Kemba Walker returned to action on Tuesday night for the Knicks after a nine-game absence prompted by a sore left knee.
Immediately inserted back in the starter’s role, circumstance has allowed him to come back from basketball’s version of banishment to Siberia — also known as being taken out of the Knicks’ rotation altogether by head coach Tom Thibodeau last month, resulting in a nine-game benching — and return to his originally-perceived role as starter.
The four-time All-Star posted 19 points (17 of them in the second half) with four assists and four three-pointers in nearly 30 minutes of play in the Knicks’ last-minute home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves that dropped them back under .500 (22-23).
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“I felt good,” Walker said. “It was good to be out there with my teammates and try to get a win. I just needed rest. I was a little sore for a while and I just needed to feel good enough to get back on the court. [Tuesday] was the night.”
His return gives the Knicks another option at the point guard position after Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley shouldered the burden that came with Walker’s absence. Derrick Rose’s ankle injury also forced the duo to spend more time at the 1 rather than the 2.
“It means a lot to get a player like [Walker] back,” Thibodeau said. “He gives you strong point guard play, good shooting, playmaking, and he puts a lot of pressure on the defense and forces them to put two on the ball.
“We actually have good depth right now, so we’ll just go from there.”
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Burks’ and Quickley’s minutes at the point should decrease, but Thibodeau will also have the option of keeping rookie first-round pick Quentin Grimes in the mix after he showed some good things. During Walker’s nine-game absence, Grimes averaged roughly 20 minutes per game while shooting 48.7% from the field and 41.4% from three-point range.
“Grimes has been playing great basketball. But it’s just step-by-step. You earn your minutes here,” Thibodeau said. “What you do in practice. You have to wait for your opportunity and when your opportunity comes, be ready to go. But as I mentioned to you guys before, there’s a finite amount of minutes. There are 240 minutes.
“So the guys who are performing well and getting the job done, they’re in there. Whoever gives us the best chance to win, that’s who we go with and no one individual’s development is more important than another individual’s development. So we’re always going to do what’s best for the team.”