Knicks should reunite with veteran three-point threat

New York Knicks, Alec Burks

When the Knicks dealt Alec Burks to the Detroit Pistons, it was the right move to make for a team trying to shed payroll and acquire Jalen Brunson.

Even with a strong season in Detroit, there was really no reason to feel as if they shouldn’t have dealt him, as Jalen Brunson would light up Madison Square Garden and guide the Knicks to their first playoff series win in a decade. Now that we’re in the offseason, things are different.

The Knicks are in a great spot financially and are coming off of a great season, but they now need spacing. Burks, who spent the entire season in Detroit, will likely want to play for a contender again.

Why not go back to the bright lights of New York? Entering a contract year, being traded to the Knicks was arguably the best thing that could happen for role player Josh Hart, who will likely garner over $50 million in free agency. Alec Burks wants to compete and get his money, and the Knicks want to space the floor and compete in the Eastern Conference, it’s a match made in heaven.

One of the Best Fits for the Knicks

While the Detroit Pistons have more shots and minutes available than the Knicks, Burks was excellent in his role. He averaged the same amount of attempts from the field as he did last year (9.0) and took a similar amount of threes per game, but Burks was an excellent shooter and scorer for the Pistons on lower volume. He shot 41.4% from deep on 4.8 attempts per game, and the Knicks could desperately use the shooting, as they were 19th in three-point percentage (35.7%) on the 8th most attempts from deep, which doesn’t bode well for a modern NBA playoff competitor.

Some might point to the Miami Heat making the NBA Finals shooting the 4th worst percentage from three, but in the postseason, they’ve shot the best percentage from three (39%), and the 2nd best team in that regard are the Western Conference Champion Nuggets. The Knicks shot 29.2% from three, the worst percentage from deep in the postseason. Burks gives them strong looks from deep, most notably because he’s a strong shot-creator as well.

Alec Burks is able to create his own shot from three, and considering the lack of shot creation and three-point consistency, the Knicks could have greatly used him in the series against Miami.

In terms of on-court impact, the Pistons had a 116.4 Offensive Rating with Burks on the court, which would have been the 6th best mark in the NBA. When off the court, the Pistons have a 108.6 Offensive Rating, the 2nd worst mark in the NBA ahead of the Charlotte Hornets.

As a whole, the Pistons had a 109.9 Offensive Rating on the season, the 4th worst mark in the sport, which goes to show just how impactful Burks was for that team.

Burks also posted a 60.2% True Shooting Percentage, which would have been one of the most efficient players on the Knicks’ roster. Efficiency isn’t something the Knicks are known for, with the 20th-best TS% (57.7%) in basketball last year as well. Mitchell Robinson and Isiah Hartenstein give the Knicks plenty of second-chance looks, but the Knicks capitalizing more on those first shots and those second-chance attempts would greatly improve their ability to go on runs, find more consistency, and close out games.

knicks, jalen brunson

The primary closing option for the New York Knicks was Jalen Brunson last year, who was one of the most clutch players in the sport and an excellent scorer in the postseason.

Alec Burks had a career 42.1% three-point percentage for the Knicks in the 4th Quarter, and that ability to dial up the scoring and put pressure on a defense to defend the perimeter would make the Knicks deadly to close out games.

Understanding that Brunson, Quickley, Hart, Randle, and Robinson are going to finish games out, it can seem difficult to understand how Burks’ ability to close would be utilized, but situational usage of a closing lineup could benefit the Knicks.

Oftentimes when Josh Hart when cold, such as against the Miami Heat, it caused issues where the Knicks had only RJ Barrett to turn to as his replacement in the closing lineup.

For as encouraging as Barrett was in moments of that postseason, it’s important to remember that he shot a 55% True Shooting Percentage with only a 32.8% three-point percentage in the postseason, which are below league average. He was very up and down during the playoffs, and the entire regular season showed that same inconsistent pattern.

This isn’t to say that Alec Burks is a perfect offensive player who isn’t inconsistent or hyper-efficient, but rather to say that the Knicks would greatly benefit from having Burks in those spots to back up Hart if need be.

Burks has a 41.2% field goal percentage over the last three seasons, but with over half of his shots coming from three, his True Shooting Percentage (57.3%) tells us a different story about Burks’ efficiency. He’s right around league-average if not slightly better, and he does so while attempting and making a lot of threes; something that could open up the interior for the Knicks’ main options.

New York Knicks, Alec Burks

In his 22-game sample size in the postseason, people will point to a sub-50% True Shooting Percentage and 33% three-point percentage in his series with the Hawks as evidence that he wouldn’t help this team, but that 2020 Knicks team was an absolute disaster outside of Julius Randle.

