ATLANTA — With Derrick Rose (ankle) and Kemba Walker (rest) unavailable Saturday night, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau elevated Alec Burks to starting point guard, and he led the team with 23 points in a 99-90 win over the Hawks.
But the bigger question really surrounds Walker and the decision to sit for rest when the Knicks clearly needed him. "You’ve got to trust the medical people and Kemba," Thibodeau said. "When they say that he can’t go, he can’t go. That’s it."
Walker said before the regular season began that there would be no set plan for playing in both games of back-to-back sets. But he opted for rest this time after playing only 23 minutes in Friday’s home loss to Phoenix.
"That’s medical and Kemba," Thibodeau said. "You talk to them and if they feel he can go, he goes. If they feel he can’t, he doesn’t."
Burks got the first shot at Trae Young (33 points). Thibodeau had to choose between Burks, Immanuel Quickley or giving the job to one of the rookies, Miles McBride or Quentin Grimes, and keeping the second unit intact.
"It’s looking at the matchups, thinking about the rotations, the bench," Thibodeau said before announcing his choice. "Trying to keep as much of it as we can. This is all part of it."
Burks has remained a vital bench piece for the Knicks this season, teaming up on most nights with Rose and Quickley to provide three ballhandlers.
"That’s what you love about him," Thibodeau said. "I think what he’s done throughout his career — he’s been a starter, he’s been a bench guy, he’s filled in at virtually every position. And you’re comfortable with him. He won’t be sped up. He plays at his own speed. He’s got good size. He can shoot the ball. He can put it on the floor. He can playmake. He can play with the ball, play without it. So the veteran experience I think is important also. We’re comfortable with him in there. I think Quick has done a terrific job. He’s getting better and better. He’s a really talented young player."