Trey Burke, Next Up to Backup — 2016-17 Wizards Player Previews | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Trey Burke, Next Up to Backup — 2016-17 Wizards Player Previews

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Updated: October 26, 2016

The 2016-17 NBA season is almost here … and upon last check, they are still going to allow the Washington Wizards to participate. So the TAI crew is firing up the pixel makers and churning out player previews, or rather, “Wizards Player Haters’ Previews” — which is not to say that we are hating on the players or the game, but that this season’s version of the Wizards is ready to hate on all those who stand in their way. Up now: Trey Burke, via Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur)

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Players who join new teams, led by new coaches, are expected to take time to find their identity. But the great Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson said it best, “Know your damn role.” Surely, it’s not that complicated.

I’m looking at you, Trey Burke. Unlike his last stop with the Utah Jazz, where he was drafted as a lottery pick in 2013 (ninth overall) and spent three up and down seasons not really understanding what his defined role on the team was supposed to be, his responsibility in D.C. is clear: back up John Wall.

While Burke was essentially traded to the Wizards in exchange for an eighth grader (a harsh reality given his initial billing as “franchise point guard”), Burke seems ready to take on his new challenge head on. Talking to him at Wizards media day, it became very apparent that Burke has been humbled and is quite comfortable in his role behind perennial All-Star John Wall.

Burke was one of the best low-cost options this off-season to fill the vacancy at backup point guard. Trading for his contract was much more cost effective than paying a free agent twice as much to do the same job. Burke’s $3.1 million base salary for this season is a fraction of what decent backup point guards were getting paid in this past summer’s free agency bonanza.

Lucky for Burke, and the Wizards, John Wall has proven once again to be superhuman and freakishly athletic, putting himself in position to not miss any time to start the season. Which means there is much less responsibility for Burke and no need for him to overcompensate for Wall’s absence (which would surely hurt the team).

Burke fits in perfectly with this Wizards, who lost a pretty damn good backup guard in Ramon Sessions this summer. Sessions and Burke have a few similarities in that they are both score-first point guards who sometimes fail to create offense for others. The thing that made Sessions a success last year was his ability to slash and draw fouls to keep the Wizards offense afloat when John Wall was not on the floor. Burke will likely succeed because of his ball handling abilities.

Burke’s handles are an asset to a Wizards team that is lacking in capable creators. He is able to pound the rock with both hands and has a terrific change-of-speed dribble that helps him create space in pick-and-roll situations (where Mahinmi thrives). He is also excellent at dribbling out of pressure and, despite not having high assist numbers, is a willing enough passer.

Unlike Sessions, Burke’s major weakness on the court involves his inability to get into and finish in the paint. Over his career, Burke only takes 15 percent of his shots from within two feet of the basket, and he only makes half (50.8%) of those takes. For comparison, last year Sessions took 43.4 percent of his shot attempts around the rim, and was able to finish on 57.6 percent of those shots. Because Burke does not attack the rim, he goes to the free throw line substantially less than most players (only 1.3 free throw attempts per game last season).

Another hit: Burke is not known for being a defender, because of his physical limitations, but at least he plays hard and has good enough feet to keep most second-unit point guards in from of him.

After being hobbled by an ankle injury after training camp that caused him to miss a few preseason games, Burke was able to finish strong in the Wizards’ last five exhibition games, averaging 8.4 points, 3.6 assists, and 2.6 rebounds on 44.7 percent shooting from the field. The thing that was a little alarming was finishing 1-for-9 from behind the arc during that span. No real cause for concern, given the small sample size and the fact Burke shot 44 percent from 3-point range last season—he’s also generally regarded as a decent shooter.

The worst case scenario for Burke, of course, is that he continues to struggle with his shot, becomes a liability on the defensive end, and yields minutes to newcomer Tomas Satoransky. Burke has the clear edge going into the season as the backup point guard over Satoransky just because he exhibited a level of comfort and assertiveness with running an NBA team that will possibly take Satoransky a little longer to master. Saty looks like a quick learner, so I don’t believe that Burke will have an extremely long leash if his play is not up to par. If Burke does not pan out how Ernie Grunfeld planned then all it really cost Washington was his $3.1 million base salary for this year and the subsequent eighth grader (i.e., 2021 second round draft pick) to be named later.

At those odds, Burke looks like the type of low-risk, high reward investment that smart GM’s of smart franchises get praised for all the time. There is no guarantee that the move will ultimately prove to be right, but the opportunity cost of finding out is damn sure worth it.


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Troy Haliburton
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Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. Bylines on bylines on bylines.

Will write for food.