GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Trey Burke had an awakening last season, seeing where his career was at, the teams he’d shuttled through and the diminishing star attached to his name in the time since he was picked ninth overall in the 2013 draft. Rededicated, Burke found his way through the G League and onto the Knicks’ roster, and now is competing for a starting job.
But he didn’t just find a place for his return. In his second season with the Knicks, he may have found a coach in David Fizdale who fits his strengths rather than one trying to make him into something he isn’t.
The 6-1 Burke doesn’t fit any of the molds for a point guard, not the old-school careful distributor and orchestrator or the now-in-vogue high-scoring, long-range shooter. He is slightly built, maybe a little too short, a speedster who thrives in the lane, creating havoc and living on midrange shots that analytics decry.
And to all of that, Fizdale has told him: Just do it.
“It helps me a lot, not only just from creating but confidence-wise,” Burke said after Friday’s practice session. “When you know you can play through mistakes, that’s all you can ask for. You’re not looking over your shoulder every time you might turn the ball over, every time you do something wrong.
“That’s exciting when you have coaches that are not tripping about making mistakes. They know we’re going to have mistakes early on. It’s a new offense, a new system. They’re more so on us about our intensity, our energy that we’re bringing. Are we talking on defense? Are guys in their spots?”
Burke is competing for the starting spot with the Knicks’ own lottery pick from last season, Frank Ntilikina, and Emmanuel Mudiay, another reclamation project, the No. 7 overall pick in 2015. But Fizdale has declared that all starting jobs are up for grabs. That might be coachspeak when it comes to the likes of Tim Hardaway Jr. or Enes Kanter, but none of the point guards has proved enough to be handed a pass directly to a starting job.
Fizdale said he has not decided on a starting five for Monday’s preseason opener and pointed out that what you see that day might not be what you see in the next preseason game or into the regular season. Burke is content to have a chance again.
“Me, what I’m focused on is getting better every day,” he said. “That’s my biggest focus, making sure I’m handling everything that I can do on and off the court. The rest will take care of itself.”
What he has been given, whether it is a starting role or a bench spot, is the freedom to be himself in what he said is the fastest-paced offense he has played in his career.
“I love it. I think we all like it,” Burke said. “He gives us a lot of freedom. Like I said, it’s a lot thrown at us, new coaching staff and a whole new coaching system. But I think we’re picking it up on the fly. Guys are competing at a high level. That’s what you want to see on the third day of training camp.”