Less than three months ago, Trey Burke was an afterthought when looking at point guards among the NBA landscape.
Taken ninth overall in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves and subsequently dealt to the Utah Jazz, the Michigan product never reached his true potential as developmental issues saw him fall out of favor in a crowded backcourt in Salt Lake City.
After three years in which he averaged 12.1 points per game while shooting just 38.4-percent from the field, he was traded to the Washington Wizards where he appeared in 57 games as a seldom-used bench option behind John Wall.
His five points per game did little to help him secure a job heading into free agency last summer and no one came calling. So he did the work himself, reaching out to New York Knicks general manager Scott Perry, a former Michigan assistant, for a chance.
In October, Burke was signed and sent to the G-League where he stayed until being called up by the Knicks after Ramon Sessions was waived.
While he was still joining a backcourt that included rookie Frank Ntilikina and veteran Jarrett Jack, Burke worked his way to regular playing time by quickly showed that he was a completely different player.
“I’m a different person. I’m married now, more mature,” the 25-year-old said (h/t Vince Ellis, Detroit Free Press). “Through experience, sometimes in this profession, you have to go through some of the things, some of the trials and tribulations as a player, to get to the point you want to get, to get your full potential out to who you can be as a player. I think all of those things are helping me now.”
In 31 games, Burke is averaging 12.6 points and 4.4 assists per game with New York; numbers that don’t necessarily jump off the page. But since getting a DNP (did not play) on Feb. 22, Burke has averaged 16.3 points per game, including a 42-point effort on Mar. 26 against the Charlotte Hornets.
His success has forced head coach Jeff Hornacek to relegate Jack to the bench, the veteran having appeared in just one game since Feb. 22, while moving Ntilikina to more of a shooting guard role. Mudiay was given the starting role at point guard since his arrival from Denver, but Burke’s hot hand has earned him starts in each of the last four games.
There is no reason why he should relinquish the role, either. In those four starts, Burke is averaging 24.3 points, including that monster 42-point performance, with nine assists per game.
What’s most impressive is his efficiency on the floor as he’s shooting 51.7-percent from the field. Philadelphia 76ers phenom Ben Simmons is the only point guard that has played as many minutes as Burke this season and has a higher field-goal percentage.
It’s a lone bright spot in a Knicks season that has been dreadful ever since Kristaps Porzingis’ season-ending injury back in February, one that should be rewarded. While the organization will likely have an obligation to give the 19-year-old Ntilikina and 22-year-old Mudiay playing time moving forward — unless Perry and team president Steve Mills make drastic moves over the summer — Burke’s performance should make him an obvious front-runner for the starting job come next year.