Burke Continues To Shine Off Bench

5 thoughts on the loss:

1. Trey Burke keeps proving he can be a scoring guard in this league. For a second straight game — and this time against a very good defense — he lit up the scoreboard with 26 points and eight assists in 26:26.

After the game in Orlando, he was the first Knick in five years to post 26 points and six assists off the bench (JR Smith). After this game, he is the first Knick in nine years to do it in consecutive games (Nate Robinson).

But all that matters is what we’re seeing is something to work with going forward. Clearly, Burke is comfortable in a high pick-and-roll system that allows him to set up his deadly pull-up jumper by driving into the paint. He can also knock down the three, so you can’t always go under the screen.

It was a fun battle with Kyrie Irving (31 points) on The Garden stage, but what you saw was Burke wear down late in the game and his shots started falling short. His size is always the biggest concern by scouts who are watching him closely and there are times he gets into the paint where he can get swallowed up by bigger defenders.

But you can’t deny his skill set as a scorer. He looks the part of Allen Iverson, visually, but AI is a Hall of Famer for a reason. For a player of his size, he could take a pounding going to the basket and never seemed to wear down. Burke has somewhat of an Isaiah Thomas/Kemba Walker quality that has proven to be successful in this league in the right system. He also has an Ish Smith-type impact in that he can change a game when he enters off the bench. He changes the pace and forces defenses to focus on him.

Burke shoots a high percentage, which is important for scoring guards because some who fit this mold tend to be low-percentage volume shooters (i.e.: Kemba).

So as we continue to watch Burke during these final few weeks of the season, the question to ask is if he has the talent and endurance to be a starting guard who can play this level for 30+ minutes a night or can he be an extremely valuable scoring guard off the bench?

Either one would fill an important need for the Knicks.

2. Along with searching for a point guard and getting more athletic on the wing, the Knicks need to find some three-point shooting. They went 6-for-27 in the game against Boston, while the Celtics made 13-of-33. Kyrie Irving did most of the damage with 6-of-12 from downtown, including 4-for-4 in the third quarter.

Since Phil Jackson arrived in 2014, the Knicks went from being one of the league’s top three-point shooting teams to a team that uses it the least in the NBA. It wasn’t an emphasis in Jackson’s Triangle Offense and though Jeff Hornacek would like to see his team take more threes, the offense doesn’t produce them.

One issue is they don’t have enough consistent shooters. Tim Hardaway Jr. is streaky like our beloved John Starks. Kristaps Porzingis can make one or two per game, but there has been a focus on getting him closer to the basket. Doug McDermott shot a high percentage but didn’t get many looks and often missed on kick-outs. Courtney Lee is another that shoots a high percentage from three but isn’t inclined to take a high volume.

And guard play has a lot to do with it, too. Most teams get threes off drive-and-kick plays, which is a rarity in the Knicks offense.

So why should the three-point shot become a bigger priority for the Knicks? Simple. If you want to be a playoff team these days, that shot can get you there. That shot helps you come back from early deficits and can also close out games. That shot can win games during the dog days of the season. That shot can make the difference between 30 wins and 40 wins.

[Watch Knicks-Warriors Monday on MSG & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]

This season, the Knicks are last in three-point attempts per game at 22.2 3PA per game. Only six teams in the league are attempting fewer than 25 threes per game and four of them — Pacers, Bucks, Spurs and Timberwolves — are currently in a playoff spot. But that also tells us that 12 of the 16 playoff teams shoot over 25 threes per game.

The Knicks are 25th in the NBA in three-point percentage, at 35.1%. Only six teams that are in a playoff spot — Heat, Spurs, Timberwolves, Raptors, Bucks and Thunder — shoot below 36%. Only one of those teams, the Thunder (35.0%), shoot a lower percentage than the Knicks. So 10 teams currently sitting in a playoff spot shoot higher than 36% from three.

So shoot more than 25 threes a game and make at least 36% of them and you have one important element to a playoff team? This season there are 16 teams with at least 25 3PA/game and shooting at least 36% from three. Of those 16 teams, 10 are playoff teams.

3. Troy Williams, who is in the midst of a 10-day contract, did not get off the bench until the fourth quarter and still finished with the third-highest scoring total on the team. The athletic forward scored 14 points in 12 minutes, including an electrifying put-back dunk that brought a loud roar from The Garden crowd.

Williams was 6-for-6 from two-point range but missed all three of his three-point attempts, which has been the issue of his career. He has terrific athleticism and plays with a high motor. He had a steal and his defense caused some problems for the Celtics. But a few of his looks from three were at critical moments.

The Knicks are giving him a good look before they decide on giving him another 10-day. There’s only one more game — Monday against the Warriors — before his contract is up.

4. I had a great chat with Trey Burke before the game and one of the topics we discussed had to do with the NCAA ruling that the 2013 national championship was to be vacated as part of a punishment to a Louisville basketball program that was rocked by a scandal that led to the firing of coach Rick Pitino.

You might remember, Burke played in that championship game for Michigan, along with Tim Hardaway Jr. The Cardinals won 82-76. Burke, who was national player of the year, had 24 points in the game and Hardaway Jr. added 12.

“When I first heard about it, I thought, ‘Does that mean we are champions?'” Burke said. “But once they said it was just vacated, I knew that wasn’t happening.”

Burke went on to say he remains “50-50” about the situation. “I see us as champions,” he said. “They won the game, but if they broke rules on how they got there, I don’t know. They won the game, but I still see us as champions.”

Michigan finished the runner-up but will not be recognized by the NCAA as the champion that season. It is the first time in the Final Four era that a championship has been vacated.

5. Friends of mine at Sport’n Goods made up this Knicks version of a shirt they made for Lakers fans. I had to get one for Walt “Clyde” Frazier, who to this day admits he hates almost everything green … except money, of course!

Can’t stop, won’t stop.

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Clyde loved the shirt and, yes, he still hates his old rivals since those epic battles he had playing for the Knicks in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Man, how many of us remember the days when it was fun to hate the Celtics? Remember Bernard King scaring the champs in a seven-game brawl in 1984? Remember Patrick Ewing‘s three and that amazing Game 5 in Boston in 1990? Remember that cathartic series in 2013?

They look like they’ll be the team to beat in the East for a while. The Knicks need to build a team to challenge them and reignite this great rivalry.

[Watch Knicks-Warriors Monday on MSG & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]