The Detroit Pistons and Kemba Walker are finalising a contract buyout that will allow the four-time All-Star to enter free agency, ESPN reported on Thursday.

The move was expected after the rebuilding Pistons acquired Walker from the New York Knicks last week as part of a three-team trade that also netted Detroit rookie big man Jalen Duran, the 13th overall pick of this year’s draft.

Walker was due to earn nearly $9.2million in the final season of a two-year, $18m contract the New York City native signed with the Knicks last summer.

It is the second straight year Walker has had his contract bought out after being traded. The 32-year-old point guard was dealt from Boston to Oklahoma City in June 2021, with Walker later agreeing to relinquish $20m of the nearly $74m he was owed on his former deal to become a free agent.

Walker played in only 37 games during his lone season with the Knicks and averaged a career-low 11.4 points per game while shooting just 40.3 per cent from the field.

He fell out of coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation in November and did not play at all after the All-Star break due to chronic knee problems that had hampered him in previous years as well.

The former University of Connecticut standout has not appeared in more than 56 games in any of the past three seasons, though he was an All-Star as recently as 2019-20 when he averaged 20.4 points and 4.8 assists per game in his first of two seasons with the Celtics.

New York and Detroit have been active trade partners this offseason, with the Knicks also sending veterans Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel to the Pistons in a separate deal.

The move cleared nearly $20m of cap space for the Knicks, who are expected to make a strong push for Dallas Mavericks point guard Jalen Brunson in free agency.

The Detroit Pistons and Kemba Walker are finalising a contract buyout that will allow the four-time All-Star to enter free agency, ESPN reported on Thursday.

The move was expected after the rebuilding Pistons acquired Walker from the New York Knicks last week as part of a three-team trade that also netted Detroit rookie big man Jalen Duran, the 13th overall pick of this year’s draft.

Walker was due to earn nearly $9.2million in the final season of a two-year, $18m contract the New York City native signed with the Knicks last summer.

It is the second straight year Walker has had his contract bought out after being traded. The 32-year-old point guard was dealt from Boston to Oklahoma City in June 2021, with Walker later agreeing to relinquish $20m of the nearly $74m he was owed on his former deal to become a free agent.

Walker played in only 37 games during his lone season with the Knicks and averaged a career-low 11.4 points per game while shooting just 40.3 per cent from the field.

He fell out of coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation in November and did not play at all after the All-Star break due to chronic knee problems that had hampered him in previous years as well.

The former University of Connecticut standout has not appeared in more than 56 games in any of the past three seasons, though he was an All-Star as recently as 2019-20 when he averaged 20.4 points and 4.8 assists per game in his first of two seasons with the Celtics.

New York and Detroit have been active trade partners this offseason, with the Knicks also sending veterans Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel to the Pistons in a separate deal.

The move cleared nearly $20m of cap space for the Knicks, who are expected to make a strong push for Dallas Mavericks point guard Jalen Brunson in free agency.

It always feels somewhat presumptuous to talk about an NBA Draft in the immediate aftermath and judge who did well and who did not. Surely, we have to wait to see how things play out and whether players with immense potential are able to fulfil it?

However, what you can do is judge those who, on paper at least, seem to have struck gold and those who appeared to stumble through their Thursday evening and may well have come away disappointed with their haul.

The night started off delightfully chaotically as the Orlando Magic went against the widely predicted number one pick of Jabari Smith Jr and instead brought in Paolo Banchero.

Now the dust has settled after an interesting night, Stats Perform has taken a look at the potential winners and losers of the draft.

Winners

Houston Rockets

The Rockets could probably not believe their luck when the Magic decided to opt for Banchero. The Italian-American would have still been a fine first-round pick, but given the choice it seems like Houston would rather have taken Smith Jr, and they had the chance to do just that.

The youngster was a disruptive defender for Aubern, and clearly has sound fundamentals, a result no doubt of growing up in and around basketball, with his father Jabari Smith Sr a former NBA player himself.

Smith Jr averaged 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists while shooting 42.9 per cent from the floor and 42 per cent from the three-point line in 2021-22, and should dovetail nicely with Alperen Sengun, a first-round pick from last year.

The Rockets also took Tari Eason, a breakout star at LSU, and TyTy Washington, a high-quality and versatile option who was expected to be picked up earlier in the night.

Detroit Pistons

A very similar moment of fortune fell for the Pistons as their top choice Jaden Ivey was surprisingly still available when it came to their number five pick, with the Sacramento Kings instead taking Keegan Murray.

In two seasons at Purdue, Ivey showed himself to be a top-five prospect with a well-rounded game, though questions persist about the consistency of his shooting. He averaged 17.3 points per game last season, though, with a field goal percentage of 46.0.

Detroit were also involved in a three-way trade with the Charlotte Hornets and the New York Knicks. This ended with them procuring Jalen Duren and Kemba Walker in exchange for their 2025 first-round pick, having acquired it as part of the Jerami Grant trade to the Portland Trail Blazers earlier in the week.

