Trey Burke has been a spark plug off the bench for the New York Knicks and that’s where his role should be moving forward.
The New York Knicks have received a valiant effort from Trey Burke this season, and as the year winds down, the point guard may get more playing time as a result of his productive play. But Burke is perfect in the role that he holds off the bench and head coach Jeff Hornacek shouldn’t mess with it.
With just 17 games left in the regular season, the Knicks are playing for pride and individuals are competing for the chance to stick past this season. Burke is one of those individuals who has made a very good showing for himself in the 19 games he’s played.
Going into Tuesday night, Burke was averaging 10.5 points per game on a career-high 53.0 percent shooting from the field in just 16.4 minutes a night. He’s also posted two 26-point and three 18-point games; the point guard has been a spark plug off the bench. Whether it be playing in isolation, creating separation or driving the lane, Burke has shown no fear when it comes to leading the charge offensively. The Knicks are in desperate need of such a skill set, especially with Kristaps Porzingis out for a full year and the team looking for players to rely on offensively; they need guys who can simply score.
Burke’s play is reminiscent of former Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith. Back in 2013, Smith won Sixth Man of the Year based on the scoring presence he provided head coach Mike Woodson and the Knicks with. He was the second option after Carmelo Anthony offensively and produced in a big way. Averaging 18.1 points per game in 33.5 minutes a night, he showed no mercy when it came to finding ways to put the ball in the cup. Much like Burke, Smith played in isolation, was not afraid to take the big shot in crunch time and led the charge off the bench. And if Burke was given the same workload as Smith once held, the point guard could accumulate the same numbers and then some.
The Knicks currently have a point guard logjam. With Emmanuel Mudiay, Frank Ntilikina and Burke present, Hornacek is faced with the challenge of finding minutes for the three guards. He’s done so by starting Mudiay at the point, transforming Ntilikina into a reserve wing (Ntilikina is 6-foot-5 and long enough to play and guard the perimeter) and making Burke the backup point guard. For the former number nine overall pick, it’s important that he becomes accustomed to a set role going forward. And while it may not be a preference of his to come off the bench, Burke is perfect in the sixth man niche.
After starting the season in the G-League, Burke is hungry to prove that he belongs in the NBA and he’s doing just that. The question becomes if Burke continues to produce at this level for the remainder of the season, what does management do with him in free agency? An unrestricted free agent after this season, the Knicks will have to decide whether they want to devote part of their mid-level exception (which is all they’re projected to be able to spend this summer) towards retaining the point guard despite the presence of Mudiay and Ntilikina?
Mudiay is quick, capable of finding the open man and playing competitive on-ball defense. At the same time, the 22-year-old is struggling to finish at the rim and hit the outside jumper. Shooting a career-worst 35.4 percent from the field with the Knicks going into Tuesday night, Mudiay has immensely struggled to be a reliable source of offense.
Ntilikina has been underwhelming in his rookie season. While he’s showcased an ability to play at a high level on the defensive end, he was averaging just 5.5 points per game going into Tuesday night. He’s found difficulty in limiting turnovers and fouls while struggling to find a role in the team’s offense. Based on Mudiay and Ntilikina’s inability to chip in on the Knicks’ scoring efforts, Burke is crucial to Hornacek’s rotation. Tim Hardaway Jr. certainly provides the Knicks with a go-to scoring outlet, but the shooting guard cannot solely propel the team’s backcourt; they need Burke’s attacking mentality.
As the season bleeds on, Hornacek will experiment with a number of rotations to try and find something that can offer promise going forward. There are going to be times when Burke is the lead guard at the end of games and there will be moments where the head coach wants to see if Ntilikina can be a closer. The same goes for Mudiay. One option Hornacek should entertain is giving Burke a more prominent role off the bench.
Expanding Burke’s playing time to roughly 25 minutes a night would be a good start and doing so with more consistency will be important. For example, in the 18 games he appeared in before Tuesday night, Burke posted minute totals of eight, 15, seven, two, 29, 18, 17, five, 20, 23, 13, eight, four, 30, 26, 25, 19 and 27. The minutes have gone up for the point guard since the All-Star break, but they haven’t been consistent. Allocating them more consistently and allowing Burke to play to his strengths off the bench could bring out an even more electric product. It’s just important that he continues to do so off the bench.
Burke is thriving off the bench. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.