The reasons Knicks’ Kemba Walker finally broke out against Sixers
During Tuesday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, something finally happened for the New York Knicks — career 20-point per game scorer Kemba Walker broke out of his shell, leading the team with 19 points in New York’s well-balanced rout of the Sixers, 112-99.
Walker had struggled through the first three games of the season, at least by his standards — he maxed out at 11 points in the Knicks’ rout of the Orlando Magic last Friday and had 10 in each of the Knicks’ other two games. It was such a small sample size that it wasn’t worth fully worrying about, but was more something to keep an eye on.
Luckily, those waiting for the break out didn’t have to wait long. Walker looked much more comfortable than he had in the early goings of the season on Tuesday night against the Sixers, embracing a role where he was both using a quick trigger on self-created offense, and also finding spots for Julius Randle and others to kick to him as a spot-up shooter. The variety of looks is something that Kemba will need to get used to.
Look at Walker’s first make of the game, as he got himself going in the second quarter en route to leading New York on a monster 39-16 push to give the Knicks a lead they ultimately would never give up:
Classic Kemba. Randle gives him the ball and sets a quick screen for a pick-and-pop, while Mitchell Robinson sets a second screen and dives towards the hoop. But this is Kemba Walker we’re talking about. In the first couple games, he seemed to be trying a bit too hard to get others involved. If this were the first or second game, he may have tried to force a pass into Robinson. Instead, he uses the space his two bigs gave him and pulls up to splash a quick midrange shot.
It wouldn’t take long for Walker to find another opportunity for some quick points:
This play provides a great blueprint for Walker and Randle to find success together for the Knicks. Randle brings the ball down the floor, trots it over to a streaking Kemba around the 3-point line, hands off to Walker and sets a screen. Seth Curry attempts to keep up with Walker and go over the screen, but Randle is a big dude to try to get around, and Walker’s quick pull-up and release are pretty impossible to guard if you give him even an inch of space to work with. Taj Gibson would set some high screens for Walker on other looks throughout the game as well, which gave him lots of room to work with:
@shwinnypooh has been saying the Knicks should set screens higher for Kemba, so he can have more of a runway to pull up from 3. Look at how much room he has to shoot here when Taj sets the screen up high. Definitely something the Knicks should continue to do pic.twitter.com/6HjvMwxwhp
— Ariel (@APachecoNBA) October 27, 2021
Later on in the game, the Knicks guard would make a spot-up three off an assist from Randle, getting himself to just the right position for an easy elbow three. And that really shows the blueprint for making this Randle/Walker marriage work — leaning into Kemba’s strengths early (using pick-and-roll and screens to get open for pull-up shots) to get him comfortable and in rhythm so he can hit spot-up looks later when Randle will be tasked more with running the offense.
One thing is for sure after the win over the Sixers: with Kemba firing on all cylinders, the Knicks are a much more dangerous team that can score a ton of points in a short amount of time. As his and Randle’s comfort level together grows, the Knicks might be able to go even higher than an offense that already has tied the record for most 3-pointers in NBA history through four games.