Philadelphia 76ers: Trey Burke finally earns a chance to shine

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

After seven-straight DNPs, Trey Burke finally earned a chance to prove his worth in the Philadelphia 76ers’ first game of the season without Ben Simmons.

It happened, it finally happened: After failing to earn a minute over the first seven games of the season, Trey Burke finally made his Philadelphia 76ers debut.

Now granted, it’s not like Brett Brown had much of a choice, as the team had exactly two healthy point guards on their road trip following Ben Simmons‘ ACL joint injury against the Utah Jazz, but still, Burke played, and looked pretty, pretty good in limited action.

Logging 18 minutes split pretty evenly across all four quarters, Burke threw up seven shots for five points while dishing out three assists, a rebound, and a block. While those numbers aren’t going to elicit a sudden competition for the starting spot – even with Simmons sidelined – they are encouraging.

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What else is encouraging? Burke’s +10 real plus/minus.

Maybe chalk it up to a smaller sample size, or for the Sixers surprising fourth-quarter collapse, but the team outscored the Denver Nuggets by 21 points when Burke was on the court versus starter Raul Neto – who struggled on defense despite scoring a season-high 13 points on a perfect 3-3 from 3.

You see, despite playing the same position, and measuring in at roughly the same size, Neto and Burke are very different point guards.

Think of Neto like a T.J. McConnell clone, albeit one with a featherier outside shot and less desire to hunt for steals in the full court. Like McConnell, Neto is going to energize an offense as a facilitator, not a scorer, and is at his best when he’s getting the players around him involved.

Burke, conversely, is a straight-up scorer. A certified student (and friend) of Philly all-timer Allen Iverson, Burke is at his best when he has the ball in his hand, weaving through traffic looking for a chance to strike. Sure, he can get his teammates involved as a passer, as highlighted by a career 3.6 assists per game, but Burke’s the kind of player who can take over a second unit and puts up points in spurts as an electric sixth man.

While one could argue which style of player is more equipped to succeed in 2019, it’s clear both can have a place on a successful team.

Need proof? Look no further than the 2014-19 Golden State Warriors, who backed up combo guard Steph Curry with defensive facilitator Shaun Livingston. Obviously Curry was/is/and forever will be the better player, but when he was off the court, Steve Kerr trusted the keys to his offense to Livingston despite having made three 3s over 367 games in the Bay Area.

Both playing styles have value, but on the 2019-20 Sixers, Burke brings something to the fray that no point guard on the roster – not even Simmons – offers: Shot creation.

That’s right, despite possessing Curry’s star power, Simmons plays much more like a hyper-athletic Livingston. While Neto is maybe less of a liability on defense than Burke – emphasis on maybe – backing up one pass-first point with another severely limited the outside production from the lead guard position.

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Again, I’m not suggesting Trey Burke is a magic pill to fix all of the Philadelphia 76ers issues, as they did lose in his first game of action, but the mere fact that he was a healthy scratch for the better part of two weeks despite a lack of backcourt bench scoring is a bit perplexing. For how much Brett Brown’s squad has done right so far this season, it’s abundantly clear their rotations are still a work in progress.