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Trey Burke Deserves a Shot to Shine

With the Knicks falling further and further away from a playoff spot, this season is becoming an opportunity to give under-appreciated guys some run. Perhaps none have done more to deserve that chance than Trey Burke.

Trey Burke hasn’t had much stability over his short career. Coming into the league with high expectations after being drafted ninth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves out of Michigan, Burke has since bounced around between three other teams and the G League.

Following a stellar run with the Knicks’ G League affiliate in Westchester, Burke signed a contract to play with the Knicks for the remainder of the season. In limited minutes since being called up, Burke has been impressive, and his skills seem to fill a talent gap that was festering on 33rd Street.

He can penetrate into the paint and shoot the ball from deep—two areas the Knicks have struggled with this season. The Knicks are dead last in the league in three-point attempts per game, and the Jarrett Jack–Frank Ntilikina duo certainly doesn’t inspire fear in the heart of opposing defenses.

With Tim Hardaway Jr. locked in for at least 30 minutes a night at the 2 and a deep rotation of Jack, Ntilikina, and Ron Baker all fighting for game action at the point, Hornacek may have a tough time carving out significant minutes for the Michigan product. However, as THJ sat out last night in Denver, Hornacek gave Burke his longest run as a Knick with 29 minutes of play. He responded with an efficient 18-point, 11-assist double-double. If he continues to perform at such a high level in his limited minutes, then Hornacek will have no choice but to find a more permanent home in his rotation for Burke.

Since coming up, Burke has canned a blistering 16 of his 25 shots and has actively looked for teammates to kick to when he has forayed into the paint. Standing a flat six feet tall, defense will always be a struggle for him, but his offensive game has flourished in the 61 minutes of action he has seen for the Knicks. His PER sits at 31.4  (obviously in limited minutes) and he is in the 98th percentile in points per possession. Much like everything with Burke, it’s important to take these numbers with a grain of salt, but they inspire confidence that Burke can hit the point guard spot with a rush of adrenaline.

Paint Penetration

Trey Burke is speedy. His full-court acceleration isn’t great, but his short-burst speed certainly is. He can blow by opposing point guards or bigs when he’s on an island and has a flurry of hesitation moves that he can bust out at almost full-speed on his way to the rim.

Look how fast he goes from 0 to 100 with that first step.

Defenses have to respect his hesitation when he comes around a high pick because he has a quick trigger from behind the line. Burke canned 44 percent of his deep balls in his 57 games with Washington last season, and had a reputation as a shooter in college, so the potential is certainly there. If his man gets caught on the screen, an opposing big has two choices: step up or sag off. With Burke, it’s a classic exercise of pick your poison. If the big steps out, Burke can easily get a step or two on him and bend an entire defense, or if the big is sags off, he can pull up from deep with a pretty hop step.

When a guard can collapse a defense, it opens up a lot more options for a team. And unlike the Knicks point guard last last year, Derrick Rose, Burke keeps his head up when he drives. His assist percentage sits at 44 percent compared to Rose’s 21.6 percent last year. Sure, it’s a laughably small sample size, but his 44 percent mark is good for third in the league among players that have logged minutes in at least five games, sitting in good company behind Russell Westbrook and James Harden. 

The ball movement facilitated by Burke has led to the Knicks getting more clean looks while he’s on the floor. The Knicks shoot 9.0 percent better in effective field-goal percentage when Burke plays, per Cleaning the Glass. He has a knack for giving shooters the ball right on their hip or in their shooting pocket, which leads to higher quality shots.

In today’s drive-and-kick heavy NBA offensive schemes, Hornacek would be wise to find some real minutes for a guy who can do both. He has performed exceptionally well by almost every metric since his return, so..

Where Do the Minutes Come From?

The only people Burke should not be taking minutes from are Frank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr. Everyone else’s spot in Hornacek’s guard rotation should be up for grabs.

Jarrett Jack looks like a stale chicken nugget, is 34 years old, and doesn’t figure to play a part in any of the Knicks’ long term plans. Trey Burke looks like Allen Iverson, is 25 years of age, and can be locked in for a cheap $1.8 million next season.

In all seriousness though, Jarrett Jack has made the type of crucial late game mistakes a veteran isn’t supposed to make. He gets sloppy with the ball when it matters most. Though Hornacek is still adamant about Jack starting over Frank, Jack doesn’t need to be seeing almost 30 minutes per game.

Ron Baker brings a level of defensive energy that is refreshing to see for the Knicks backcourt, but he doesn’t do nearly enough on the offensive end. Burke is a shot creator and is shooting an effective field-goal percentage of 65.9 compared to Baker’s 47.1. Baker is more of a “shoot if you’re open, pass if you’re not” type of player.

And though Baker has been a pest defensively, Burke has shown flashes in his brief time on the court. He plays with the energy of someone with a chip on his shoulder.

In his first sequence as a Knick, he got around a Jahlil Okafor screen twice, and recovered to disrupt the play. Though he will never be a great defender given his lack of size, Burke has played with tremendous energy and looked fundamentally sound since making his Knicks debut.

Hornacek experimented with playing Burke and Ntilikina on the floor together a little bit against Denver. In only 16 possessions of floor time that they have spent together, the Knicks shot at a 68 percent effective field-goal clip. That’s a tandem that should see more action together over the last 33 games of the season.

Burke can take the offensive burden of getting into the paint off the shoulders of Ntilikina. Frankie will get more opportunities to touch the ball in the flow of a moving offense rather than being looked to as the initiator, a role in which he has been timid to embrace. Ntilikina’s long arms can make up for some of Burke’s lack of range as a perimeter defender. Go small with Hardaway Jr. at the 3, and there’s a solid young group on the perimeter with which this Knicks team can experiment.


The season is starting to slip away from the Knicks. They are 21–28, 4.5 games out of the 8th seed, and only six games ahead of the last place Magic. The Knicks brass needs to think about the future of this squad. The time is now to lean all-in on the youth movement. They have their first round draft pick this year, so pushing hard for that 8th spot and falling short does the team no favors beyond 2018.

Burke has a non-guaranteed $1.8 million contract for next season and every reason to play his heart out. He has been exceptional through his short stint with the Knicks, and Jeff Hornacek ought to reward him with a bigger spot in the lineup. You never know what you might find when sifting through the rubble.

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