Trey Burke is rumored to be on his way from the G League to the Knicks. Knicks Film School breaks down how he would fit with the team.
The Knicks appear close to signing former Michigan star and current G League standout Trey Burke. Before the signing becomes official, the Knicks will have to make a roster move, likely waiving little-used and little-guaranteed in salary, Ramon Sessions. As we wait for the official news, let’s take a look at how he would fit with the Knicks.
Trey Burke has been tearing up the G League to the tune of 26.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.0 steals on 48.9 percent shooting, including 41.8 percent from downtown where he attempts 6.3 threes per game. Those stats are impressive, but how do they translate from the dank gyms of the G League to the bright lights of the NBA?
James Woodruff started the conversation for us a few weeks back. While it’s difficult to say whether Burke’s G League performance is an indicator of things to come in the Association or not, he does have a brief NBA résumé that helps us understand the type of player the Knicks could be adding.
Burke came out of college in 2013 as a sure-thing prospect ready to shoot his way into stardom. He was then humbled in Utah where he struggled mightily to find his shot. His inconsistent shooting and poor fit in Utah led him to Washington for one season before finding a place in the G League. Burke had a tough start to his career, but the former 9th overall pick is still only 25 years old and the pedigree is still there.
As James explained in his article, Trey Burke would bring dynamic three-point shooting from the perimeter that is missing from the Knicks current roster. He could also beat guys one-on-one and create dribble-drive penetration that creates open looks from outside. The Knicks rank 30th in three-point attempts this season and 29th in drives per game, and part of the reason for that is because they deploy two point guards who aren’t very good in either category.
If you want the 10-second answer of how Trey Burke could help the Knicks, it’s by giving them a guard who can knock down these two shots:
The Knicks are signing Trey Burke to hit these two shots:
1) Out of a post double
2) As a pick-and-roll ball handler pic.twitter.com/o7eNxpd5uA
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) January 10, 2018
Did I mention the Knicks pick-and-roll ball handlers rank 24th in scoring efficiency?
For the Knicks to get the most out of their post scorers (Kristaps Porzinigs, Enes Kanter, even Michael Beasley) it would be helpful to put players around them who can complement their games. Burke provides gravity on the floor by the mere fact that he is a threat to shoot from anywhere (even if inconsistent). He also forces defenders to respect him on the pick-and-roll, something teams don’t have to worry about as much when Jack and Ntilikina are commanding the basketball. This should open up better looks for New York’s rolling bigs.
As some Knicks fans continue to scratch their heads at the large amount of minutes Jarrett Jack plays, a major reason for his minutes, in fact, the entire reason he cracked the lineup to begin with, is the fact that he handles the basketball better than Ntilikina or Ron Baker. This is a comparative statement, so don’t take it to mean that Jack is a great ball-handler, he turns the ball over less than the other point guards on the roster.
As inconsistent as Trey Burke’s shot has been early in his career, he has been extremely reliable protecting the basketball. He fell off a little bit last season in limited minutes with Washington, but when he was playing heavy rotation minutes in Utah, his incredibly low turnover percentage ranked around the top 5 percent of point guards in the league.
What about defense?
The short answer: Trey Burke is a better defender than Jarrett Jack.
That’s all you really need to know. As I will get to in a moment, if Burke is on the Knicks roster and playing, he should be taking away from Jack’s minutes more than anybody else. I will still discuss Burke as an individual defender, but his replacement value to Jarrett Jack, while setting a low bar, is adequate in terms of defense.
Admittedly, I have not seen much of the Westchester Knicks this season. So I can’t tell you how well Burke has played on defense. Statistically, it appears that he hasn’t been great:
I haven’t had the chance to watch Trey Burke much in G-League but some interesting numbers, for what they’re worth:
On a team that has been pretty good defensively, he has the worst defensive rating and worst defensive box score plus minus of the regular players
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) January 8, 2018
But from people who have watched him play, he has shown some good defensive intensity:
Trey Burke with a good defensive possession on Marcus Thornton. Burke keeps Thornton in front of him then Thornton throws it away. pic.twitter.com/dQvwFMXBkw
— Chris Priczak (@chrispriczak) January 6, 2018
Trey Burke had several good defensive possessions against Canton. Here he gets on Marcus Thornton as soon as he gets into the half court. He then stays on Thornton to force a turnover. pic.twitter.com/pwdq2ERvTP
— Chris Priczak (@chrispriczak) January 6, 2018
The key thing with Burke is that he is only 25 years old. If his defense has been about average in the past (which is right around where Synergy tracking data rates him), there’s reason to be optimistic that he could trend up. After all, we’ve seen both Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott surprise us on defense, why not Trey Burke? He doesn’t have great size, but like Ntilikina, he stretches with an impressive wingspan. And at worse, he is suitable to what the team is currently getting from Jarrett Jack.
