The Knicks have played Alec Burks over Miles McBride since the former guard’s return to the team at the trade deadline. 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: instead of allowing the New York Knicks’ promising young guard to work through some yips and act as a solid bench floor general, head coach Tom Thibodeau has opted to give Alec Burks free rein over the guard position with some questionable results. 

Now, I’m not attempting to compare Miles McBride, New York’s defensive stalwart and third-year guard, to Immanuel Quickley, who never really got a fair shake at starting for the team and was instead relegated to the bench in favor of Burks a few years ago. They’re two very different players with different styles of defense and scoring who can each produce very well — McBride more of a pestering defensive presence and Quickley more of a deflection specialist — but struggle to maintain their best levels with Burks around. Thibodeau continues to favor him as a ball handler when his real scoring prowess comes off the ball. 

Burks spent the start of the season with the struggling Detroit Pistons, often acting as their spark off the bench in a lot of losses and some really inspiring wins. There, he was mostly found behind the three-point line, shooting 40.7 percent from deep, with most of that success (69 percent of his shots) coming off assists from Detroit’s guards, according to Cleaning the Glass. His catch-and-shoot prowess was a big reason why the Knicks brought him back over to the orange and blue skies currently occupying midtown Manhattan; they were struggling to find consistent output on offense on their bench after trading away Quickley. 

However, since arriving at Madison Square Garden once again, it feels like he saw the Knicks jersey hanging in his locker and it called to him to do the absolute most in a similar way that Norman Osborn was called to the Green Goblin mask. It’s really not that dramatic but for argument’s sake, Burks has pretty clearly taken some poor shots in the very small three-game sample size we were given prior to the All-Star break. Pulling up from midrange after driving down the court with the ball only in his hands, taking some really head-scratching contested floaters, and taking threes into his own hands have all been on display from the veteran, showing a completely different subset of skills than what he was able to showcase with the Pistons. 

On the flip side, New York has a dilemma when it comes to minutes distributions between Burks and McBride, who has seen a major slip in playing time since Burks’ and Bojan Bogdanovics’ arrival to the team. Prior to them being traded over to the Knicks, McBride averaged 15.6 minutes per game in January, when the Knicks seemed unstoppable. That bumped up to 24.7 minutes per game through seven games in February with so many injuries plaguing the team. In that time, he was a revelation — slicing and dicing through defenses to get to the rim, providing some highlight-reel-worthy dunks and dunk attempts, and somehow bumping his three-point shooting up from 29.9 percent on 2.1 attempts per game last season all the way up to 40.1 percent on 2.8 attempts per game. 

It’s been clear since Burks’ arrival that McBride is still the Knicks’ best option off the bench as a scorer and as a facilitator. But Thibodeau is obviously inclined to try and get Burks reacclimated with this starting lineup and this bench unit that is no longer living or dying by his impact and scoring as it was back in his golden years with the club.

Quite the opposite is expected now from Burks. The team really just needs him to hoop for about 15-20 minutes per game, specifically from three-point range and as a floor spreader if he maintains the same shooting output he had with Detroit, which is to say from the top of the key. This clears the way for Brunson to continue to cook from long range, and for both Donte DiVincenzo and OG Anunoby to keep their blazing hot shooting from the corners alive.

But with McBride already doing this, is it fair to say that Burks should just be handed those keys for that role, or would that be yet another indictment of Thibodeau’s “earn it” doctrine that did not seem to apply to a player like Quickley? Time will tell, especially as it’s only Burks’ third day out here. If history does repeat itself, though, Knicks fans might be in for another round of frustration and confusion surrounding another young guard’s minutes being snatched up by No. 18.

 

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