Walker is expected to be bought out of his contract and become a free agent, so it looks like sound dealing to essentially trade a first-round pick to get Duren through the door, who averaged 12.0 points and 8.1 rebounds per game for the Memphis Tigers last season.

San Antonio Spurs

Nothing outrageous from the Spurs, but on the face of it, they ended the night with three solid picks.

Jeremy Sochan became the first British player to be picked in NBA Draft in over 10 years. As a freshman at Baylor, Sochan averaged 9.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in 25.1 minutes per game, making 47.4 per cent of his field goal attempts.

As that average suggests, one aspect to his game that could be improved is his shooting, but San Antonio's Chip Engelland is one of the best shooting coaches in the game and could well help the young man who was raised in Milton Keynes, England.

Malaki Branham looks a smart choice as the number 20 pick from Ohio State, with his one college season seeing him average 13.7 points on 49.8 per cent shooting, while Blake Wesley from Notre Dame also has the potential to also be a valuable arrival.

Losers

New York Knicks

After a poor season that felt like it would at least set them up for a productive draft, the Knicks appeared to overthink things at the draft, or underthink them depending on your viewpoint.

They decided to trade their number 11 pick for three future first-round picks, though none that really hold any value.

They managed to get Walker's contract out the door to the Pistons to free up some salary space, seemingly putting all their eggs in the Jalen Brunson basket, or potentially even Kyrie Irving. However, they only saved $9.2m from Walker's contract, which is not a lot considering they gave up one of their first-round picks. 

Who knows if it will pay off, but Knicks fans were almost certainly expecting more.

Washington Wizards

There was nothing particularly wrong with the picks from the Wizards, but as harsh as it may sound, they are in danger of becoming the NBA's dullest team.

A win percentage of 0.427 was down from 0.472 in 2020-21, and it felt like they might need to take a bit of a risk in the draft with their number 10 pick.

Johnny Davis is a fine player, averaging 19.7 points per game for the Wisconsin Badgers last year, the 25th highest in the college game, but someone like Duren could have been a roll of the dice for something to boost that win percentage sometime soon.

Who knows? It could be a sound strategy, but to be frank, it is a strategy that has not been working for the last few years in Washington.

Sacramento Kings

There is some sympathy with the situation the Kings were put in as the extremely obvious pick at four was Ivey, who had expressly said he did not want to go to Sacramento, so they went with Murray instead.

Murray is a fine prospect himself, and arguably a better fit than Ivey for the Kings, but the latter felt like an opportunity to at the very least have significant trade leverage.

Murray did average the fourth-highest points per game average last year with 23.5 for Iowa, while also adding 8.7 rebounds per game, so comes in as a promising addition.

Ivey will inevitably feel like the one who got away if he does what many think he will at Detroit, though, which could bring back memories of when Sacramento failed to take on Luka Doncic in 2018.

To open up salary cap room, the New York Knicks guard Kemba Walker has been traded to the Detroit Pistons, as part of a three-team deal with the Charlotte Hornets.

The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Walker will move to Detroit along with Jalen Duren, who was taken with the 13th pick by the Hornets in Thursday's NBA Draft.

Meanwhile, the Pistons are sending the Hornets the 2025 first-round pick, after acquiring it as part of the Jerami Grant trade to the Portland Trail Blazers earlier in the week.

Amid struggles with knee injury, Walker averaged 11.6 points, 3.5 assists and three rebounds in 37 games for the Knicks last season.

Although ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Walker is expected to discuss a buyout that will allow him to become a free agent, Pistons general manager Troy Weaver has taken two of his reported top targets in Duren and Jaden Ivey in the draft, at the sole cost of a future first-round pick.

James Harden marked his return to action with a telling triple-double as the Brooklyn Nets snatched a dramatic 122-115 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

For the Lakers, LeBron James scored 39 points and became the NBA's highest scorer all-time in Christmas Day games, reaching 422 points on December 25 across his career to surpass Kobe Bryant's 395 haul.

However, Russell Westbrook shot only 4-of-20 from the field, meaning his own triple-double of 13 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists was tinged with disappointment.

It allowed Harden and Patty Mills to guide the Nets to a hard-earned win over a Lakers side who have lost five successive games to slide to 16-18 for the season.

Mills matched a career-best with 34 points, and his eight three-pointers established a new NBA record for Christmas Day.

 

Harden's haul of 36 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists came in his first game out of COVID-19 protocols and boosted the shorthanded Nets to 22-9, with Brooklyn rallying despite being without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and LaMarcus Aldridge, among others.

The Lakers trailed 102-82 entering the final quarter but got back to 115-115 with 45 seconds remaining, yet Nic Claxton restored Brooklyn's lead, and Harden's accuracy from the free-throw line saw them pull clear in the closing moments.

