Knicks bench Kemba Walker for Alec Burks on a sharp shift


The Knicks are making a drastic change in point guard in just 20 games on the season.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau announced Monday that Alec Burks will be the starter after a 23-point performance in his first start during Saturday’s win in Atlanta. Bronx product Kemba Walker will be out of rotation “for a while” starting Tuesday night’s game against the Nets in Brooklyn.

“It’s a tough decision to make, but you always have to do what’s best for the team,” Thibodeau said after Monday’s practice. “I see Kemba as a starter … and Kemba is a guy, number one, and I have great respect for everything he has accomplished in this league. But I have to do what I feel is best for the team.

Walker, 31, signed a two-year contract worth $ 18 million over the summer.

Derrick Rose did not play Saturday due to an ankle sprain, and Tuesday’s game against the Nets is questionable, but announcing Thibodeau’s departure from Walker’s rotation suggests that Rose should return to Brooklyn. Thibodeau also said he prefers to “tighten” his rotation from 10 players to nine.

“The way we are trending, I don’t like our team’s anomaly and we are trying to make a difference,” Thibodeau said of switching to 6-foot-6 Berks. “I want to be big. … I want our defense to be more intact.

Kemba Walker takes the ball into the court against the Sun.
Getty Images

“Size is a big thing. It makes us bigger. We have smaller guards and you add [Burks] To the mix, it gives us size in that position. This allows us to do things that benefit the group. So the big thing is getting bigger. Sometimes we play good defense. Other times, we don’t have to. Twenty games out of it, we want to see something different.

While Berks is averaging 10.5 points per game in 22.3 minutes, Walker’s chances of getting out of the rotation increase. Thibodeau got into trouble with Elfrid Payton, who departed as his starting point guard throughout the regular season a year ago, before replacing him in the lineup with Rose in the playoffs.

“I trust the coach. He’s going to do what he thinks is best for the team,” said leading scorer Julius Randle. “Our job is to go out there and play.

“Kemba is great, she’s great in the locker room, great teammate, that’s all. So, he still does the same. But the coaches felt like it was just 20 games, they didn’t want to wait and change things.

Alec Burks drives against the sun
Alec Burks drives against the sun
NBAE by Getty Images

Rose’s absence on Saturday night left the “Q-rating” backcourt of second-year guard Emmanuel Quickly and rookie Quentin Grimes in the second unit along with Obi Toppin and rookie center Jericho Sims. The latter got extended minutes (season-high 21) while big men Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson were also out with injuries to the Knicks (11-9).

“I’m telling you,” Thibodeau said. “I see them every day. Every day they come quickly. They put a lot of work into it. They are fierce competitors. They are eager to learn. They are good to be around.

“They played like that. That’s the way they practice it. I see it every day. It’s not the end, but they went out there and they did well together.

Walker, a four-time All-Star, averaged 11.7 points per game through 24 appearances per game through 18 appearances this season. Both stats are career lows for the former Yukon star. Neither Walker nor Berks became available to the media after Monday’s practice.

Statistically, the contrast is clear, as the Knicks have the worst defensive rating of any team in the NBA when Walker is on the court and plays the best in the league when he is on the bench. He ranks 27th in offense playing and ninth when he is not on the court.

“I understand, man. It’s tough, especially when you accomplish so much in this league,” Randall said of Walker. Blow up steam. I will be in his favor anyway.

“It’s tough, man. He’s the best player in the league so far. He’s done a really good job and is a good teammate here. We do what we think is best.

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