Last season, Trey Burke took the NBA G League by storm. Arguably the best “prospect” in all of the minor league, the guard averaged 26.6 points on a 49/42/83 shooting clip to go with 5.3 assists and a shade under 2 steals through 26 contests. After spending the first three months of the season with the Westchester Knicks, he was called up to the big league club in New York shortly after 2018 begun.
For most G League athletes, a three month trial period to strut their stuff before getting called up would represent quite the expedited path to The Association. But as a veteran of four NBA seasons prior, having to do so was a low point for Burke. When he sought out big league offers and none arrived by late October, he was forced to prove himself all over again.
“Twelve months ago, I was headed to Westchester. It was kind of the bottom of my career. I had hit rock bottom,” Burke conveyed at Knicks’ media day, “I put a routine together every single morning before practice and every single night. Each and every day, I tried to stick to that routine and it just got brighter every day.”
The 26 year old was able to stay positive once given the chance to let his play do the talking. The G League afforded him that opportunity, and he was able to cash in on a multi-year deal with the Knicks. Still, after failing to meet expectations for players in similar circumstances, Burke is aware some athletes might have cracked under the pressure.
“Going to Westchester, being a lottery pick, people saw that as failure. I did as well,” he said. “Being a lottery pick, that’s tough for a lot of players. A lot of players don’t bounce back.”
Once he returned to the NBA this past January, the offensive spark plug didn’t waste much time before rewarding New York for taking that coveted chance on him. He matched his career-high in scoring with 12.8 points per game and was second on the team in assists with 4.7 per contest. He put an exclamation point on his efforts, with a 42 point, 12 assist explosion against the Charlotte Hornets in late March.
Burke called that game the most memorable moment of his basketball career, primarily because it represents his resiliency. He proved to himself (and many others) that he belongs in the NBA.
“I’ve reflected on that a lot. That’s what keeps me hungry, motivated, and inspired. It pushes me every day. Coming into this league, I didn’t have all the answers,” he said. “I thought I was working hard enough. I thought I was putting in amount of time time in this game to be great and I wasn’t.”
With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined with a torn ACL, the Knicks are going to look elsewhere for players to shoulder the scoring load in the interim. Entering his sixth season, Burke could be poised for a career-year.
While his G League stint represented a low point in his career, such a time period is what drives him the most. Hungrier players are more often on the verge of greatness, and that could bode well for Burke.