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Friday, September 2, 2022

Knicks can’t ask for more from Kemba Walker-Derrick Rose tandem

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Scoring 26.8 points per game. Seven assists. Nearly six rebounds and more than two steals. Just three turnovers.

Few teams can boast this kind of production from the point guard position. It just so happens the Knicks aren’t asking one guy to play the bulk of the minutes.

Together, Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose are giving them superstar numbers.

“D-Rose is a guy I actually played against in high school in the Garden, so for us to be on the same team right now is pretty dope,” Walker said.

The Knicks, off to a 3-1 start, don’t have any complaints so far from the two 30-something guards with seven All-Star selections between them.

Entering training camp, there was some thought there would be a battle at point guard between Walker and Rose. But Rose immediately ended any competition between the two, saying Walker was the starter. It made sense, considering how well Rose played with the second unit last season. It, however, didn’t resolve the most important question: Who would finish?

Derrick Rose #4 and Kemba Walker #8 of the New York Knicks high five
Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker are givng the Knicks top-end point guard play.
Getty Images

In the season-opening double-OT win against Boston, Walker closed out regulation and the first overtime, but Rose went in for the second extra stanza and helped the Knicks prevail. The second game was a blowout victory, but in the third game against the Magic, Rose finished as one of the few Knicks who were playing well. Walker, after his offensive explosion keyed a 39-16 second quarter, was the point guard at the end of Tuesday’s win over Sixers.

“There’s gonna be games where I do score like that, maybe even more. There’s gonna be games where I don’t,” Walker said. “There’s gonna be games where Derrick is playing super well, and he’s gonna stay in the game. It just is what it is. … There’s gonna be games where I’m not gonna get back on the court just because guys are playing super well. And I have no problem with that, especially D-Rose, the youngest MVP ever.”

Having two capable point guards should help both of them, considering Rose (33) and Walker (31) are both north of 30 and have battled injuries for significant stretches of their careers. The hope is that allows coach Tom Thibodeau to not play either one major minutes and keep them fresh all season. So far, Walker is averaging 26.3 minutes, slightly more than Rose’s 23.5.

They have both been productive, although Rose has been more consistent. They are each shooting better than 50 percent from 3-point range. Walker is notching 12.5 points, 3.0 assists and 2.8 rebounds and Rose is tallying 14.3 points, 4.0 assists and 3.9 rebounds. It helps that the two are friends — Walker has said he’s always been a big Rose fan — going back to facing each other as high school stars at the Garden 14 years ago.

“He’s playing super well, and I want him to continue to play well,” Walker said. “We just gonna feed off each other, you know?”

Walker would obviously prefer to be on the floor and closing out every game. But the new Knicks point guard also understands the situation.

Thibodeau is going to go with the hot hand. If that’s Walker, he’ll finish, like he did in Tuesday’s win over the 76ers. But if Rose is having the better game, as he did in Sunday’s loss to the Magic, Walker may find himself on the bench down the stretch.

“I’m a team player, man. I’m a team player,” Walker, the Bronx native, said. “If Coach makes that decision, I gotta live with it. What can I say? As long as he’s firm in his decision, I could care less. He’s trying to win.”

It’s only natural that it takes Walker time to find his groove. He’s playing for a new team in a new city (even if it is home) with new teammates. Adjustments have to be made. Tuesday night, though, showed his potential.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a relief, but it definitely felt good,” he said. 

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