This was the first Christmas Day game with multiple triple-doubles, the NBA said.


Antetokounmpo rebounds with stellar show

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo joined Harden in making a stellar return to action, after also serving time in isolation due to the health and safety protocols.

After missing five games, Antetokounmpo scored 36 points and had 12 rebounds in a 117-113 win for the Bucks over the Boston Celtics.

That improved the Bucks, who sit third in the Eastern Conference, to 22-13 for the season. It was the fifth time this season that Antetokounmpo has topped 35 points in a game.

Christmas Curry proves a rare treat

Heading into the Golden State Warriors' game with the Phoenix Suns, Stephen Curry was averaging a meagre 13.1 points in his eight career games on Christmas. That ranked as his worst average points haul on any date he has played on more than twice.

This time Curry came good though, bagging a game-high 33 points in a 116-107 win for the Warriors.

There was cause for Christmas cheer for the New York Knicks' Kemba Walker too. The Knicks landed a 101-87 win over the Atlanta Hawks, led by Julius Randle's 25 points and 12 rebounds, with Walker weighing in with the team's first triple-double on Christmas Day. He finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists, and on the right side of the scoreboard.

In what had been a foregone conclusion for years, the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry officially affirmed himself as the greatest 3-point shooter in NBA history just 11 days before Christmas.

Receiving a pass from Andrew Wiggins at the right wing at Madison Square Garden on December 14, Curry quickly put up a shot from 28 feet out that swished through the net for his 2,974th career 3-pointer, surpassing Ray Allen’s mark.

Curry has revolutionised the game of basketball, and while he didn't invent the 3-point shot, he is credited with being the first one to truly exploit its value.

He broke Allen's tally in 511 fewer games – that's more than six seasons – and when the three-time NBA champion and two-time league MVP finally decides to retire, it's conceivable he could have well over 5,000 made 3s.

While Curry is the best 3-pointer shooter to ever pick up a basketball, you would never guess it by his performances on Christmas.

This will be Curry's ninth game on Christmas, and the NBA's all-time 3-point king has never made more than two 3-pointers in a game on December 25.

That's right, the man who averages 3.8 made 3-pointers a game – the best in league history – and has an NBA-best 517 games with at least three 3-pointers made, is averaging 1.3 made 3s on Christmas.

This season alone, Curry is averaging 5.4 made 3-pointers a game, which beats out the 5.3 he averaged per game last season and the 5.1 he averaged in 2015-16 and again 2018-19 for the best in a single season in NBA history. No other player has averaged more than 4.8 made 3s in a season.

He also enters this Christmas having made at least three 3-pointers in each of his last 14 games, which is tied for the eighth-longest streak in NBA history (Curry is responsible for four of the seven longer streaks). But now he takes the court on a day when all those shots that routinely go through the hoop for him clank off the rim.

In his eight prior Christmas games, Curry has made 0, 0, 2, 1, 1, 2, 2 and 2 3-pointers giving him just 10 made 3s. He's made at least 10 3-pointers in a single game 22 times in his career – 17 more than Klay Thompson, who ranks second on the list.

Just how incomprehensible is it that Curry has never hit at least three 3-pointers on Christmas? There have been 292 times in his career where he's drained at least three 3-pointers in a quarter. Since Curry's 2009-10 rookie season, the only other player with more than 150 quarters with at least three 3-pointers made is Damian Lillard with 166.

Well, perhaps he's not attempting as many 3-pointers on December 25. Nope, that's not the case, he's simply missing badly, shooting 20.4 per cent on his 49 shots from beyond the arc. Just for the sake of comparison, of the 174 players with at least 80 3-point attempts this season, Curry's 20.4 per cent would finish dead last.

His 20.4 per cent shooting from 3-point range on December 25 is his second worst for a date he's played at least three games, beating out only the 17.6 per cent he's shot in three games on December 16.

Curry is typically deadly from the wing, knocking down 43.2 per cent of his shots from there to trail only Joe Harris' 43.3 per cent shooting for the best by any player who started his career in 2003 or later with at least 500 attempts from the wing. However, on Christmas, Curry is abysmal from the wing, misfiring on 28 of his 32 attempts to connect just 12.5 per cent of the time.

Overall, on Christmas he's shooting 30.2 per cent from the floor, which is his worst for a single day with a minimum of three games played. And not only is Curry's shooting on December 25 his worst for any single day, but it's also the worst for anyone who's played on Christmas since 1983 with a minimum of 50 attempts.

Not surprising given his shooting struggles, Curry is averaging 13.1 points on Christmas – 11.2 fewer than his career average – which, again, marks his lowest scoring average for any day in which he's played in at least three games.

It's just about unfathomable for someone with a 24.3-scoring average and 540 career 20-point games, but he has never scored more than 19 points on his eight Christmas Day games. There is only one other date Curry has played more than one game and failed to score 20 points and that is February 16 – and he's had six fewer opportunities, playing just twice on that day.

