LOS ANGELES – At least for one night, Trey Burke supplanted Frank Ntilikina in the rotation.
How coach Jeff Hornacek handles his latest logjam moving forward will be determined on a game-by-game basis. Or whether Ntilikina deserves to stay on the court.
Burke, the G-League call-up, closed Friday night’s victory over the Jazz while scoring five points with two assists in the final 10 minutes. Ntilikina, meanwhile, was scoreless over five minutes for the entire night.
He hasn’t scored in two straight games.
“We do have another option. So on a night Frank is not having a great night or something, we have Trey for that opportunity,” Hornacek said. “Same with Jarrett (Jack). We have three guys for that spot. And we’ll look at how it goes. Nobody is great every single night.”
If this sounds hypocritical it’s because just a day earlier Hornacek said he’s prioritizing development over playoffs. And nobody requires more development more than the 19-year-old Ntilikina, the eighth overall pick in last year’s draft who has disappeared in the first two games of this Western Conference road trip. Hornacek hinted Ntilikina may be having issues adjusting to the condensed travel schedule in the NBA.
“It’s just a 19-year-old consistency problem that probably every 19-year-old has in this league,” Hornacek said. “It’s new stuff. We’re traveling now. Earlier on we were home a lot. So that makes it easier on a young player.”
While the Knicks have placed a lot of stock in Ntilikina, there are people in the organization pushing hard for Burke. The 25-year-old has a supporter in GM Scott Perry, who worked as an assistant coach at Burke’s alma mater, the University of Michigan.
Perry also developed a relationship with Burke during the 2013 draft process while the assistant GM of the Magic. Orlando owned the second pick and chose Victor Oladipo, but also considered Burke, who fell to the Jazz at No. 9.
It was Perry who convinced Burke to sign with the Westchester Knicks of the G-League, which he parlayed into his current NBA contract for the remainder of the season.
“Scott Perry, that’s my guy,” said Burke, who said he turned down a $3 million offer from a team in China for his G-League opportunity. “He told me he was going to give me an opportunity to come (to Westchester) and start there, and if I do what I do, he’ll give me an opportunity (with the Knicks).
“Now we’re here, I just got to continue to get better.”
Burke’s performance Friday was impressive since he was only called up last week and hasn’t had enough time to learn the offense.
“I’m getting there,” he said. “There were a few times I’d go somewhere where I wasn’t supposed to go. Because there were sets being called at me that you think you know but when you get out there and things are moving fast, I thought I was in the right spot but I wasn’t.”
But does Burke’s progress mean less playing time for Ntilikina? At the very least, Hornacek made it seem that Burke’s presence will make it less likely he’ll allow the lottery rookie to play through his struggles.
“That’s why we have options like Trey on nights Frank doesn’t have it,” he said.