The UConn product joined the Madison Square Garden residents during the 2021 offseason by signing a two-year, $17.9 million contract, and it’s been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. He’s suited up in just 37 games due to a combination of lackluster performance, injury, and an unexpected benching at the hands of head coach Tom Thibodeau.
That number won’t rise any higher than 37 since the guard is now being shut down for the rest of the campaign as he tries to rehabilitate the knee injury that’s been plaguing him.
“We fully support Kemba’s decision to shut it down for the remainder of the season and to use this time to prepare for next season. His long-term success on the court remains our priority,” team president Leon Rose said in a statement, per the team’s PR feed on Twitter.
With the Knicks in the midst of a disappointing encore to last year’s postseason run and competing for a spot in the Eastern Conference’s play-in tournament, this isn’t the greatest news. Walker may have been struggling, averaging just 11.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists while slashing 40.3/36.7/84.5, but he still helped the team’s depth with Derrick Rose unavailable and the rest of the primary options at least somewhat uninspiring.
Now, New York has no choice but to keep trotting out Alec Burks and attempting to develop Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride quickly.
The Walker-New York pairing initially seemed like a positive, even if the point guard had looked like a shell of his old Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets self in previous locations. It was a homecoming for the Bronx native and resulted in an Eastern Conference Player of the Week honor in late December, but the lows accompanied the highs with his unexpected benching — coming before the PotW accolade — serving as the true rock bottom.
If the intent here is truly to let Walker rest up and prepare for the 2022-23 campaign, the Knicks should at least keep their hopes in check.
Though Walker’s prowess in the pick-and-roll can rear up now and again, especially when he rises and fires right after brushing by a screen near the top of the key, he’s been progressing in the wrong direction for years and has had trouble staying healthy time and time again. Next season will be his age-32 campaign, and (generously listed) 6-foot-0 point guards dependent on speed to create separation haven’t historically aged gracefully after entering their 30s.
Perhaps the extra rest and recovery time will serve Walker well and help stave off the grips of old age — old by NBA standards, at least — but New York fans used to disappointment in recent
years decades might need to prepare themselves for more of the same.