Look, the Mavericks opening night in the NBA restart bubble sucked. We can all agree and there are plenty of places on the site right now where you can read up on exactly how they sucked in the 153-149 loss to the Rockets on Friday night.
So let’s push that to the back of our minds for now and talk about what was absolutely the coolest positive thing from that game — Trey Burke seemingly rising out of a Lazarus pit and almost taking down Houston all by himself.
Burke scored 31 points in 30 minutes, on 11-of-16 shooting, including 8-of-10 from three. He also had six assists and no turnovers. It was a remarkably efficient night from the former lottery pick in 2013 that has had an up and down career to say the least. It was surprising, yes, but in a very Mavericks way it wasn’t that surprising at all.
When Burke first arrived in Dallas as part of the Kristaps Porzingis trade in February of last year, he seemed more like a throw-in to make the numbers work. Burke hadn’t lived up to his draft position in either of his stops in Utah, Washington or New York. Dallas, however, has a penchant for taking woebegone prospects and transform them into something useful. Despite Burke’s struggles, he still had skills that Dallas could mold — he’s a decent shooter, a good ball handler and can score in the pick and roll. Sure, maybe he wasn’t a great defender and his size caused him difficulty, but if you can dribble, shoot and pass well enough, Dallas has a spot for you. In 25 games with the Mavericks, Burke shot 46.3 percent from the floor, 35.6 percent from three and averaged almost 10 points a game. With the Mavericks having Luka Doncic in the starting lineup and Jalen Brunson, J.J. Barea and eventually Seth Curry off the bench, it just didn’t make sense to bring Burke back.
Thanks to an injury to Brunson and Barea’s limited effectiveness as he recovers from an Achilles tear, Burke was brought back and, surprise, he’s still fitting in well! Sure, the 31 points were a lot to say the least, but is it that crazy to think Burke, who performed well when he first got in Dallas, would perform even better with a better roster surrounding him? The Mavericks are fully committed to five-out basketball now, with Porzingis starting at center. With all that room and space to work with on the floor, Burke had ample time and opportunity to either get off open shots, probe a bit deeper inside the line or make the extra pass.
It wasn’t just the hot shooting that impressed me — the six assists and zero turnovers were nice. Burke didn’t make any flashy reads against the Rockets, but he made the right play, whether that was hitting Doncic on a cut to the rim or using a pass fake to set up Dorian Finney-Smith in the corner for a wide open three pointer. He also had the awareness to get the ball to Porzingis at the end of the third quarter for an open three as two defenders converged on Burke with time winding down, instead of launching a contested prayer at the buzzer. These are good things that the Mavericks are very good at massaging out of players that have been miscast for most of their career.
The only shame is that the Mavericks didn’t get the win, which was in part to Burke sitting most of the fourth quarter as Curry had one of the worst games of his career. Rick Carlisle acknowledged after the game that Burke, who arrived in the bubble late and didn’t have as much practice time as the rest of the team, got winded when he was pulled. There was also a moment in the second half where Burke appeared to tweak an ankle too. Burke gave a surprisingly honest but fair answer about not being able to close out the game.
“I think some of the guys on the (bench) were wondering the same thing,’’ Burke said about not going back in. “I just got here. I know coach has a lineup at the end of the game that he trusts at this point.
“Things change. You never know, going forward it could be Seth out there going for it, it could be me out there — it depends on who has it going at that particular moment. I understand that coaches are going to make decisions and everyone has to be OK with that and be ready to produce when their number is called.’’
If anything, Burke at least proved why the Mavericks went out and got him. Some questioned Dallas getting another guard when the big rotation is so thin, but with no Brunson and a limited Barea, Dallas has no one to come off the bench and create offense. Everyone is just a role player who needs to work off of someone else — that someone could be Burke. With the Mavericks last season, Burke scored 0.99 points per possession as a pick and roll ball handler, shooting 45 percent on those possessions, good enough to be in the 86.3 percentile of the league. Burke can definitely help and it feels like only on the Mavericks could he have put on a show like he did last night. It’s just what the Mavericks do.