Trey Burke is an underrated point guard. The New York Knicks need to sell that hard in trade talks as much can be gained.
Trey Burke is a diamond in a rough.
He was a high-energy, high-scoring point guard in college, but life in the NBA has been different. The basic numbers may not tell the same story, but the New York Knicks could easily use Burke as a trade chip later on.
Entering Friday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Burke was averaging 13.6 points and 3.7 assists per game. He just turned 26 years old and is making just shy of $1.8 million this season.
Those aren’t the prettiest numbers, but consistent play will keep his value in the right place.
Long story short, with the Knicks not even sniffing the playoffs this season, Burke needs to be dealt. So long as GM Scott Perry follows a certain playbook, finding a trade partner could actually be quite simple.
A rough transition
The first thing to understand about Trey Burke is just what kind of point guard he is.
He played his college ball at Michigan with current Knicks teammate Tim Hardaway Jr., with both playing for coach John Beilein. For those who don’t watch a lot of college hoops, Beilein runs a fast-paced offense.
By fast-paced, I mean he would probably recruit the Roadrunner if given the opportunity. Think of John Calipari’s dribble-drive approach mixed with a traditional run-and-gun offense.
Naturally, Burke flourished in that system. He played two seasons under Beilein and averaged 16.9 points and 5.7 assists per game over that stretch.
Burke also shot 45 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from three-point range. He then entered the 2013 NBA Draft at age 20 and was picked ninth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves. That same night, he was traded to the Utah Jazz for two draft picks.
Burke got plenty of playing time in three years with Utah, but his growing pains were obvious. He averaged 12.1 points and 4.2 assists but shot just 38.4 percent from the field and 32.9 percent from downtown. He was traded to the Washington Wizards for a second-round pick in 2016 and played as a reserve behind John Wall.
New York rebirth
Burke signed with the Knicks in October 2017, only to be waived three days later. However, he was assigned to the Westchester Knicks of the G League, and the Trey Burke of old was reborn.
Not only that but also Burke’s performance this year shows how far he has come as a player. He can still score in bunches as he did in college, but the Trey Burke of today knows how to slow his pace.
He’s a more complete point guard. The G League clearly turned him into a stronger player.
Don’t believe me? Look at Burke’s numbers in New York’s last four games. He is averaging 25.8 points and 4.3 assists per game while shooting an eye-popping 58.8 percent from the field and 45 percent from three-point land.
The best part is Burke is only averaging five three-point attempts out of 17 total field-goal attempts per game over that stretch. He is clearly making an effort to diversify his offense.
Just look at the Knicks’ 117-109 win on Wednesday over the far superior Boston Celtics. Burke not only had 29 points with 11 assists and six rebounds but achieved those stats in several ways.
He drove the lane to draw fouls. He did an excellent job of creating his shots in the mid-range. Getting teammates involved was more prioritized than usual.
Now, compare this game tape with the above footage of Burke at Michigan. Gone is the youngster whose bread and butter was 3-pointers and/or contested layups. In his place is a well-rounded point guard who can run and facilitate an offense, and not just as a one-trick pony.
If he keeps this pace up, the Knicks can easily turn Burke into a strong trade chip, and here’s how.
A smart trade strategy
As some may recall, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported a few days ago that the Wizards were shopping everyone on their roster. This includes star point guard John Wall.
Before we go any further, Knicks fans reading this should put that idea aside immediately. Trey Burke is good, yes, but not good enough to bring in Wall. The former first overall pick also signed a four-year, $170 million extension in 2017 that kicks in next year.
Money aside, Washington will want draft picks in exchange for Wall. The Knicks need those picks to complete the rebuild, so Wall isn’t an option now.
That said, New York needs to focus on one market for Trey Burke: playoff teams who need an upgrade at point guard.
Now, when I say playoff teams, I don’t mean those like the Celtics, the Toronto Raptors, or even the Memphis Grizzlies. Those teams are all richer than the Lannisters when it comes to point guard, so they don’t need a bargain guy in Burke.
Instead, GM Scott Perry should focus on teams currently ranked somewhere in the middle of their respective conference’s playoff races. Two teams that could be solid trade partners, for example, are the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic.
Indiana currently ranks fourth in the Eastern Conference and has the serviceable yet inconsistent Darren Collison at the point. Detroit, meanwhile, ranks seventh and has a fine facilitator in D.J. Augustin.
Now, consider this. Collison is also a free agent after this season. Augustin has one year and $7.25 million left on his deal. New York can easily trade Burke for one of them, and maybe a draft pick if his value is high enough. At a minimum, adding either would help stay the course until the team’s point guard of the future arrives.
All in all, the Knicks are not in a rush to trade Trey Burke. They are not a playoff team, so making a big trade splash is unnecessary.
Despite that, New York has to think about the future, which means deciding what to do with Burke. Do they trade him or re-sign him? Given how he’s been playing as of late, this writer leans toward the former.
That means following the above playbook by finding trade partners in playoff teams who need a boost. Burke’s playing style is perfect for adding a spark to an offense, and he comes at a low price. If no team shows interest in him, it truly is their loss.
In which case, next summer Burke could turn out to be the Knicks’ gain.