Trey Burke is having quite a week. He had 15 points and 9 assists last Friday against the Timberwolves, and was a +17 in the 31 minutes when he was on the floor. If the Knicks weren’t a -21 in the 15 minutes he was on the bench, they could have very easily pulled the upset over Minnesota.
On Sunday, he put on a show against the Wizards, scoring 19 points in under 28 minutes against his former team, including the go-ahead bucket with under a minute to go in the game. Burke followed it up on Monday with a career-high 42 points against Hornets. He went 19-for-31 from the field and dished out 12 assists in a narrow loss.
As good as his last week has been, the reality is he’s been playing well ever since the Knicks signed him in mid-January. He’s averaging 23.2 points and 7.6 assists per 36 minutes with a .581 true shooting percentage. Those are the best marks of his career and significantly better than what he posted as a Wizard. Last season, he averaged 14.6 points and 5.1 assists with a .532 true shooting percentage.
It’s only natural to ponder whether or not the Wizards made the right decision to let him walk this summer, but there are some things to keep in mind:
- The Wizards didn’t let go of someone in high demand. If they made a mistake by letting him go, so did every other team in the NBA, including the Knicks, who waived him in the preseason after signing him to a training camp deal.
- This could still be a flash in the pan situation. Every season, there are a few players who get hot as contenders start to conserve energy for the playoffs and lottery-bound teams jockey for ping pong balls. Plus, Burke has only played 550 minutes with the Knicks so far. That’s about how many minutes the Rasual Butler played in his first 22 games with the Wizards before his shooting cooled off and he eventually fell out of the rotation.
- Even if Burke’s performance is sustainable, it’s important to keep in mind the journey it took to get there. Would Burke have figured things out without a humbling trip to the G-League? He doesn’t seem to think so, based on what he said to CBS Sports earlier this season:
“I had to look myself in the mirror and be real with myself. I had to kind of stop lying to myself about I should be here, I should be this, this team should put me in this position when I wasn’t doing everything necessary to put myself in that position.”
The better question to ask is whether or not the Wizards did the best job of putting Burke in a position where he could succeed. He played more minutes with Kelly Oubre, in the midst of a deep sophomore slump, than anyone else on the roster. He spent more time playing with Marcus Thornton than Bradley Beal.
Worst of all, he only played 272 minutes with the player he was most productive with last season: Tomas Satoransky. The Wizards had a +6.2 net rating when Burke and Satoransky played together, even though Burke had a negative net rating alongside every other Wizard he played with other than John Wall.
The pairing made a lot of sense on paper. Burke is an off-guard stuck in a point guard’s body. He could have been everything the Wizards wanted Marcus Thornton and Jodie Meeks to be, just in a smaller package. Meanwhile Satoransky would have had more opportunities to guard bigger players and strike a better balance between what he does well on the ball and off the ball.
The Wizards have had a lot of success developing young players under Scott Brooks so far, but Burke could be a notable exception if he keeps this up. He could have addressed the Wizards’ backcourt depth issues this season and put both himself and Satoransky in a position to flourish well before January 2018. Even if Burke’s production isn’t sustainable, targeting someone in his mold would be a good idea this summer.