Part of Curry's Christmas shooting woes could stem from the competition he's facing. The NBA constructs a doozy of a schedule on Christmas Day, pitting the best teams up against one another with one marquee matchup followed by another. So, Curry's Warriors often find themselves in a playoff rematch or a date with another formidable foe.

And while he's struggled mightily on his Christmas Day matchups, Curry has often faced those same teams at other points in the same season and not had the same problems, averaging 20.3 points, on 48.9 per cent shooting from the field and 47.4 per cent from 3-point range.

Just last Christmas, Curry finished with 19 points on 6-of-17 shooting – including 2-of-10 on 3-pointers – in Golden State's 138-99 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. He got a measure of revenge in a rematch with the eventual champion Bucks later in April, exploding for 41 points while shooting 66.7 per cent and making half of his 10 3-point attempts in a one-point victory.

This Christmas, Curry and the Warriors face another huge challenge with a visit to the Phoenix Suns in a showdown between the teams with the league's best two records.

But if his last trip to the desert was any indication, Curry could be in for another long night. Just over three weeks ago on November 30, Curry had his worst shooting performance of the season, going 4-of-21 from the floor (19.0 per cent) and 3-of-14 (21.4 per cent) from beyond the arc for 12 points in a 104-96 loss at Phoenix.

Three days later against the same Suns team, Curry was a bit better, shooting 40 per cent on 20 field goal attempts and going 6-of-11 from the perimeter with 23 points in a 22-point win.

This time, though, he certainly seems poised to exorcise the ghost of Christmas past. He arrives back in Arizona coming off a 46-point performance while draining eight 3s in Thursday's win over the Memphis Grizzlies for his third straight game scoring at least 30 points – the first time this season he's accomplished that.

For the greatest 3-point shooter of all time, it seems that Curry can't possibly have another clunker on Christmas. He's too good to have been in such a funk and it doesn't seem to make sense he would struggle so much on one particular day – unless of course, he doesn't believe in Santa Claus.

Stephen Curry scored 46 points including eight three-pointers as the Golden State Warriors defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 113-104 on Thursday.

Curry fell four points shy of his season-high 50-point haul but dominated throughout for the Warriors, shooting eight-of-14 from beyond the arc with four rebounds and four assists. The two-time MVP brought up his third return of 45 points or more this season.

Gary Payton II played a key role in the starting rotation with 22 points with four triples including a clutch three-pointer in the fourth quarter.

Curry's haul marked a return to form as Golden State improved to 26-6, remain one-half game behind the Phoenix Suns (26-5) for the best record in the NBA ahead of their Christmas Day match-up.

 

LeBron, Kemba and Jokic heroics fall short

LeBron James scored 36 points with nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks but it was not enough to prevent the Los Angeles Lakers from going down 138-110 to the San Antonio Spurs. The result leaves the Lakers with a record below .500 at 16-17 after four straight defeats.

Kemba Walker produced a vintage display with a season-high 44 points with nine rebounds and eight assists as the New York Knicks went down 124-117 to the Washington Wizards.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic's heroics were also in vain as the Denver Nuggets lost 115-107 to the Charlotte Hornets despite the Serbian's 29 points, 21 rebounds and five assists.

Devin Booker (30 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) and Deandre Ayton (19 points, 12 rebounds) led the way as the Suns stayed top and claimed their fifth straight win in a 113-101 triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder, while Khris Middleton (26 points, five rebounds, seven assists) and Jrue Holiday (24 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) delivered again in Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Dallas Mavericks 102-95.

 

Embiid loses his radar

Joel Embiid shot six-of-17 from the field as the Philadelphia 76ers lost 98-96 to the depleted Atlanta Hawks. Embiid finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and two assists.

The NBA season is heating up nicely.

The Phoenix Suns are on fire, the Golden State Warriors are hanging on their coattails, while defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks are fighting back after a slow start to their season.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Pistons and Oklahoma City Thunder cannot buy a win.

Those are the teams, but which players have been impressing, and which are struggling to make an impact? Stats Perform delves into the numbers with the latest edition of NBA Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT...

Luguentz Dort

It is a team game, which Luguentz Dort knows only too well as his increasingly impressive individual numbers are doing little to turn around the fortunes of the Thunder.

The shooting guard failed to score more than 17 points in any of October's games, but came back from missing the defeat to the LA Clippers on the first day of November determined to do something about his team's form.

Dort set about trying to help the Thunder recover from a slow start and managed seven games of over 20 points, including 34 in the win against the Houston Rockets. Unfortunately for him and his teammates, there have been no wins in seven since then, despite the Canadian's best efforts.

His increased total points per game of 11.7 in October to 19.2 in November is the most in the league, while he was fourth for increase in three-pointers made per game (1.2 to 2.8).

Without that leap in form from the 22-year-old, you wonder how much worse Oklahoma City's record would be right now.

