A successful night in Atlanta should leave Tom Thibodeau with plenty to ponder about his rotation.
The obvious difference in Saturday’s 99-90 was inserting Alec Burks into the lineup, a forced maneuver because both Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose were inactive. Burks caught fire while dropping 23 points and also provided Thibodeau with size on defense, which is something the coach appreciated in last season’s starter Elfrid Payton.
“What Alec gives us is size and his ability to contain the ball and also his playmaking ability,” Thibodeau said. “And his shooting. And when you add all that up, it adds a lot.”
Against the backdrop of Walker’s continued struggles (the Knicks have been outscored by 122 points this season with Walker on the court) – and with two nights off before the Knicks’ game in Brooklyn — there’s an opportunity for a hard look at the lineup.
Thibodeau has been loyal to his initial impressions, however. Injuries notwithstanding, he maintained the same starting lineup all last season.
“There’s always decisions to be made, so we’re always going to do what’s best for the team,” Thibodeau said in Saturday’s postgame presser.
Evan Fournier, who played well alongside Burks in the backcourt while scoring 20 points, offered further details about the differences between point guards.
“(Burks) has different tendencies than Kemba,” Fournier said. “For example, on pick-and-rolls he likes to put the guard on his hip and try to bring the defense close or either throw a floater or a lob. He probably plays with less pace than Kemba. So it’s really about players’ tendencies. He obviously did a great job tonight obviously. He shot the hell out of the ball. And it was good to see him being very aggressive.”
Walker, who was signed in the offseason for two years, $18 million, has started every game he’s been available but is averaging just 24.5 minutes. The 31-year-old, who was ruled out Saturday to rest his knee, logged only 10 fourth-quarter minutes combined in the last 11 games.
Beyond the point guard situation, Thibodeau continues to search for a consistent rotation amid strong play from the reserves. Rookie Jericho Sims entered the conversation with a breakthrough performance in Atlanta, where he outplayed starter Mitchell Robinson and boosted New York’s defense with his energy and athleticism.
“We’re learning a lot about our group. We’re figuring out rotations,” Thibodeau said. “So hopefully we can keep moving forward.”