Trey Burke remains confident that he can be a key rotation player for the 76ers as a backup point guard to All-Star Ben Simmons, but another factor has been thrown into the competition with the play of Josh Richardson.
While Richardson will be the starting shooting guard alongside Simmons in the backcourt, he also could see more time than originally anticipated as backup point guard.
With Simmons missing Tuesday’s 106-86 preseason win over the visiting Detroit Pistons with lower back tightness, coach Brett Brown elected to start Richardson at the point.
Richardson fared well with 11 points, five rebounds and six assists, while playing his usual strong defense.
Now he looks like the clear leader in the backup point guard race.
Entering training camp, the backup job was expected to be between former Utah Jazz teammates Trey Burke and Raul Neto.
Both have been up and down this preseason. Burke is a proven scorer, with a 10.9-point career average, while Neto is a pass-first point guard. Neither is particularly a strong defender.
The fact that Richardson started at the point, on the surface, looks like a demotion to Burke, who doesn’t see it that way.
“Not at all," Burke said afterward. “I have been one of those guys who can come in and be a spark, I feel I can get 12-14 [points] any given night depending on the flow of the game.”
He did admit to being a little overanxious, possibly because he is battling for minutes.
“I have to let the game come to me,” he said. “It is a thin line and that is what I am still trying to figure out.”
Of the two, Burke played 15 minutes, 7 seconds against the Pistons and Neto didn’t appear until mop-up time, playing the final 6:59.
While Richardson was impressive and was praised by Brown before and after the game, one reason he has gotten his chance is that neither Burke nor Neto has seized the opportunity.
Brown often says that the gym will let him know who will play.
With Richardson starting there on Tuesday, Brown was asked before the game what it says about the backup point guard position.
“It says exactly what you would expect me to say, it is up in the air,” Brown said.
Maybe not so much up in the air afterward.
Still, Burke, who was the talk of training camp after the first day, admits that things have been difficult, learning a new offense, while competing for playing time.
“You are looking over your shoulder at what the team needs compared to your strengths,” Burke said. “It is all balance and something I continue to get better at and learn more every day.”
On Tuesday, Burke shot 3 for 8, but got to the rim and just had shots roll out.
“I think the looks I got are looks I will make,” Burke said. “A couple of floaters in and out are shots I work on all the time and those are shots I make at a high rate.”
He said that the preseason is a time to experiment with different shots, but for Burke, the results matter. He continues to be confident that he will be an important part of the team.