Trey Burke is a free agent who’s looking to make something of his NBA career. The New York Knicks are a team that’s looking for a starting point guard.
At the University of Michigan, Trey Burke was a hero. As a sophomore in 2013, the Ohio native brought home eleven awards that made a case for him as the nation’s best player. The Wolverines had a dazzling run before losing in the National Championship game to the Louisville Cardinals, and Burke was the unquestioned leader.
The 6-1 underclassman averaged 18.6 points a night and shot 46.3 percent from the field. The numbers, accolades and tape were enough to rocket Burke up draft boards, arguably higher than he should’ve been. In June of 2012, DraftExpress projected him to go 35th overall. Just one year later, that rose to six, three spots higher than where the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted him. Burke’s time in the NBA is the antithesis of his college career. After four years, it just hasn’t clicked.
He’s on the market after one year with the Washington Wizards. No teams had shown interest in the now-25-year-old until now when a report from ESPN’s Ian Begley noted that the New York Knicks are interested in potentially adding either Burke or Jarrett Jack.
In a perfect world, you wouldn’t want to add either. This world is far from perfect. It’s also like karma for the Knicks, who have flubbed their point guard search so bad that they’re stuck looking at guys who have hardly made an impact over the last couple of years, albeit for different reasons. New York took French rookie Frank Ntilikina ninth overall in the 2017 draft, but they’re hesitant about giving him the starting job from the get-go, which is an entirely fine thing to be apprehensive about. I believe it’s in their best interest to throw him into the fire as quickly as possible. But what do I know?
The Knicks instead opted to search for a veteran point guard to fill the starting spot until Frank showed he was ready. They searched about as well as I did after I dropped a nickel on the floor the other day. George Hill, Jeff Teague, Darren Collison, Raymond Felton, Jose Calderon and Mario Chalmers were all on the market, and they would’ve been capable of filling the role the Knicks wanted. All of them got signed by teams not located in New York. And all of them signed for less than Tim Hardaway Jr. Even Derrick Rose left after not wanting to play the role of mentor. I can’t blame him.
In this league, you’re as good as your last season. Both Burke and Jack have the potential to be quality players, but there are reasons why both are still available. Jack’s is more health/age-oriented, while Burke is still looking to show he can play. The former would be more accepting of a lesser-role than his younger counterpart, but I’m sure Burke would be appreciative of any team who gave him a legitimate shot.
With the Wizards last season, he was limited to 12.3 minutes a night over 57 games. That’s a hard fall from his first two campaigns with the Utah Jazz, where Burke started 111 of 146 games and averaged 31.2 minutes a night. Expectedly, his numbers were almost non-existent. Burke did, however, shoot the ball better than ever. Overall, he connected on 45.5 percent of his shots and 44.3 percent of his attempts from downtown. The second number jumps out at me. Never once has Burke been a legitimate three-point threat. Did John Wall have an impact on that? Absolutely.
Burke had a true shooting percentage of 49.4 in the 609 minutes he played without Wall. That ballooned to 76.8 percent when the two played together. The sample size is small, only 96 minutes, but a player of Wall’s magnitude makes almost everyone better.
The Knicks don’t have a player like that. However, they have Carmelo Anthony (until further notice) and Kristaps Porzingis. Both of them require attention from the defense, and that’d generate a decent amount of shots for Burke. If I’m on the coaching staff, my worry isn’t about production — it’s about what’s going to happen between Burke and Ntilikina. I have a hard time believing Burke would be okay with serving as a mentor. But there’s an interesting wrinkle with him.
He turns 25 in November. His career isn’t close to being over. There’s a legitimate chance that Burke puts together a solid season and steals a fair share of minutes from Frank. I doubt Knicks fans want to hear that, but I’m sure you guys would rather that combo over Derrick Rose-Ntilikina. (From what Twitter has told me, all Burke has to do to stay out of the doghouse is pass to Kristaps when he’s open). It wasn’t too long ago that Burke averaged 12.8 points and 5.7 assists as a rookie, and he wasn’t anywhere near as good a shooter as he is now. During the 2013-14 season, Burke made 38 percent of his shots and had no touch from anywhere. Despite the lessened volume, he’s displayed a consistent midrange jumper, and that means he can stretch the floor, giving Porzingis and Melo more room to work.
I don’t believe the possibility of Burke averaging 13 points and six assists while shooting 45 percent from the floor is far-fetched. He’d be one of the most productive point guards the Knicks have had in awhile, and Ntilikina would have to work harder to secure the starting spot.
That does not mean the Knicks should empty their pockets for Trey Burke. That would be silly. (It’d also be one of the most Knicks-ey things they could do.) A minimum deal for just a year would more than suffice for a player who hasn’t shown anything recently.
If you’ve made it this far and think I’m stupid for proposing this idea, I can see why. Why would the Knicks, who are on the verge of rebuilding, sign another young point guard to put in front of their already young point guard who they hope to give the starting job to? I don’t have that answer. What I do have, however, is speculation.
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Bringing on Trey Burke and having him start for most of the 2016-17 season isn’t the end of the world. First, if he signs just a one-year deal, he’ll be gone once the season concludes. New York isn’t tied up long-term, which is great for them, but also for Ntilikina. The biggest thing with him is development. We don’t know how effective he’ll be as a rookie, and being able to have some wriggle room with the rotation can give Ntilikina the opportunities to learn without having to bear a taxing load. If all goes right, his confidence should be high enough going into his sophomore, and then the Knicks can let him run free. On the flip side, if Ntilikina struggles, you’re not up you-know-what’s creek. Burke can still give good minutes unlike some of the other guys on the market.
The New York Knicks are at a crossroads. They have yet to formally embrace their rebuild despite having no shot at contending for anything other than a spot in next year’s lottery. Once they realize it’s time to tear it down and start fresh, they’ll have the opportunity to gamble and bring on a handful of different guys to see if they fit the system. Trey Burke is one of those guys. If it works, great! If it doesn’t, let him walk next summer and keep looking.
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