Transitioning from the starting lineup to a bench role comes easier for some than others. For Trey Burke, who starred at the University of Michigan before becoming the ninth overall pick in 2013, the move was very unexpected.
Burke had always been the star; growing up, in high school and in college. So, when the Utah Jazz made him a full-time bench player towards the end of his second season, he was in brand new territory. There were less minutes offered and less shots for him to take.
Burke was a volume shooter and for much of his NBA career has shot at a low percentage. Those problems were even more apparent when his window to play was smaller, when the leash offered to make mistakes became shorter.
Early this season, Burke's first year with the Wizards, he was still shooting at a low clip. Lately, though, that has changed. Burke isn't getting major minutes by any stretch, but he's found a way to make the most of them. Burke is currently shooting a career-best 45.8 percent from the field (up from his 38.7% career mark) and 45.5 from three.
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Burke is playing more efficiently than he ever has. His 50.5 effective field goal percentage is a personal-best and fourth on the Wizards behind only Otto Porter, Marcin Gortat and Bradley Beal.
Burke is averaging a modest 4.9 points in 12 minutes a night, but he's maximizing the opportunities given.
"I have to be ready to bring that spark. Be that spark off the bench on both ends of the court and change the pace of the game. I have to make the most of the time that I’m out there," he said.
Over his last 10 games, Burke is shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 50 percent from three.
"I think the game is slowing down. I wouldn’t say that I was rushing, but the game is slowing down. That’s from me watching film and getting extra shots up. I can pick and choose where my spots are going to be. I know where I can get my shots at," he said.
Burke choosing his spots is important to note. This season Burke has relied heavily on midrange jumpers. He's taking 21% of his attempts from 10 to 16 feet, up from 9.7% in his first three seasons. From that range he's shooting a strong 61.9% this season, up from his 40% career average. By sticking to midrange shots and being more selective with his threes, Burke is getting more bang for his buck.
For Burke, though, his objectives depend on the game. The four-year pro begins each game by watching closely how the starters set the tone. Then, he goes from there.
"It’s important for us to come out and throw the first punch, be the aggressor and everything else will take care of itself," he said. "Everything is all about rhythm. Sometimes the game is going fast or sometimes it might be a halfcourt game. I think it’s just about adjusting to the pace of the game and being efficient as possible each time down.
"It’s the feel for the game. When I come in, if we need points, I know in my mind that we need points. If I come in and somebody’s hot or other guys are hot, it’s my job to get them the ball. It’s really about just feeling the game out. Coming off the bench, obviously that was a different perspective for me than growing up and always starting. I get to see the game. I get to see an All-Star point guard [in John Wall] every night and see how the rhythm of the game is going. I’m learning from him as well. I’d be dumb not to pick up on some of the things from that guy over there. I’m learning every day."
Burke has been playing some in three-guard lineups recently, whether that be with Wall and Bradley Beal, or with Marcus Thornton in the mix. Burke likes when head coach Scott Brooks goes to those looks.
"I think it’s good because we can play to our strengths. Like in transition, we’re faster. Driving and kicking opportunities are higher because I feel like all three guards can knock down open shots and all three guards can create as well. Sometimes it’s a different three guards, but for the most part when he does have three guards out there guys are able to create and make plays for each other. That’s good for our offense," Burke said.
The emergence of Kelly Oubre, Jr. has dramatically changed the outlook of the Wizards' bench, but Burke may not be far behind. He, along with Jason Smith and Thornton, have started to show improvement over the last several weeks where the Wizards have won seven of their last 10.
After shooting 3-for-5 in 12 minutes against the Bulls on Wednesday night, Burke talked about the Wizards' bench and how it has come a long way since Marcin Gortat said they were among the worst second units in the league.
"I definitely know we don’t have the worst bench in the league," Burke said. "We've got a lot of really good players on this team."
Lately, there have been some signs to back that up.