Where does Burke fit in the rotation?
If Trey Burke is signed to replace Ramon Sessions, then the simple answer would be that he ends up in the same role as Sessions—a third-string point guard who barely plays. But there’s too much to like in what Burke offers and what the Knicks currently need to let him waste away at the end of the bench.
As a bonus, Burke already has experience playing with a few current Knicks. He excelled in college with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Burke started his career in Utah with Enes Kanter. The numbers when Burke and Kanter played together in Utah weren’t very good, but they were both only 21 years old at the time.
Burke’s playing time really boils down to how committed Jeff Hornacek is to playing Jarrett Jack and Ron Baker. There is no scenario that should see a G League call-up (albeit a former lottery pick who is still young) taking away minutes from Frank Ntilikina. Frank needs to continue to develop and see his minutes grow accordingly.
That means if the Knicks are going to play Burke, it has to happen under one of these scenarios:
- Replacing some of Jarrett Jack’s minutes
- Playing him alongside Jack or Frank, and essentially replacing Ron Baker’s minutes
Jeff Hornacek has shown that he likes to play multiple point guards at one time, mainly during his time in Phoenix. Recently, he has even played Jarrett Jack and Frank Ntilikina together. Could he do the same with Trey Burke? (Ed. note: Westchester head coach Mike Miller often plays Burke with point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes.)
The problem with playing Burke off the ball is that it takes away from one of his greatest strengths: ball control. You don’t put Burke on the floor to run cuts and set screens; hell, at this point, NBA teams haven’t even put him on the floor to catch and shoot since his shot has been so inconsistent. You put Burke on the floor to take care of the basketball (remember his low turnover percentage even in high usage seasons) and to create off the dribble. That is why in nearly 6,000 minutes played in Utah, he almost exclusively played point guard, per Cleaning the Glass. Only last season in Washington did he finally see limited minutes off the ball next to John Wall but not enough to evaluate.
That leaves us with Trey Burke replacing some of Jarrett Jack’s minutes. Notice that I say some. After a dreadful 0-3 start, Hornacek might have saved the season by injecting Jack into the starting lineup. And halfway into the season, the starting lineup with Jack at the 1 and a healthy Tim Hardaway Jr. is still one of the team’s most efficient lineups. A hot start by Porzingis and a skewed home schedule plays a role in that, but the point is that it would be difficult to expect Hornacek to remove Jack from the starting lineup in place of a player signed mid-season.
Hornacek could eventually start Frank and then let Burke take Jack’s bench minutes, but I don’t see that happening in the near term.
Where I see Burke fitting into the rotation would be in favor of Jack’s secondary minutes. This would keep Jack with the starters while letting Burke find time to prove whether he deserves a bigger role. After Jack starts the first and third quarters, whether he comes back into the game or is replaced by Burke could be dictated by the situation. When the Knicks need a careful ball-handler and extra offense, they can go to Burke. These are the situations where Jack usually finds extra minutes over Ntilikina. The other night against Dallas, right after Frank turned over the ball in the fourth quarter, Hornacek put in Jack.
Burke can do everything Jack does, but better. He can handle the ball, play at least average defense, and of course, provide floor-warping gravity. Even if Burke’s shot isn’t falling, he forces defenses to respect the threat of his shot. When the Knicks are playing lineups with Lance Thomas on the wing, the floor gets extremely tight around Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter/Kyle O’Quinn. And if Hornacek isn’t going to play his best defensive lineup that mixes good defensive players (Porzingis + Lance + Ntilikina) with bad ones (Kanter/O’Quinn + Beasley), then he might as well play Burke instead of Jack.
Trey Burke is 25 years old and adds dimensions to the Knicks roster that they currently need. I’m excited to see how (if?) Hornacek fits him into the rotation.