WASHINGTON, D.C. — Trey Burke has worked his way back into the NBA with an assist from John Wall.
As Wall’s backup with the Wizards last season, Burke learned a lot while watching one of the best point guards in the league attack opposing players and seeing how he worked and carried himself. Burke said he changed his approach and tried to adopt Wall’s mentality.
It has helped him this season. He’s become one of the Knicks’ most reliable players during the last month and could be a part of their future.
“His motor, the way he attacked each and every game, it was like he never gasped for air,” Burke said. “His approach night in and night out and just the way he took it to every guard. It didn’t matter if it was a lower-tier guard or if it was a superstar guard, he played the same way.
“Now my opportunity, I keep that in the back of my mind. You got to play the same way, play with that same energy, that same motor, regardless of if you’re going up against a superstar or not.”
Burke was the No. 9 overall pick in 2013, but his play and minutes gradually went down after he earned first-team All-Rookie honors. He said he was too immature and didn’t work as hard as he should have because he was always handed everything on his way up.
After appearing in only 57 games for Washington and averaging 5.0 points and 1.8 assists in 12.3 minutes, Burke realized something had to change.
He had an opportunity to sign with the Thunder in September, but Burke figured if he made the team, he wouldn’t get much of a chance playing behind Russell Westbrook. It would be like Washington all over again. So he opted to pass on the Thunder.
A more mature Burke took the road less traveled. He signed with the Knicks, knowing he would play on their G League team, and worked hard to get another NBA shot.
He earned it, and one of his biggest supporters was Wall. They had dinner when the Wizards visited New York last month, and they’ll catch up Sunday when the Knicks face Washington.
“He knows what I can do just from being in practice last year,” Burke said. “His biggest message when I was in the G League was ‘Don’t give up. If you know you belong in this league, take whatever route God gave you to take to get back to where you feel like you belong.’ That’s something that sticks with me.”
Burke, 25, rediscovered himself and his passion for basketball while playing for the Westchester Knicks. He said he’s “in attack mode at all times” now.
Burke has outplayed Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina off the bench in the last 14 games. Mudiay and Ntilikina have guaranteed deals next season. Burke has only a partial guarantee, but he’s proving he belongs.
Burke is averaging 10.9 points and 3.7 assists in 17.9 minutes in 27 games. In the last 14 games, his minutes have jumped up, as have his production and performance: He’s averaging 14.1 points and 4.6 assists and making 50.2 percent of his shots.
“The G League allowed me to get back to who I am mentally, and get back to knowing who I am as a player and not trying to fit in to what someone else wants me to be,” he said. “Naturally, I’m a scoring point guard. They’re allowing me to play to my strengths, and it’s showing.
“I had an opportunity to play 25 to 30 minutes a night [in the G League], I didn’t know if I was going to get that same opportunity with another team in the NBA. I was willing to take that route knowing that it was risky because a lot of guys don’t make it back into the league. But I was willing to take that route, go down there, get my confidence back, get back to the player that I knew I was, dominate down there, win games.
“I knew my opportunity would come eventually. I just wanted to make sure I was ready when it did.”