5 Thoughts on the Win:
1. Trey Burke is here to remind you that he’s part of this point guard audition, too. Let’s remember his story started this season by signing with the Knicks‘ G-League team rather than another NBA team because he felt there was an opportunity here for him.
But after the trade for Emmanuel Mudiay, it almost seemed that Burke’s chance was gone. He played sparingly in the last three games leading into the All-Star break, including a DNP-CD against the Wizards. But in Orlando, when given the chance, Burke made sure Jeff Hornacek could not take him off the court.
“Coach told me to go out there and play my game,” he said.
Trey Burke speaks with Rebecca Haarlow after scoring a season-high 26 points in the Knicks' 120-113 win over the Magic in Orlando.
Burke did what he does: score.
He had 26 points on 12-of-22 shooting and added 6 assists and 5 rebounds in almost 30 minutes. The knock on him — and something Hornacek often references — is his size and issues on defense. So Burke set out to prove he can make an impact on both ends of the floor.
In fact, Burke had a steal and a blocked shot to complete a boxscore without a single zero. The blocked shot, which came against fellow 6-footer in D.J. Augustin, was his first of the season in 14 games with the Knicks.
Here’s the thing with Burke, his numbers tell you he is a productive player. He is averaging 22.2 points and 7.8 assists with just 1.6 turnovers Per 36 Minutes this season.
The thing is, this game (29:42) was the most minutes he’s played all season. And there certainly is a case to see more. In the four games this season in which he’s played over 20 minutes, Burke is averaging 16.8 points and 5.3 assists with just two turnovers total in the four games. He’s shooting 58.8% from the field and made 4-of-11 from three.
Al Trautwig, Alan Hahn and Wally Szczerbiak look at how Trey Burke took over the game in the Knicks' 120-113 win over the Magic.
So, yes, more Trey Burke, please.
2. The Knicks perpetual search for stability in the game’s most important position includes Mudiay, who got his first start for the Knicks in Orlando, and rookie Frank Ntilikina, who also reached 30 minutes and played mostly off the ball.
Mudiay was held to 23 minutes mainly because Burke commanded the minutes late in the game as the Knicks ended an eight-game losing streak. But Mudiay’s line was decent: 8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and a steal with two turnovers.
He had a nice alley-oop off the break to Tim Hardaway Jr. and a good post-up score against the smaller Augustin. But he still looks like a guy who needs to really commit to an offseason of serious conditioning to maximize his athletic potential.
Hornacek liked that he was able to know the plays well enough to organize the offense and get others involved. That’s the big difference in his appreciation for Mudiay over Burke, who seems to be from the generation of point guards — i.e.: Kemba Walker — who look to score first and pass as a second option. Mudiay has done a lot of film study to catch up to the plays and facilitate and he will benefit from more on-court work next week, when the team has three practices before the West Coast trip.
For the first time since, maybe, December, Ntilikina showed off his defensive potential. He had a steal and two blocked shots, including one on a dunk attempt by Mario Hezonja that got Hornacek and the Knicks bench, fired up. It was good to see the 19-year-old challenging again on defense.
Hornacek kept him off the ball on offense, which is something we saw before the All-Star break. Ntilikina was 2-for-6 from the field for 7 points in the game. Like Mudiay, we need to see if Frank commits to an offseason of strength training that gets him more power and explosiveness on drives to the hoop. There’s still a lot of growing to do in that body, but he should be a more explosive player than he is right now.
3. Speaking of athleticism, the Knicks signed Troy Williams to a 10-day contract. Williams, 23, was waived by the Houston Rockets to make room for veteran Joe Johnson and is one of those athletic wings that are becoming all the rage around the NBA.
He showed some of it off in the brief cameo he made in Orlando, with a nifty baseline drive and reverse layup around shot-blocker Bismack Biyombo. Williams played 6 minutes and had 4 points. It seems like he’s going to get plenty of looks to see if his size (6-foot-7) and athleticism can be useful.
Williams, who went undrafted in 2016 out of Indiana, showed in Houston he can be an asset in up-tempo systems where all he has to do is run the floor and fill the lanes. He can finish at the rim and has the attributes to be a good defender. But before we start comparing him to a Trevor Ariza-type, he needs to prove he can be a more reliable catch-and-shoot guy from three-point range, so he can be a floor spacer.
4. Hornacek put an end to the Joakim Noah story by saying “we’ve moved on” after reports of a practice altercation during the West Coast trip a few weeks ago. Since then, Noah was sent home and likely won’t be back with the team this season.
Expect Noah’s representation to push the Knicks for a buyout before March 1, but is there enough motivation for the Knicks to do that? He is still owed $37.7 million on that four-year, $72 million contract he signed in 2016. Should the Knicks really eat that money — and the cap hit an average of $19 million — to let him go play for another team?
Jeff Hornacek talks about the team moving on from Joakim Noah, while Alan Hahn, Wally Szczerbiak and Al Trautwig discuss the options the Knicks have in unloading his contract.
If he is waived by March 1, Noah would be eligible to play in the playoffs if he signs with another team. Noah clearly wants to join another team, but if you’re the Knicks, holding onto this contract into this offseason might be a better play. What if a team has a player with a big contract that they are trying to move and it goes beyond the next two years? The Noah contract could be very valuable in that kind of situation, so why dump an asset you may need?
The team can always revisit buyout talks in the offseason. Using the stretch provision then would mean a lower cap hit in the all-important Summer of 2019, when the team hopes to be a major player in free agency.
5. So many of you don’t know how to feel right now, do you? The Knicks won and beat the Magic. On ESPN Radio after the game, I heard a caller say it was “a bad win” because the Magic (18-40) are a team ahead of the Knicks in the lottery.
Look, I was all-in on the idea of getting as high of a draft pick as possible in 2015, when the team won just 17 games and there were talents like Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis available (OK, full disclosure I really liked D’Angelo Russell, too). But that was when the team was already among the five worst records in the league.
This year’s draft class has some intriguing talent — KP’s pal Luka Doncic seems like the real deal — and the Knicks need to acquire more star-quality players to follow more of a Golden State plan than an Orlando plan. Right now, the Knicks are six wins ahead of a mosh pit of bad teams that are hovering around the 18-win mark. It will take another epic losing streak to fall far enough to make it worth the while.
But if you’re in the top-10, you’re still in play to get quality. Here’s something to consider, only 53% of the players selected for this year’s All-Star Game (including injured players) were top-5 draft picks. Five of the 28 players were No. 1 overall selections. So there’s plenty of value to be found outside of the bottom-5.
Take the Warriors, for instance. All three of their homegrown All-Stars — Steph Curry (7th), Klay Thompson (11th) and Draymond Green (2nd Round) — were not top-5 picks.
The strategy of the team right now is to play young players — Luke Kornet and Damyean Dotson both saw time in the rotation in Orlando — and push the team to be competitive. They might get out-talented most nights even if they play hard, but it’s the only way to truly assess what you have and what you want to keep to build forward.