteran had 25 points, with most of his scoring coming against Walker. Thibodeau subbed Rose in for Walker at the 5:04 mark of the third quarter and never took the Chicago native out the rest of the contest.
Since Rose already has a rapport with the Knicks starters and played well in the 2021 playoffs and the 2021 preseason, it may be time for Thibodeau to shake things up.
Tom Thibodeau may have to bench Kemba Walker for Derrick Rose
Everywhere Thibodeau has coached, Rose has been there. The two-time Coach of the Year trusts the three-time All-Star because he knows what he’s going to get from him on a nightly basis. It will be a shock if Thibodeau starts Rose over Walker since the former is comfortable coming off the bench. However, Thibs may have to bench Walker for Rose at the end of games.
The Knicks will most likely close games with Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Evan Fournier, and either Mitchell Robinson or Nerlens Noel at center. The point guard spot is up for grabs between Rose and Walker, and Thibodeau may have to ride with the former based on what he saw in the 2021 playoffs and preseason.
Rose averaged 19.4 points and 5.0 assists in the 2021 postseason while shooting 47.6% from the floor and 47.1% from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, for the Boston Celtics, Walker put up 12.7 points and 4.0 assists per game on 31.7% shooting. The four-time All-Star has always been in the closing lineup wherever he’s played, so it would certainly crush his confidence if he were benched for Rose in the fourth quarter of tight games.
With that said, Thibodeau would be wise to go with the hot hand. If Walker is playing well, keep him in. If he’s struggling and Rose is playing better, ride with him. If both guys are in rhythm, Thibodeau will have to earn his paycheck and decide who the better fit is.
Tom Thibodeau will be under pressure to duplicate last year’s success
The Knicks were the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference last season. They had a tremendous regular season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13.
However, New York lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the 2021 playoffs in five games. Rose was the only player who performed well, as Randle and Barrett struggled in their first postseason. The additions of Walker and Fournier gives the Knicks more offensive firepower, which means Thibodeau will be under pressure to duplicate last year’s success and lead his group past the first round.
Walker will most likely start over Rose to begin the regular season despite what transpired in the preseason. However, don’t be surprised if Thibodeau chooses to go with Rose over Walker to close games since the 2008-09 Rookie of the Year has a documented history with him.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference