- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

In the course of restructuring their bench this offseason, the Washington Wizards pulled in two questions marks: Trey Burke and Andrew Nicholson.

Both were first-round picks. Neither has been able to settle into the NBA, making them upside gambles for the franchise.

Burke, a 6-foot-1 point guard, was selected ninth overall in 2013 by Minnesota, then traded to the Utah Jazz. There he did not shoot or defend well. The latter could have been more forgiven if Burke was the scorer the Jazz anticipated receiving when they traded Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad for him. Burke was an efficient scorer in college and often labeled the top point guard in that draft.

But, it has been a struggle in the NBA for Burke, who was acquired by the Wizards for a 2021 second-round pick. Burke shot just 38.4 percent from the field in his first three seasons, though last season he shot a career-high 41.3 percent. That was only good enough for 58th in the league among all point guards.

“I would have some big games, then had some games where I didn’t shoot the ball well,” Burke said. “I think my perspective on the game has changed, as well. It’s not all about the offensive end. I feel I can improve tremendously on defense.”

At the least, hearing Burke mention defense is pleasurable to the Wizards. Last season’s backup point guard, Ramon Sessions, was one of the league’s poorest defenders at the position. New coach Scott Brooks will be shouting about defense first throughout camp and his time in Washington. Burke has been a subpar defender his first three seasons in the league. If he can improve, it would be a welcome change.

This summer, he’s training in Los Angeles instead of at home in Columbus, Ohio. Burke, who general manager Ernie Grunfeld said will be John Wall’s “primary backup,” said his focus is lower-body strength in order to help him finish in the lane better. He’s pleased to be out of Utah just three seasons after being a top-10 pick.

“I was thrilled when [the trade] happened,” Burke said. “I wasn’t surprised. I was more surprised how quick it happened.”

Nicholson can score. He’s a 6-foot-9 forward with nice touch on his jump shot and in the post. He vaulted into the first round in 2012 after single-handedly dragging little St. Bonaventure to the Atlantic 10 title and and an NCAA Tournament appearance. In Orlando, he played for two coaches in his four seasons. His minutes decreased each of his first three seasons before a bit of a resurgence last season under Scott Skiles. His offensive and defensive ratings were both career-highs last season. Washington signed him to a four-year, $26 million contract.

Nicholson also began shooting more 3-pointers during his final season in Orlando. He spent the summer of 2015 expanding his range — he shot 3-pointers well in college, so it wasn’t hard for him to step back — and continues to work on his 3-point shot this summer. Nicholson shot 36 percent from behind the 3-point line last season. He, in essence, is replacing Jared Dudley as the team’s “stretch four”. Nicholson is a much better rebounder than Dudley. Dudley shot 3-pointers well last season. Both are below-average defenders.

“I’m looking forward to contributing to the team the best I can,” Nicholson said.

Burke and Nicholson are experiments. They remain young — Burke is just 23 and Nicholson 26 — with potential and mediocrity their first few years in the NBA hanging over them. The Wizards will try to turn them into who they were projected to be.

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