How Knicks' Alec Burks became versatile, reliable bench player

Rafael Canton
·4 min read
Alec Burks goes up for shot
Alec Burks goes up for shot

The Knicks have one of the more interesting reserve units in the NBA. Veteran Derrick Rose and rookie Immanuel Quickley man the backcourt. On the wing, Alec Burks complements the bench unit well. Burks has seen time primarily at the small forward position, but he’s also played both guard positions in various lineups.

A jack of all trades, but a master of none, Burks is coming off of an impressive 21-point performance in New York’s 116-106 win against the New Orleans Pelicans. He scored 14 of his 21 points in that game in the fourth quarter, including a few three-pointers off the dribble to put the game away.

Signed to a one-year, $6 million deal this past offseason, Burks has made a significant mark on the Knicks in a bench role.

In 44 games, Burks is averaging 12.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists. After spending his first seven and a half seasons with the team that drafted him, the Utah Jazz, Burks has become an NBA nomad. He’s played for five teams over the past two and a half seasons.

At the start of his career, Burks was a much more athletic guard, driving to the rim on a regular basis. Though he wasn’t Zach LaVine by any stretch, it wasn’t a surprise to see Burks dunk in a game early on in his career. As injuries — Burks went through a stretch from 2014-2017 where he missed 146 out of a possible 246 games due to various ankle, knee and shoulder surgeries — and age have worn Burks down, he’s had to transform his game.

In his third season with Utah, 34.2 percent of Burks’ shot attempts came from zero-to-three feet, according to Basketball-Reference.com. This season with the Knicks, just 13.1 percent of his attempts have come from the same distance. Burks has zero dunks in 1,134 minutes.

To compensate for his lack of forays to the rim, Burks has become creative with an array of floaters and shots in the midrange. He’s also made gains as an outside shooter as his career has progressed.

The 10-year veteran is shooting a career-high 40.8 percent from three on 218 attempts. Burks has set up shop in the corner, and he’s cashed in. He is converting his attempts from that spot at a 45.5 percent clip. Where Burks has really stepped up is his pull-up game. He’s been a more consistent pull-up shooter from three than on the catch-and-shoot. In fact, over the past two years, Burks has shot better off the bounce than he has in catch-and-shoot situations, according to NBA Stats.

For a Knicks team starved for shot-creation, Burks has been important. Never known as a great defender, Burks has stepped up to the challenge and fit New York’s defensive scheme well. And he’s filled numerous roles for the Knicks.

Burks has been a backup point guard when the Knicks have been hit by injuries, he’s started a few games, and he’s become a clutch late-game option off the bench, finishing games with New York’s starters in place of Elfrid Payton or Reggie Bullock.

For the Knicks, many of their perimeter options have some kind of weakness that sticks out like a sore thumb at the end of a game. Payton’s lack of shooting, Bullock’s inability to create his own shot, Rose’s inconsistent outside shooting and defense, and Quickley’s questionable decision-making can all give Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau pause when figuring out the best closing lineups. Burks at least provides an amalgamation of the skills in a player who fits best around Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.

As the Knicks come closer to a playoff appearance or the elimination style play-in scenario, Burks’ role is sure to be even more important down the stretch. He will likely be a key part in closing lineups of tight games. Regardless of what position he plays in those late-game moments, he’s displayed an ability to be a trustworthy option.

A free agent this upcoming offseason, it will be interesting to see if the Knicks will re-sign Burks. He’s made big plays and is a useful depth option off the bench. New York has needed shot creation and Burks fits the role well. However, he is also going to turn 30 during the summer. Does he fit the timeline of the Knicks’ young core?

Even with the age conversation, Burks has proven himself as a reliable scorer who adds stability with his ability to create his own offense and adjust his game to fit the teammates he plays with.