Jarrett Allen

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been a streaky team so far this season, but in Allen they have someone who is showing himself to be a real difference maker.

Allen's numbers have increased almost identically to Dort's, with an average of points scored per game going up from 11.7 to 19.0 from October to November.

The 23-year-old also tops the charts for largest increase in total rebounds per game, going from 9.0 in October to 12.8 in November.

The Cavs won six of their first seven games in November, only to then lose their next five, the first three of which against the Celtics, the Nets and the Warriors they were without Allen through illness.

His return has eventually seen form turn back around, with wins against the Magic and the Mavericks followed up by another at the Heat to kick off December.

Jordan Poole

Three-pointers are an increasingly important part of the modern game, and there is little more satisfying than seeing the ball sunk all the way from downtown.

Golden State Warriors fans may be the only ones getting a little bored of them given how many they see these days, with Steph Curry still the king of three-points, but Poole has been more than holding his own with his 51 total this season seeing him only behind Curry (77), Buddy Hield (61) and Lonzo Ball (52) in the standings.

It is Poole's improvement that gets him onto this list, though, having averaged just 1.5 successful three-point attempts per game in October, he upped that to 3.4 in November, the joint-highest league increase with Luka Doncic.

He was also fifth most improved for points scored, going from 14.0 per game in October to 20.3 in November.

This has helped the Warriors to a strong 18-3 record so far, but he even managed to stand out in the recent defeat to the Phoenix Suns, sinking six three-point attempts in a total contribution of 28 points on the night.

GOING COLD...

Kemba Walker

It was all set up to be a feel-good story before the season began as Walker, born in the Bronx, returned to New York to play for the Knicks after years of success with the Charlotte Hornets and Boston Celtics.

The four-time All-Star got off to a promising start, with eight defensive rebounds against his former Celtics in a debut win, and scoring double figures in all six of his October games.

However, November was not so kind to the 31-year-old, with his average of 3.7 three-pointers per game going down to just 1.3, the largest decrease in the league, and only managing double figures in four of his 12 outings.

Walker has never averaged less than his current 11.7 points per game across a season, with a career average of 19.7.

Such has been the drop in form for Walker, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau took the difficult decision to remove him from rotation ahead of the game at the Nets at the end of the month. 

Spencer Dinwiddie

The Washington Wizards point guard started the season with some impressive outings after his arrival from the Brooklyn Nets, including contributing 34 points in his second game against the Indiana Pacers, and scoring 20 or more in three of his five games in October. 

During November, Dinwiddie managed to score 20 or more just twice in 13 games, including failing to add anything to the scoreboard in defeat at the Charlotte Hornets.

His has been the largest decrease in points scored per game across the two months, going from an average of 19.8 in October to 12.8 in November.

The Wizards have not been too inconvenienced by this downturn in form from Dinwiddie, sitting second in the Eastern Conference on 14-8, but coach Wes Unseld Jr would surely love to see the 28-year-old return to his early season showings before too long.

Bam Adebayo

The Miami Heat center is averaging a career-best 18.7 points, along with 10.2 rebounds per game.

However, that number of rebounds has decreased from an average of 14.0 per game in October to 8.7 in November. Still respectable but the second-highest decrease of the month in the league behind only Gorgui Dieng (7.2 to 1.8). 

After registering double figures for rebounds in four of his five October performances, Adebayo only managed to do so in five of his 13 games in November, and unfortunately for him is set to miss the entirety of December after picking up a thumb injury.

The Heat won six of their first seven games, and Adebayo's electric form was a large part of that strong start, but having taken just two victories from their last six outings, will be hoping that when the Olympic gold medallist returns in the New Year, he can rediscover those elite levels.

The New York Knicks have removed struggling star Kemba Walker from the rotation, head coach Tom Thibodeau announced on Monday.

Walker joined the Knicks on a two-year, $20million contract at the start of the season after being bought out by the Oklahoma City Thunder following a trade from the Boston Celtics.

The four-time All-Star, who struggled to reach his lofty heights with the Celtics, has been averaging career lows in points (11.7), assists (3.1), rebounds (2.6), field-goal attempts per game (9.8) and minutes per game (24.5).

Not only has Walker been removed from the starting line-up, but the 31-year-old guard is also not part of the rotation heading into Tuesday's clash with crosstown rivals the Brooklyn Nets.

"It's a tough decision to make, but you always have to do what you think is best for the team," Thibodeau told reporters, with the Knicks turning to Alec Burks.

"I view Kemba as a starter, and so it'd be tough to play three small guards together. I gave it consideration, and I've got great respect for who Kemba is as a person and all he's accomplished in this league.

"But I have to do what I think is best for the team."

The Knicks have struggled for form since ending their playoff drought last season, 11-9 in 2021-22 – three games behind the Eastern Conference-leading Nets and one ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers in 11th position.

The recent history of the New York Knicks is littered with abysmal play, a never-ending coaching carousel and a general lack of excitement for a fanbase starved for a winner.

