Burke’s NBA Rebirth Continues With Career-Night

5 thoughts on the loss:

1. There was one moment left for Trey Burke to have in this game and he wanted it. This was like Jeremy Lin against the Lakers but with the Raptors ending, which included MSG Network‘s radio analyst Brendan Brown famously yelling, “Give him the ball and get out of his way!”

Burke had the ball, and the game, in his hands as the seconds ticked down in regulation with the score tied at 117 in Charlotte. He had been shredding Kemba Walker and the Hornets guards throughout the entire second half and this was a moment to punctuate his comeback as an NBA player.

But after he waved off the coming screen, he took one dribble too many and Walker managed to tip it enough to cause a disruption in his move. The result was an off-balance, well-defended heave that fell short. There would be no storybook ending for this career night for Burke, who finished with 42 points and 12 assists. Walker dominated overtime and the Knicks lost.

But for Burke, the story is still being written about his rebirth as an NBA player.

“I’m just playing with a sense of peace and confidence out there on the court,” he said. “It’s allowing me to just be myself.”

Who doesn’t love a good redemption story? Burke was on top of the world as the college player of the year in 2013 and the ninth overall pick in the draft. He had a good rookie season in Utah and was considered a contender for Rookie of the Year, which was won by Michael Carter-Williams.

But then he became a cautionary tale, one that involved too much ego, too much sensitivity to criticism and not enough work on his game. It led to a falling out, a trade and then a tough decision to completely reboot his career and his life. Rather than become a journeyman on the NBA treadmill, Burke swallowed his pride and accepted a risky proposition to play in the G-League.

That risk, so far, has paid off for him and for the Knicks. He’s been here since mid-January, but his minutes were often sporadic. His numbers were solid, but the opportunity to play a consistent role didn’t come until after the All-Star break. There were moments of frustration when Emmanuel Mudiay was getting chance after chance while Burke stayed on the bench, but Burke learned from his experience in Utah to not let negativity take the wheel. He just kept working and waiting.

And when his chance came, he was ready.

Now, of course, comes the question: Is this guy who idolizes — and looks so much like — Allen Iverson someone the Knicks can look to as — ahem — the “answer” at the point guard position?

2. When I said earlier that Burke made a risky proposition, he also took a gamble on the Knicks. His eye-opening play lately could have earned him a big payday as a free agent this summer, but what few people know is he’s actually under contract for another season with the Knicks.

Here’s how it happened: When Burke was signed out of the G-League by the Knicks in January, the Knicks didn’t go the usual 10-day contract route. They bet on him and asked that he bet on them, too. So they offered him a two-year contract for the duration of this season and next season at the NBA veteran’s minimum salary.

So next season’s salary of $1.8 million is non-guaranteed, however, as Ian Begley of ESPN reported in January, it has dates built into it that guarantee the salary. So, for instance, if the Knicks don’t waive him by July 1, a portion of the $1.8 million becomes guaranteed. If he remains on the team for training camp, more is guaranteed. Then by early January 2019, if he’s still on the roster, it is fully guaranteed.

The Knicks can talk extension with him this summer if they want to lock him up long-term beyond 2019.

3. Let’s stay on the topic of Trey Burke for one more segment because we have yet to discuss the historical significance to what we saw in Charlotte. Not only was the 42 points Burke’s career-high in scoring and a season-high for the Knicks (Kristaps Porzingis had 40 against the Pacers back on Nov. 5), but Burke joined some rare company in Knicks history.

It seems these 40-10 games tend to happen in March.

40 POINT/10 ASSIST GAMES

  • 3/26/18: Trey Burke: 42 points, 12 assists vs. Hornets
  • 3/29/05: Stephon Marbury: 45 points, 10 assists vs. Lakers
  • 3/9/85: Bernard King: 42 points, 13 assists vs. 76ers (King had a triple-double this night with 10 rebounds)
  • 3/31/77: Walt Frazier: 41 points, 11 assists vs. Pacers,

But wait, I had to look further to see just how rare of a game this is. So do you know in recent NBA history, only four other times since 2014 has there been a performance of at least 42 points and 12 assists?

