The New York Knicks have the feel of a hungry upstart in the Eastern Conference coming off last year’s surprising playoff berth. But while the Knicks might have youthful energy, they’ll be demanding a lot from a pair of aging point guards in Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker. That could be an issue.
Both Rose and Walker have a long history of injuries. Rose already appears to be dealing with a nagging physical issue, which illustrates the most pressing and threatening problem for the Knicks ahead of the 2021-22 season.
Derrick Rose left Saturday night’s preseason game with an ankle injury
Derrick Rose has been a revelation since coming to New York before last season’s trade deadline.
The former MVP put together some excellent numbers in the Big Apple, averaging 14.9 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.9 rebounds while shooting over 41% from beyond the arc. He had a bigger impact in the playoffs, averaging 19.4 points, 5.0 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in New York’s first-round exit.
The Knicks need Rose to provide similar backcourt production this season. But he could be slightly hampered by injuries. The 33-year-old left the fourth quarter of Saturday’s preseason game with ankle soreness and did not return after working it out on the bench.
“It’s nothing serious at all, but if I kept playing I probably would’ve made it worse,” Rose said after the game, via the New York Post. “I think I probably did it myself. It’s the second game — all this is new, moving around, Thibs training camps are different. I just have to take my time. I’m getting older. I tweaked it but didn’t twist it all the way. Thibs understood [when I took myself out].”
Rose might be insistent that the ankle won’t be a cumbersome problem throughout the season. Yet his admission of having to change things up and be cautious is a harsh reality check for Knicks fans, considering Kemba Walker will have to do much of the same.
Health might also be a complication for Kemba Walker
Like Derrick Rose, Knicks newcomer Kemba Walker has to adjust to a new style of preservation.
Walker has dealt with a myriad of knee problems in recent seasons. He looked like a shell of himself during the Orlando “bubble” in the 2020 playoffs and missed 29 games during the 2020-21 campaign while averaging just 12.7 points, 4.0 assists, and 4.0 rebounds on 31.7% shooting from the field in three playoff games for the Boston Celtics.
Cardiac Kemba is a legitimate difference-maker when healthy. He and Rose are bona fide shot creators who can make plays getting into the lane and pose problems from beyond the arc when things are going well. The issue is he’s so rarely been able to stay on the court in the past several seasons.
Although Walker is more dynamic than past Knicks point guards like Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina, there’s more risk involved. New York could be playing with fire all season, depending on the health of Rose and Walker. Head coach Tom Thibodeau must be extremely cautious with his delegation of minutes. That’s a tall order for a guy who demands a lot from his players.
Should Knicks fans worry about Tom Thibodeau running Rose and Walker into the ground?
Tom Thibodeau rides his players pretty hard. Consider: Julius Randle and RJ Barrett ranked first and second, respectively, in minutes played last season. Derrick Rose played over 35 minutes per game during the playoffs.
Will Thibs’ coaching style be an issue for New York’s backcourt?
Rose explained on Saturday that his head coach understood why he had to leave the game. Still, his description of Thibodeau’s training camps as “different” might not be news to Knicks fans’ ears.
New York really needs both Rose and Walker to be healthy and spell each other minutes. But their injury histories and ages, paired with Thibodeau’s demanding style, might not be conducive to the success of this backcourt.
Better guard play could lead to year-over-year improvement for the Knicks. But health is a serious wild card for Rose and Walker, one worth watching all season.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.