But all that can be forgotten now that Madison Square Garden is rocking again in support of a team on the rise with a chance to make noise in the NBA playoffs.

After ending a seven-year playoff drought in a surprising first season under head coach Tom Thibodeau in 2020-21, New York is eager for more and might have enough to warrant the newfound optimism surrounding the franchise.

While the Knicks' first postseason appearance since 2012-13 was a short one – a first-round loss to the Atlanta Hawks – it signalled a rebirth for a franchise that had a league-worst .330 winning percentage (184-374) during a run of seven consecutive seasons without playoffs from 2013-14 to 2019-20.

A 41-31 record last season was New York's best since they went 54-28 in 2012-13 and those 41 wins surpassed their total from the two previous campaigns combined (38-110). Maybe that record can be at least partly attributed to a fluky, COVID-19 riddled campaign where the Knicks caught opponents by surprise, but a 25-11 home record and a 25-17 mark against the Eastern Conference shouldn't be overlooked.

Thibodeau was clearly the main catalyst for the reversal, bringing his trademark defence to a team that ranked 17th in opponent scoring (106.1) the previous seven seasons before his arrival. In Thibodeau's first term at the helm, the Knicks led the NBA in that category (104.7) as well as opponent field goal percentage (44.0) and opponent three-point percentage (33.7). He was named NBA Coach of the Year for the second time (Chicago Bulls, 2011).

Besides the obvious difference in the on-court product, Thibodeau brought instant credibility to a franchise that employed six different coaches since the 2012-13 playoff appearance. His .587 career winning percentage (400-282) ranks seventh among active coaches (minimum 100 games).

While team defence and the superb play of Julius Randle carried the Knicks last season, an offensive injection was needed to take the next step.

Bringing in the starting backcourt of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier has made the Knicks a more dangerous perimeter shooting team after Atlanta exposed New York's glaring lack of scoring depth in the playoffs.

In the five-game loss to the Hawks, the Knicks failed to break 100 points in the final three games and shot just 39.8 percent from the field overall. That wasn't a surprise considering New York ranked 26th last season in scoring (107.0), 21st in field-goal percentage (45.6) and 21st in field goals made (847).

Walker is a four-time All-Star who has been one of the NBA's most consistent point producers over the past decade. The Charlotte Hornets' all-time leading scorer, Walker averaged at least 20 points in five straight seasons from 2015-16 to 2019-20 before slipping to 19.3 last season with Boston.

Fournier was acquired in a sign-and-trade with the Celtics after spending the bulk of his career with the Orlando Magic. He has shot at least 40 percent from three-point range in three separate seasons, including knocking down 41.3 percent last season with Orlando and Boston.

Fournier is averaging 13.8 points this season while connecting on 36.1 percent from downtown, starting all 12 games in the backcourt with Walker.

The three-point shot has become a much bigger part of the Knicks' arsenal compared to last season. After taking 30 three-point attempts per game last season, the Knicks have put up 38 threes per contest so far in 2021-22. That plus-eight increase is by far the biggest of any team this year with the Minnesota Timberwolves (6.8) coming next.

The volume of three-pointers has led to an offense that is averaging 110.8 points through 12 games this season, which is the seventh highest in the league. The last time New York averaged more than 110 points per game for a full season was the Patrick Ewing-led 1988-89 team (116.7).

Randle remains the leader and focal point for New York, emerging last season as an All-Star for the first time and winning the NBAs Most Improved Player award in a runaway. Randle set career highs last season in scoring (24.1), rebounding (10.2) and assists (6.0) and while his scoring has dipped to 21.9 this term, that is to be expected with more offensive options on the roster.

Still, Randle is one of five players this season leading their teams in points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game, along with Luka Doncic, Paul George, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Randle could become the first player in franchise history to lead the Knicks in points, rebounds and assists in two different seasons.

In just his third season with the Knicks, he already has 15 games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds. Only Ewing (148) and Carmelo Anthony (29) have more such games for the franchise since Ewing joined New York in 1985.

Randle's value to the Knicks was on display in last Friday's stunning comeback win at defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks. Randle outplayed two-time NBA MVP Antetokounmpo in the second half and finished with 32 points and 12 rebounds as New York overcame a 21-point deficit for a 113-98 win.

That marked the first time in franchise history that the Knicks overcame a 20-point deficit to record a double-digit victory since the NBA began tracking play-by-play in boxscores during the 1997-98 season.

Another key to that win was the stellar play of veteran guard Derrick Rose, who matched a season high with 23 points to go with eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and zero turnovers. He finished with a plus-31 for one of the best marks in the league this season and not far behind his league best-tying plus-34, accomplished in a 121-96 victory over Orlando on October 22.

Rose has played the role of super substitute this season, averaging 13.3 points while shooting 48.9 percent (22 for 45) on three-pointers while amassing a plus-95 rating that is tied for ninth in the NBA.

