PHOENIX — Not many good things came from the Knicks’ 130-118 loss to the Nuggets in Denver on Thursday night. It was hard to find a bright spot after the Knicks gave up their highest point total of the season.
But coach Jeff Hornacek liked what he saw from third-string point guard Trey Burke, who entered the game in the first quarter and played 28:42 — more minutes than starter Jarrett Jack and backup Frank Ntilikina.
Burke earned the time, recording 18 points, 11 assists and no turnovers. Before the finale of the road trip Friday night against the Suns — in which Burke had 18 points, three assists and two turnovers in 18 minutes in a 107-85 victory over the Suns — Hornacek said he was intrigued by the pairing of Burke at the point and Ntilikina off the ball.
“We tried to get Frank and Trey out there together,” Hornacek said. “I thought that was pretty good. Frank was able to play off the ball a little bit. They lend different things for us. Trey had a great game with running the high pick-and-roll, which sometimes is kind of good to have, and Frank did a very good job defensively while he was out there.”
If the Knicks’ season continues to careen out of control — they were 21-28 and had lost three in a row and 14 of 18 before Friday’s victory — Hornacek could decide to depend less on the veteran Jack and see what he has in Burke, 25, a former ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft by Minnesota who is trying to revive his NBA career.
“It’s kind of that game-to-game situation,” Hornacek said. “They all lend something different. It’s not like we can say, ‘Well, one guy is not doing this or not doing that.’ We know what they’re capable of doing. Jarrett does a great job at times running our team and keeping us controlled. Frank has had good moments offensively when he’s hit big threes for us late in games. We like his defense. And Trey, we like his ability to get in the lane and create some havoc that way. So it’s tough sometimes, but maybe it settles at some point. Trey just got here what, a week and a half ago? We’re still trying to work on it.”
Ntilikina shot 1-for-6 and scored only three points in 19:27. The 19-year-old Frenchman seems to have slammed right into the rookie wall. That has opened up time for Burke, who was lighting up the G League at 26.6 points per game when the Knicks called him up Jan. 14 and waived little-used veteran Ramon Sessions. Thursday’s game was Burke’s fifth with the Knicks. He has shot 16-for-26 from the field in the last two games.
“The game changes a bit when he’s out there,” Hornacek said. “With him, [Kristaps Porzingis] and shooters, we feel good about that group being out there. He’s got the ability to get us some easy looks on the pick-and-roll, saw he’s able to drive around big guys when they did switch. It puts pressure on the defense.”
Said Burke: “Coach told me to push the pace, penetrate, make plays, take what the defense gives me. He knows naturally I’m a scoring point guard. He tells me to be myself. I just took what they gave me. A lot of times in transition, guys set picks for me and I was able to get downhill and we were able to get something good most of the night. It’s just defensively we couldn’t stop them.”
Burke, who is listed at 6-1, is not known for his defense, but Hornacek praised him for pressuring the ball and being one of the only Knicks who bothered to do so Thursday.
“At times, he has that ability to get up on a guy,” Hornacek said. “We’re trying to get all of our guys to put a little more pressure out there.”