Trey Burke’s NBA career has been a rollercoaster ride. He was a top-10 pick expected to resurrect a dormant franchise in the Utah Jazz and from there he made brief stops in Washington, New York, Dallas, Philadelphia, and now back with Dallas for a second time. He is not the star that many pegged him to be, but he is playing a huge role for one of the hottest teams in the NBA.
It began on July 31st when Burke poured in 31 points against the Houston Rockets in the first seeding round game in the NBA bubble. Many were surprised by Burke’s performance, but those close to him were not.
Now that he has secured his place as the scorer off the bench, Burke has flourished in his role.
When the Mavericks need instant offense, Burke is usually the guy they turn to. He is averaging 11.4 points since the restart. While it may not seem like much, it is damn impressive for someone that was off for six months.
“When he got waived from Philly he didn’t pout, he just got straight back into the gym and locked in. He worked on his game, his body, and his conditioning. He is a testament and inspiration for those who grind. He is a faithful guy, he just believed in himself throughout the process. A lot of young athletes, and even people in general need to have that mindset,” Trey’s trainer Tihon Johnson said.
Burke has been a pro’s pro and Monday was no different as he came up big in Game 2 of the Mavs’ first-round series against the Clippers with to 16 points, three rebounds, and two assists in just 18 minutes.
“Trey’s lifestyle of consistent work is the reason why he was able to pick up where he left off. Him being let go from Philadelphia was a blessing in disguise and he went back to Dallas where he had some success the year before. By him knowing the coaching staff and players, he was able to pick up and not miss a beat,” echoed Johnson.
For those who truly know the game of basketball, they know that Burke is a pure hooper. His game does not cater to the analytics crowd because there are times where he can have a bad shooting night, but the optics say otherwise. Even in Game 1 against the Clippers where Burke had two points in 20 minutes, he attacked the paint relentlessly, which opened up the floor for shooters, and he played solid defense. Burke’s dynamic skillset is one of kind and his role off the bench has been just what the doctor ordered in Dallas.
Burke’s game never changed in spite of some labeling him a draft bust, but the opportunities have. “Trey plays with a bounce in his step,” basketball Yoda Rashad Phillips of Sports Talk 2319 said. “The same bounce he played with that made him the national player of the year in college basketball.”
There have been some bumps along the way, but Burke has remained a consummate professional. After being traded from Utah and Washington, Burke re-invented himself as a member of the Westchester Knicks where he was the Allen Iverson of the G-League, averaging nearly 27 points per game.
“A lot of people don’t know that I chose this route,” Burke said in an interview with CBS Sports in 2018. “I had some opportunities presented to me before the season and, bottom line, I didn’t want to take a two-way deal. I wanted to come down here and recreate my brand on and off the court, show teams what I really can do if I have the opportunity to run a team.”
This was unfamiliar territory for a top-10 pick, but Burke seized the opportunity to show the NBA that he was more than worthy of a roster spot. His play ultimately landed him with the big club at Madison Square Garden where yet again he showed that he could play at a high level. His time in New York was cut short, but in MSG he dazzled and was a fan favorite. Even today, Burke is still revered in New York.
Despite the perceived struggles, Burke’s family and friends never wavered. When it comes to basketball, the sport is Burke’s sanctuary so there are no surprises about his re-rebirth.
To understand Burke’s drive is to know where his love from basketball resonates. Trey’s grandfather Alfonzo Burke Sr. was a star at Columbus East High School, his father Benji was All-City at Columbus Eastmoor High School and went on to play college basketball, and his sister Amani is an All-MAC performer at Ohio University.
Burke, a native from the East side of Columbus, honed his skills against his older cousins so when it was time to play against the kids his age he dominated despite being small in stature. “Trey has always had that dog mentality,” reflected Devon Moore, Trey’s high school teammate. “No matter if he was one of the youngest or smaller guys on the floor, he was tough to stop. You can see he was destined to be great from the start.”
So, when you see Burke not backing down from guys like Paul George, Patrick Beverley or Kawhi Leonard, he is just doing what he has been doing his whole life.
After bouncing around the league, it seems as if Trey has found a home in Dallas. The Mavericks are a team that has a high-octane offense, averaging 118.5 points per game in the postseason, slightly above their regular-season average of 117. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are one of the best duos in the league, but role players like Burke make them one of the most dangerous teams in the bubble. Burke’s unique skill set meshes well with the Mavs style of play. By Burke not being a traditional point guard, it allows Luka to be the primary ball-handler that the team needs him to be.
“Trey’s ability to play off the ball makes him a perfect match with Luka,” observed Phillips. “His electric play gives Dallas what they have been missing.”
At Michigan, Burke was arguably one of the best players in the decade. He flirted with leaving early as a freshman, but he solidified his legend in Ann Arbor when he was named the Naismith Player of the Year. When given the opportunity and leeway to perform, Burke delivers. It may not be in the manner that was expected from him being a lottery pick, but nonetheless, he rises to the challenge. Rick Carlisle, who has a great history with guards, knows how important it is to have someone like Burke on his team. “Trey has been terrific,” Carlisle said to Mavs.com. “He is enthusiastic, he has improved defensively, and you know he can score the ball down the stretch.”
Trey’s play may be shocking to some, but for those from Columbus and close to him, it is the same TB that has been tearing up the courts back home since he was knee-high. Former NBAer and former high school teammate Jared Sullinger might have put it best with a quote from rap legend Juvenile. “If you are surprised by Trey’s play, don’t be. He has been doing this since the '99 and 2000s.”