Kemba Walker’s debut only part of Knicks preseason storylines

The last time the Knicks were at the Garden was June 2 when their season ended in a 103-89 rout to Atlanta, dropping their first-round series 4-1.

The day before, Kemba Walker was in Brooklyn, missing his elimination game with Boston. The Nets took out the Celtics in five as Walker sat out with a bum ankle.

Who knew then that Walker, the Bronx native who had two years left on his contract, and the Knicks would marry two months later.

Tuesday night in the preseason opener, Walker makes his Knicks debut, his left knee healthy for now. Kemba’s Knicks are back at the Garden for the first preseason match versus Indiana with playoff expectations and a slightly altered roster.

Whether or not they are better than last season’s 41-31 edition, the Knicks will be more compelling with three native New Yorkers — Walker, improving Obi Toppin and Taj Gibson. Walker should receive a standing ovation Tuesday during pregame intros.

“I was telling Taj the other day — every year, every team they give you sweatsuits and bags,’’ Walker said. “My New York sweatsuit just hit a little bit different than my other sweatsuits the last couple years. I just feel like me being from here, I’m really, really from here. It’s definitely a bit more special. I just want to be that role model for all the young kids in New York City.’’

Kemba Walker
Corey Sipkin

Here are five other things to look for in the first of four exhibition games.

1. The Knicks debut their new backcourt of Walker and French shooting guard Evan Fournier, who signed a four-year deal that could be worth $78 million. Sorry Evan, the noise level for Walker will top yours but Fournier still should feel some Garden love. Fournier has talked about the Garden being his favorite arena to play in and Tom Thibodeau is anxious to see if his versatile scoring ability can take pressure off Julius Randle. Thibodeau likes that Fournier doesn’t just take catch-and-shoot 3s but can create off the dribble.

2. Against Atlanta in Game 5, more than 16,000 mostly unmasked fans packed the Garden, creating a frenzied atmosphere that began 30 minutes before tipoff. It won’t be like that, especially competing against the Yankees-Red Sox wild-card game, but there could be 10,000 strong. Fans must show proof of vaccination to get in. Unlike the playoffs, the fans also have to keep their masks on unless eating or drinking. Yeah, we are still in a pandemic.

Chris Duarte
NBAE via Getty Images

3. What coulda been. The Knicks — with senior adviser William Wesley his biggest fan — had targeted 24-year-old swingman Chris Duarte of Oregon in the draft but failed to trade up from 19 and 21 to snare him. Duarte went 13th to Indiana and looked terrific in summer league as a defender and 3-point shooter (18.2 ppg, 48.3 3-point percentage). New Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has a goodie. “He was the best player available at 13 in our eyes,” Carlisle said.

4. The Knicks have talked about taking more 3-pointers than last season. Now they get a chance to show it. Last season they were ranked 24th in 3-point frequency (the percentage of shots that are 3s). They took just 30 per game — which ranked 27th lowest. Thibodeau has always been about quality of 3-pointers rather than quantity but he seems to be shifting. “We still want the right 3s,’’ Thibodeau said. “I thought our percentage was a reflection of taking the right ones. But we will try to get away from the long 2. We’ve got more guys who can go off the dribble and I think we can create [more] 3-point shots.’’

5. The Knicks’ two key draft picks, SG Quentin Grimes (25th) and PG Miles McBride (35th), will also make their debuts after strong summer league performances. The Knicks traded away their 19th pick for a future No. 1, then traded back from 21 to 25 According to a source, their intel showed Grimes would still be there at 25 as he was going to be their man at 21. Thibodeau is talking up Grimes as another 3-point shooting threat added to the arsenal, so he has a legit chance at a rotational spot. McBride, out of West Virginia, showed 3-point shooting and defensive toughness in Las Vegas. Thibodeau said because Grimes, out of Houston, and McBride add a defensive element, they could wind up playing rotation minutes. Grimes, after a slow start, averaged 15.3 points on 40.7 percent shooting from 3 in Las Vegas. McBride averaged 15.2 points (50 percent from 3).


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