The Knicks nearly did it to Milwaukee again on Wednesday, erasing a 24-point deficit before falling short in a 112-100 loss. Walker and Fournier combined for just four points, but Rose and Immanuel Quickley totalled 40 off the bench to spark the comeback.

Bench scoring has been another key to New York's early season rise on offense. The Knicks rank sixth in the NBA in scoring from reserves (39.6), with Rose, Alec Burks and Obi Toppin the main contributors.

Quickley has come alive recently, looking more like the player he was last season. The second-year guard has averaged 12.3 points on 48.5 shooting in his past four games after scoring 5.3 in his first eight contests.

Getting the best version of Quickley would help ease the pressure on Walker and Rose and would go a long way toward keeping the veteran duo fresh for the second half of the season.

RJ Barrett has been limited to 30 points in his last three games after he reeled off five consecutive games of at least 20 points, matching the longest streak of his young career. During that stretch, the 21-year-old averaged 25 points on 51.7 percent shooting (45 for 87) and 5.8 rebounds while knocking down half his three-point attempts (16 for 32).

Barrett's continued evolution as a scorer and complement to Randle's power game will be key for the Knicks and the early returns are promising. After shooting 49.1 and 51.1 percent at the rim in his first two seasons, Barrett has raised that number to 57.6 this season as he learns how to finish at the hoop and maximise his considerable physical tools.

As necessary as the improved offense was, it has come at a cost on the opposite end.

New York ranks 22nd in scoring defence (109.6) and that doesn't sit well with Thibodeau, judging by his recent postgame comments. That needs to be cleaned up if the Knicks are to compete against the best teams in the east for the long run.

The Eastern Conference appears to be much improved this season, with top contenders Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Miami leading the way. Cleveland, Chicago and Washington seem to have made huge strides and the Knicks are also in that mix of potential playoff teams.

Only the most diehard Knicks fan would dare dream of a championship this season but it's not a joke anymore to suggest that just maybe there could be one on the horizon.

Seth Curry and Joel Embiid led the way as the shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers beat the high-flying Chicago Bulls 103-98 in a battle of the Eastern Conference contenders.

The 76ers (6-2) were without starters Tobias Harris and Danny Green, in addition to disgruntled Ben Simmons' ongoing absence, but still outlasted the Bulls in Philadelphia for their fourth successive win on Wednesday.

Curry posted 22 points, including a crucial late jumper with 10.7 seconds remaining, while the returning Embiid put up 18 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and a big block during the closing stages to deny DeMar DeRozan (joint season-high 37 points).

The 76ers – boasting an eight-game winning streak over the Bulls, their best run against the Chicago franchise since March 1984 – shot 42.9 per cent from three-point range as they swept their four-game homestand for the first time since February last year.

 

Chicago (6-2), who have emerged as a contender in the east after landing DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso in the offseason to go with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, overturned a double-digit deficit to level the game in the fourth period but could not complete the job.

 

Durant fuels streaking Nets

The Brooklyn Nets made it three wins in a row thanks to a 117-108 victory against the Atlanta Hawks and Kevin Durant's 32 points. Durant is averaging 28.3 points, a career-high 8.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists while boasting a career-best 59.2 per cent field-goal percentage.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had 34 points and 11 rebounds, but missed a shot on the buzzer to send the game to overtime as the Denver Nuggets went down 108-106 at the Memphis Grizzlies.

Paul George leads the league in scoring and the Los Angeles Clippers star was behind the team's 126-115 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves with 32 points.

Jordan Poole's second career 30-point game (31 points) led the Golden State Warriors to their sixth win in seven games, a 114-92 success against the Charlotte Hornets.

 

Walker's woes

There is plenty of hype around the New York Knicks, especially after bringing Kemba Walker to Madison Square Garden. However, the four-time All-Star had a game to forget in the 111-98 loss to the Indiana Pacers. Walker made just two of his 11 shots, while missing all five of his three-pointers for four points.

Four-time NBA All-Star Kemba Walker says he is driven to prove he is still among the league's top echelon following his trade to the New York Knicks.

The 31-year-old point guard joined the Knicks on a two-year deal after two seasons with the Boston Celtics, following his career-best year at the Charlotte Hornets in 2018-19.

Walker was an All-Star for the four seasons from 2017 to 2020, but last season battled knee injuries hampering his form and ability to establish continuity.

He only played 43 games, averaging 19.3 points [his lowest return since 2014-15], 4.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.

New York-born Walker fronted the media for the first time since his trade to the Knicks and insisted he is highly motivated to prove his quality.

"It means everything," Walker said. "It's driving everything. Because I know what kind of player I am.

"I know what level I want to be at. It's added motivation."

Walker said it was the "perfect time" to return to his native New York and he was encouraged by the Knicks' belief in him.

The Knicks made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2013, bowing out 4-1 in the first round to the Atlanta Hawks.