James Harden has all four of them. Most recently he had 56 points and 13 assists against the Jazz back on Nov. 5. (Yep, the same night KP went for 40 against the Pacers).

But if you look at the boxscore, you have to notice one more column to really see just how impressive this game was for Burke. In 41 minutes, he had just two turnovers.

When you add that element to the equation, the performance becomes even rarer in NBA history and he’s accompanied by three Hall of Famers and another who should be in it.

(By the way, note the most recent player to do it before Burke):

RARE COMPANY (At least 42 points, 12 assists and 2 or fewer turnovers in an NBA game)

  • 3/26/18: Trey Burke, Knicks: 42 points, 12 assists, 2 turnovers vs Hornets
  • 3/17/07: Allen Iverson, Nuggets: 44 points, 15 assists, 1 turnover vs Suns
  • 4/3/94: Kevin Johnson, Suns: 42 points, 17 assists, 2 turnovers vs Nuggets
  • 1/22/88: Michael Jordan, Bulls: 42 points, 13 assists, 2 turnovers vs Suns
  • 12/13/83: Isiah Thomas, Pistons: 47 points, 17 assists, 2 turnovers vs Nuggets

(It also seems to be the first time someone did it against a team other than the Suns or Nuggets!)

[Watch Knicks-76ers Wednesday on MSG & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]

4. For the second game of a back-to-back between two teams not heading to the playoffs, this turned out to be not just an exciting finish, but a fun game, especially in the second half. At one point, Jeff Hornacek handed the dry-erase board to Tim Hardaway Jr. and let him run the timeout to draw up a play out of a timeout in the fourth quarter.

As Hardaway explained to reporters, he was upset that Hornacek had to burn a timeout as the Knicks had possession and when he complained, Hornacek said, “Why don’t you come up with a play?”

So Hardaway sat in the middle of the huddle and drew up a play that Hornacek said was “right out of our basic one play.” The players broke the huddle and went onto the court and Hardaway watched with even more interest than usual.

“I was like, ‘This better work’,” he said.

The play was run to perfection and the Knicks got the shot they wanted and took the lead. The play was designed for — who else — Trey Burke.

5. Lost in the Burke performance were two rookies who continue to catch your eye. The first is Frank Ntilikina, who seemed to be on his way to his own career-best effort after he put up 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting in the first half.

Ntilikina came off the bench as Hornacek wanted to use him as a third guard with Mudiay (illness) out of the lineup. Ntilikina looked decisive with his dribble-drive moves and continues to play much faster than he did early in the season.

One play that was negated might have been his best move of the season, as he came off a curl and got Walker on his hip for a drive down the wide-open lane for a dunk. But the basket was waved off and Ntilikina was called for an offensive foul because his elbow clocked Walker in the face as he made his move to the hoop. A shame.

While Ntilikina has been more aggressive with his drives there were a few times he would have his mind set on passing the ball when he had an open lane to the hoop. Also, once the Hornets started helping on his drives, he had his shot blocked a few times as a result of finishing under the rim. This is where he needs an offseason of work on his strength and power to the basket.

The aforementioned offensive foul was one of the six he drew in the game. Yes, he fouled out in 17:41. Tough.

Another rookie to watch is Luke Kornet. Yes, Luke Kornet. The 7-foot-1 center had eight points, five rebounds and a blocked shot in 26:30 and played down the stretch once again in replace of Enes Kanter. Kornet battled with Dwight Howard on box outs and knocked down a couple of threes. The trust that Hornacek is showing in the undrafted rookie — and yet another Westchester Knicks product — is notable, especially when it comes to how Kornet is proving capable of defending pick and rolls.

He’s another who needs a good offseason of work on his body and this experience is showing him that. But could Kornet be a good depth center on an NBA roster?

[Watch Knicks-76ers Wednesday on MSG & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.