At the beginning of the season, Alec Burks made his value apparent almost immediately.
Though he acted as the first man off the bench, Burks was able to step up to the plate and get the New York Knicks necessary buckets to help deficits dwindle, and have the Knicks’ own leads prosper.
And then he got hurt, so hurt in fact he was gone for about a month of the season without a concrete explanation to his disappearance. Burks reportedly sprained his ankle, but the extent to which he missed time, paired with a minor lack of updates, confused the Knicks faithful.
His 66.7 percent shooting from distance was never going to sustain, but that he could shoot was surely missed during all that time. He had only played three games but looked like a potential monster for New York.
Here we are months later and the Knicks are getting quite possibly the greatest version of Burks in his entire career. Perhaps it’s even blasphemy to compare his season to that of JR Smith’s some years back, when he was literally unstoppable as the first man off the bench.
Since the All Star Break, he’s averaged 19.1 points, 2.7 assists, 5.2 boards and a steal per game on explosive shooting splits of .451/.415/.882 on decent volume.
Yes, he’s made some bumbling errors, i.e., neglecting a pass to Julius Randle during a two-on-one fast break that could have potentially sealed a victory against the top seeded Philadelphia 76ers. And yes, he gets tunnel vision at times, particularly when he’s given the responsibility of lead guard duty.
He even had an uncharacteristically quiet 27 minutes against the Miami Heat in Monday’s loss. But with a matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves coming up on March 31, I anticipate Burks having a bounce back performance playing a team he previously closed out with clutch free throws.
If he didn’t already have a case, he’s certainly made a case to be a 6MOY candidate with such a hot stretch right now.
He ranks in the 81st percentile for 3PT shooting, good for 22nd amongst all wings in the league, per Cleaning the Glass.
Likewise, he boasts a +6.5 On/Off differential, good for 81st percentile for his position as well.
Which brings me to something many of us may not often notice.
Burks sometimes looks a step slow on defense, but he’s been playing remarkable defense given the circumstances all season, which can no longer go without saying.
While he comes off the bench, Tom Thibodeau leaves him in for long stretches of time, so he’ll guard some of the better guards on the floor as well. That he holds opponents to 3.8% below their average FG%, per NBa.com/stats, is awesome, and it contributes to Knicks’ resting at the top of the Opponent FG% standings in the league.
You can’t deny the impact he’s made of late when the ball is in his hands, scoring and passing alike. Burks’ shooting has dug the Knicks out of deep deficits, and has also allowed for them to pull away in late-game scenarios, which will be crucial for a playoff run. Likewise, his defense has kept opposing guards in check, which is increasingly valuable as the season wages on.
Put some respek on his name
That said, Burks has been the victim of a lot of slander among Knicks Twitter, whether he’s missed open shots despite cooking things up throughout the game or simply turning over the ball too frequently.
I get it, because I’ve done it myself to other players, but Burks is one of the few players who does enough to balance out his mistakes, so I’d hope the discontent with Burks takes a stark decline as the season goes on.
He’s come a long way since his Utah Jazz days, where he missed loads of time due to injury and was often riding the coattails of better players.
He was still capable of producing a bucket, but not to the degree he’s reached in recent seasons.
The Knicks will need this type of production going forward now that Mitchell Robinson is done for the season and Burks will likely see more floor time to keep the offensive momentum going.
Knowing Thibodeau’s style, we’re certain to see Burks given more responsibility as a veteran who can contribute in the ways he has been, but maybe now we can be more confident he’ll boom more than bust as an integral punch off the bench.
One has to imagine a new contract could be in the cards for him too, and Burks has been giving the works to opposing teams, so why not sit back and enjoy it while you can?