On a more well-rounded roster where Burks is a role player with two offensive weapons in Brunson and Randle, Burks can afford to be more selective and can take advantage of the attention defenses have to pay to Randle/Brunson. Coupled with Quentin Grimes, the Knicks would have two strong shooters on the wing who can also help on the defensive end of the court.

Would the Knicks Utilize Burks as a Starter or Bench Piece?

As mentioned earlier, the Knicks guard/wing situation is relatively complicated. On one hand, the Knicks are likely to invest significant financial capital to Josh Hart, and for good reason, he was awesome for the Knicks down the stretch. If Hart can play at a high level, he will live up to that money (and potentially exceed its value) but also remain in the closing lineup. Knowing this, I believe the Knicks would benefit the most from having Burks come off the bench still. The potential with the bench lineup is certainly there, and unless the Knicks trade RJ Barrett, he’s a lock to start every game.

One could argue that Grimes could go to the bench, and Burks could start there, and while I wouldn’t be opposed to that from a shooting standpoint, I believe that what you lose with Grimes defensively would have a larger impact.

A switch the Knicks could make is to start Hart in Grimes’ place, which I’d be open to since Hart and Brunson have great synergy, but I’d still have Burks off the bench in that scenario. You’d also sacrifice more spacing, which is something the starting lineup cannot afford at the moment, so this would be my ideal bench unit:

  • Immanuel Quickley
  • Josh Hart
  • Alec Burks
  • Obi Toppin
  • Isiah Hartenstein

The Knicks would be adding much-needed spacing to the court and can mix and match their three bench-scoring options in the starting and closing lineups based on injuries and slumps. One could also argue that there wouldn’t be many benches better than this in basketball, as Quickley, Hart, and Burks are capable of spacing the floor and scoring reliably, with Quickley and Burks having the ability to create their own shot and take over scoring responsibilities when the game situation calls for it.

Hartenstein provides physicality in the interior that the scoring options can’t provide due to their size, and with Hart, they’ll do extremely well rebounding the basketball as well. That being said, Toppin was relegated to a spot-up shooter role off the bench with the amount of talent in front of him, leading to the question of how the Knicks would utilize him with Burks in the mix, of if he’d even be here in that scenario.

Putting Together a Reasonable Deal for Alec Burks

The Knicks could choose to dangle Obi Toppin in this sort of deal, especially considering the Pistons have taken frequent shots at former 1st Round Picks. In fact, the Pistons have both Jalen Duran and James Wiseman as their centers, so they might look for a Power Forward who can space the floor, and Toppin provides decent shooting for the positions. Moving Toppin for Burks would make the roster situation easy as well since it’s a one-for-one swap of players, and it wouldn’t affect the draft strategy for Detroit either.

Regardless of how you feel about Julius Randle, we all know that Toppin isn’t going to start over him. Randle, now twice All-NBA, is coming off of his second season out of three, where he led the Knicks in scoring and also represented them in the All-Star Game. While I believe Jalen Brunson is the better player, it’s insane to suggest that the Knicks should rid themselves of Randle just to play Toppin more. Until Obi Toppin is the leading scorer of multiple playoff teams, you’ll be rightfully mocked for suggesting that there’s anyone in the PF room that should be moved other than Toppin.

Obi Toppin, New York Knicks

With all of that being said, I still believe there’s room for Obi Toppin to be a productive NBA player. The reason he didn’t work out in New York is because of the fact that Julius Randle made it impossible to start Toppin with his tantalizing play.

There’s potential for Toppin to still be a positive offensive weapon for an offense, and on a young and unproven team in Detroit, there are plenty of touches available as well. Furthermore, Toppin’s proven to be a team-first player, rarely making much of a fuss about the lack of playing time despite being played an unfair hand by having the player he was expected to replace go out and become a star.

It’s just a bad fit for the Knicks and Toppin to continue rostering him, and his playoff experience and youth are something you can’t really find on the buy-low market.

Again, Toppin is a unique player since he hasn’t necessarily become a bust, he just isn’t on the right roster to get playing time. Could he just be a mediocre forward who is nothing more than a role player? Sure, but if you’re the Pistons, that floor isn’t going to discourage you from trying to see what his ceiling looks like. Besides, the Pistons could net another top draft pick if they’re bad next year, where they’ll continue to look for the next face of their franchise.

I’d imagine it would take Obi Toppin and a 2nd Round Pick to get this deal done, where the Knicks could net themselves one of the better shooters at the position and improve their spacing while the Pistons get a lottery ticket player with some upside to bolster their forward depth.

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