"It's an unbelievable feeling to be able to come home," Walker said.

"As far as added pressure, I don't think so. As long as I'm in a great environment around great people I'll be fine."

Kemba Walker is joining his hometown New York Knicks after agreeing to a buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday.

ESPN and The Athletic reported the move, which sees Walker leave the Thunder without playing a game.

The four-time All-Star was part of a June trade that saw OKC send Al Horford back to the Boston Celtics and receive the 16th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

The Thunder, who are building a young team after trading superstars Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Chris Paul in recent seasons, turned that selection into two more in a deal with the Houston Rockets.

Walker's exit gives OKC more minutes to dish out to prospects and sees the Knicks recruit the starting point guard they badly needed.

Elfrid Payton started 63 games last season but lost his place after 13 minutes, one point and one assist in the playoffs. Frank Ntilikina appeared fleetingly in three postseason games.

Derrick Rose was promoted to a starting role, having rediscovered some form leading the second unit, but the Knicks lost all three of his starts and badly missed his consistent contributions from the bench.

Rose has returned to Madison Square Garden on a three-year, $43million contract yet will likely now serve as back-up to Walker.

Walker is expected to fit into the $10m salary cap space left in New York following the Knicks' free agency business, which included the signing of the guard's former Celtics team-mate Evan Fournier.

Walker, who is only two years removed from an All-NBA Third Team season with the Charlotte Hornets, still had two years and $74m remaining on his previous deal before Wednesday's agreement with the Thunder.

 

The Knicks will be hoping for an offensive boost from Walker, who was born in The Bronx and went to high school at Rice in Manhatten.

The best defense in the league, giving up only 104.7 points per game, carried the Knicks to the playoffs for the first time in eight years, but they scored only 107.0 points on offense, ranking 26th, and lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round.

Walker scored 25.6 points and played all 82 games for the Hornets in a career year in 2018-19, earning the move to Boston.

But a series of injuries kept him from playing or performing consistently for the Celtics, while his usage rate last year fell to 26.3 per cent alongside ball-dominant duo Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Walker will get the opportunity to shine again in a prominent role at MSG, as long as he can stay fit.

The Boston Celtics have reportedly agreed to trade Kemba Walker and a 2021 first-round draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for former favourite Al Horford.

Walker arrived in Boston in 2019 in a sign-and-trade deal with the Charlotte Hornets that would see the point guard paid a mammoth $140.8million over four years.

The Celtics made that move after losing Kyrie Irving and Horford in free agency.

Horford got a four-year, $97m contract with the Philadelphia 76ers but was traded to the Thunder 17 months later.

Friday's agreement ends miserable stays for both Walker and Horford on their respective teams, while Boston also receive 21-year-old center Moses Brown.

The trade, reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, sees Walker, this year's 16th overall pick and a 2025 second-round selection sent to Oklahoma City.

In return, the Celtics get Horford, Brown and a 2023 second-round pick in Brad Stevens' first trade since leaving his role as head coach to become president of basketball operations.

The move crucially allows Boston to get off Walker's contract, which still has $73.7m owed. Horford's deal has a slightly more palatable $53.5m remaining.

For the Thunder, who have already traded the majority of their assets for picks, it means they will have three selections in the first round of this year's draft.

 

Walker started all 82 games in his final year in Charlotte, contributing 25.6 points per game.

However, in Boston, he dealt with repeated knee injuries, scoring 20.4 points in his first season and 19.3 in his second, which concluded with a 4-1 playoff defeat to the Brooklyn Nets. Walker played three games and averaged 12.7 points.

Horford dropped from 13.6 points and 1.3 blocks on the Celtics to 11.9 and 0.9 on the 76ers.

He did improve after joining Oklahoma City but was then sat for the final two months of the season as the team tanked, handing greater opportunities to fellow big man Brown.

Brown averaged 8.6 points and 8.9 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game in his only season with the Thunder. He ended the year with a career-high 24 points against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Boston Celtics pair Kemba Walker and Rob Williams have both been ruled out of Game 5 on Tuesday against the Brooklyn Nets with their NBA first round playoffs series on the line.

The Nets lead 3-1, having won 141-126 on Sunday in Game 4 over the Celtics who were without Walker (knee) and Williams (ankle).

Point guard Walker had played in Friday's 125-119 Game 3 win but is battling bone bruising in his left knee and coach Brad Stevens confirmed he would not take his place on Tuesday.

Bigman Williams only managed six minutes in Game 3 due to a sprained left ankle.

Boston are already without forward Jaylen Brown for the rest of the season due to a wrist injury, leaving a heavy burden on star Jayson Tatum.

Brooklyn can wrap up the series on Tuesday with victory and were aided by their 'big three' firing in Game 4.

Kevin Durant scored 42 points had four rebounds and five assists, while Kyrie Irving added 39 points and 11 rebounds and James Harden had 23 points and 18 assists in the win.

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