Who knows, exactly, how it would all work out. In his career, Knicks guard Alec Burks has spent very little time in his 11 NBA seasons manning the point, and has the assist numbers—1.9 per game—to prove it. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Burks has played all of seven percent of his career possessions at the point.
On Saturday against the Hawks, though, Burks was officially listed as the starting point guard for the Knicks, and though the New York offense did not call for him to do very much traditional point-guard-ing, he did a fine job holding down the job and igniting some life in a Knicks starting five that has looked lost for much of the season.
Burks finished with 23 points on 7-for-17 shooting, including 4-for-7 from the 3-point line–and that included two huge back-to-back 3s late in the third quarter after the Hawks had surged. Burks also had seven rebounds and three assists. It’s part of a recent surge from Burks, who entered the game having scored 13.3 points on 46.6% shooting, 48.9% 3-point shooting, in his previous eight games.
Could the Knicks finally have found a new starting five combo?
Injuries forced Burks to Start at the Point
While it has been frequently argued that Burks should hit the starting lineup as a replacement for free-agent signee Evan Fournier, an injury to backup point guard Derrick Rose’s ankle on a night when starter Kemba Walker was sitting to rest his often-sore knee necessitated making Burks the starter.
Coach Tom Thibodeau could have inserted Immanuel Quickley as the starter—after Walker and Rose, he’s the only experienced point guard on the roster. But Thibodeau likes having Quickley on the second unit and did not want to disrupt the continuity of that group too badly. If he wants to keep it that way, maybe Burks is his man.
It’s doubtful, just because Burks is not much of a playmaker. But Burks does play well off of Evan Fournier and R.J. Barrett. Though the Knicks did not rack up the assists on Saturday (a very modest 20), the ball moved well enough and the Knicks played very good defense. The starters, in a rare circumstance this season, were a net positive on the game, at plus-7.
Burks as the starting point guard is, at least, an interesting idea. He filled in as a starter five times for Thibodeau last year, but as a wing replacing Reggie Bullock. The win over the Hawks makes the Knicks 4-2 when Burks is a starter.
Burks Has Earned the Trust of Thibodeau
Even if Burks does not stay in the starting five, he clearly has the trust of Thibodeau, which means he is at least likely to maintain the rise in minutes he’s seen recently—he has played at least 20 minutes per game for his past 11 games, after having averaged 17.4 minutes in his first nine.
“He’s a big shot-maker, fourth-quarter player,” Thibodeau said of Burks a week ago. “He gives you versatility. He can play the point, he can play the 2, he can play the 3, he can play the 4. So whatever you need, you can plug him in. Sometimes he is a facilitator, he runs the offense for someone else who’s got a good matchup. But he has got a huge IQ, he has got a lot of toughness, he is a fierce competitor and you could not ask more from somebody.”
The Knicks got a win they were desperate for, bouncing back from a 21-point home drubbing at the hands of the Suns to beat the team that humbled them in the postseason last year.
Not only was the victory a small slice of revenge for the Knicks, it also halted one of the hottest teams in the NBA—Atlanta had won seven straight games heading into Saturday’s game.
The Hawks had been 8-1 at home.