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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Derrick Rose’s strong play for Knicks may cost Kemba Walker time

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Sunday at the Garden, the Knicks will face a point guard of past interest in Cleveland’s Collin Sexton.

Before the draft, the Knicks engaged in talks with the Cavaliers, who were leery about Sexton’s contract demands in the future. No trade was consummated, and the Cavaliers did not reach a contract-extension agreement with Sexton at the October deadline.

So Sexton becomes a restricted free agent this summer, thus his name has not been erased from the Knicks’ list.

With the pass on Sexton, the Knicks solved their point-guard woes by getting Kemba Walker to agree to a buyout with Oklahoma City then signed him to a two-year, $18 million deal.

It is ironic Sexton comes to the Garden just now. Walker is coming off two lackluster, single-digit outings and faces his first back-to back as the Knicks visit Philadelphia on Monday.

Will Walker play in both games? And should he?

All was right in the Knicks universe with this point-guard platoon of Walker starting and Derrick Rose coming off the bench until recently.

Knicks
Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker
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With less explosiveness getting to the basket because of his arthritic knee, Walker appears more serviceable than star, while Rose can still have vintage nights like the one in Milwaukee on Friday when the Knicks posted an upset over the 2021 champs.

But don’t use the word “vintage” to Rose, who doesn’t feel he’s fallen off that much in terms of his basketball skill.

When a question about “vintage’’ performance was asked to Rose, Julius Randle, having just stepped into the interview room in Milwaukee, shook his head: “It’s not vintage,’’ Randle said.

Later, Randle explained.

“Look at the tape. who he was as MVP and who he is now. I would say he’s a much more complete better player than he was then,’’ Randle said. “It’s nothing really vintage about it. It’s evolved and become a much better player. Understanding of the game, clear mindset, he’s extremely wise, so it’s not really vintage, he’s evolving.’’

And so is a potential point-guard controversy. Walker is last on the Knicks in plus-minus (minus-42), Rose first (plus-95). That’s jarring.

Last week, Rose seemed to struggle with lesser minutes and a lesser role than last season because of Walker’s presence. He combined for just nine points in games agsinst New Orleans and Toronto.

Thibodeau finally broke point guard protocol in giving Rose more minutes in Brew City. The 2010 MVP spearheaded the Knicks’ comeback from 21 points down early in the second quarter. Rose, 33, finished with 23 points in 31 minutes (on 10-of-18 shooting), four assists and eight rebounds as the Knicks blew the Bucks out.

Friday, Thibodeau saw the hot hand and let Rose blossom. Walker was held to 15 minutes. The Bronx legend was used in the exact same pattern as the Knicks used last season when starter Elfrid Payton played the game’s first seven minutes and Rose finished it into intermission. The same rotation applied in the second half.

Cavaliers
Collin Sexton
Getty Images

Rose felt at peace on this Milwaukee night when the champs went down.

I think this is the clearest [I’ve been] — I’m playing with joy,’’ Rose said. “It ain’t happiness. It’s joy. I’ve been through a lot. I’m in a great place. And I’m on a team, a very talented team.’’

Thibodeau must know it’s a sticky issue and frowned when the topic of Rose getting more minutes was raised. But it’s not going away. Walker, known as a stellar teammate, likely will be OK about accepting a much-lesser role than he’s used to in his hometown.

Rose gave a hint he knew this might be coming last week in Indianapolis when he said during shootaround, “I know later on down the line I’m probably going to play more.’’

That time might have arrived with Sexton in the house. Sexton is not off to a good start from 3-point range (27 percent), but he’s a young ball of talent and adjusting to a new role off the ball.

One league source believes Sexton would be perfect for Thibodeau because he’s an epically relentless worker.

For now, Thibodeau must navigate the egos of Rose and Walker as he divvies up minutes to two former All-Stars.

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