Kemba Walker knows Madison Square Garden well and would be an excellent fit on a revamped New York Knicks team.
That isn’t exactly a shock. After all, the former Connecticut Husky has to compete with a plethora of names bigger than his like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and the list goes on. Those three names alone have four championship rings, two MVP trophies, and 19 combined All-Star selections.
Walker is no slouch—he has made three consecutive All-Star teams. He is also a former lottery pick and has blossomed into an excellent scoring point guard. Moreover, he is also a great leader on the court.
Oh, and did I mention he’s from New York?
It would sting if the New York Knicks missed out on Durant and Irving this summer, fans, but Kemba Walker too would be an excellent pickup.
The prodigal son returns
Walker’s New York ties speak for themselves. He was a five-star recruit out of Rice High School in the class of 2008 and was also a McDonald’s All-American. Prior to committing to UConn, Walker also considered offers from St. John’s, Georgetown, Miami, and Memphis.
Going to Uconn eventually turned him into a household name and in his junior year, the Kemba Walker we know today was born. His buzzer-beating jumper against Pittsburgh in the 2011 Big East Tournament propelled UConn to an NCAA Championship, and Walker averaged 23.5 points and 5.7 assists in the tournament.
Walker subsequently declared for the NBA draft and was picked ninth overall by the Charlotte Bobcats. He only shot 36.6 percent from the field as a rookie, but averaged 12.1 points and 4.4 assists per game. That’s not bad for someone just 6-foot-1, 184 pounds.
Walker’s play improved to the point where Charlotte, who had since become the Hornets again, gave him a four-year, $48 million extension at the start of the 2014-15 season. He’s averaging 22 points and 5.5 assists per contest since inking that deal and has greatly improved his shot.
Throw in Walker’s career-high 25.6 points per game scoring average this past season, and he is easily in max contract territory.
The Knicks' chances
And though the Knicks’ top priorities in free agency will surely be Durant and Irving, GM Scott Perry shouldn’t put all his eggs in that basket. Yes, the Knicks have nearly $73 million in cap space, but they’ll have some competition. The Los Angeles Clippers, for example, have about $59.6 million to spend and are already a playoff team. One could argue adding one max free agent is enough to make them a top team in the West.
Not only that, but the Knicks’ free agency pitch this summer isn’t quite set in stone. Head coach David Fizdale is widely respected, but the roster, as it is now, is very much young talent with a high ceiling as opposed to proven star power. Adding a top-five draft pick to the equation sweetens the pot, but being a team known for drama also works against the Knicks.
Enter Kemba Walker, whose scoring abilities are perfect for today’s NBA. Not only that, but he’s from New York. He knows the fans have suffered for a long time and expect results. It’s like I’ve said before, these are people willing to pay five bucks for a slice of pizza, sometimes more. Their standards are high.
Walker also knows he can handle playing at Madison Square Garden. He played in three Big East Tournaments while at UConn, winning one. If there’s anyone who can handle the pressure in New York.
Between that and his on-court skills, convincing him to come home could be a walk in the park compared to wooing Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving.
Does he fit?
Granted, Walker said back in September he wanted to stay in Charlotte, but that was before the Hornets missed the playoffs again. Walker has only been the playoffs twice in his young career, losing in the first round both times.
Look at it this way. Walker’s career VORP is 23.2, or a 62.64 career WAR by baseball standards. That’s excellent production in his eight years in the league. Now, let’s take a look at that of Lamb, who ranked second on the team with 15.3 points per game. His career VORP is only 3.4, or a 9.18 WAR, and he has been in the league just a year less than his onetime college teammate.
In New York, however, Kemba Walker could become an institution. He would literally be coming home. Not only that, but imagine how well the Knicks’ youth would develop with Walker leading the team. Kevin Knox could turn into a dangerous wing. Mitchell Robinson would become a more dominant center. Even Dennis Smith Jr. could become a better guard under Walker’s tutelage.
Oh, and what if the Knicks land Duke star Zion Williamson in June’s draft? That sounds like a borderline playoff team already.
The long and short of it is Kemba Walker just makes sense for New York. He and the Knicks go together like bagels and lox; hot dogs and coconut punch at Gray’s Papaya; Law and Order: SVU and rainy weekend afternoons.
Given New York’s position this summer, he should be high on their priority list. If reports of Irving being “disengaged” in Boston are true, does New York want to risk having that energy around if things don’t work out as planned?
Even though Walker said earlier this month he still wants to stay in Charlotte, that won’t be official until he signs a new contract. Until he and the Hornets make an extension, the Knicks are not out of play.
Kemba Walker is a great fit in New York. If the Knicks can convince him to leave Charlotte, it would be a bigger win than it seems.