Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke looking to become more of a leader following solid rookie season
"We talked about that a lot in the exit interview a lot, too — being a leader, going out, reaching out to the team," Burke said. "We've already got a natural chemistry, everybody on the team has a natural chemistry, and we have fun with each other off the court. So I think I could take it up another notch just trying to be a leader. I'm no longer a rookie anymore, so I think the guys have my respect and I look forward to helping this team win more next year.
"I think my leadership went to another level after my first year, but I think my game did as well. I know how important this offseason is and what I need to work on. And I think No. 1 is being that leader ... being a floor general out there, getting the respect out of teammates and then things will start moving in the way I want 'em to move being a point guard.
"Early in the season, being a rookie, it's tough trying to be that leader just right then and there," he said. "Obviously I was the point guard, and it's like the quarterback position out there, so I had to lead. But I think once I was able to learn my team and my teammates, and they got to know me and earned my respect, I started putting more deposits in that (leadership) area."
Unlike his highly touted Jazz point guard predecessors of the past, John Stockton and Deron Williams, Burke was essentially handed the keys to the car in his first NBA season — never an easy task for any player, no matter how talented they might be. And perhaps much more so at the point guard position.
As great as Stockton turned out to be, it didn't happen for him right away. He averaged just 5.6 points per game in his rookie season, along with 5.1 assists, 1.3 rebounds and 1.33 steals per game while playing an average of 18.2 minutes per night as the backup to Rickey Green.
In fact, Stockton averaged just 7.7 and 7.9 points per game over his next two seasons before finally breaking into the starting lineup on a permanent basis in his fourth NBA season.
Williams started only 47 of 80 games in his rookie season, 2005-06, and averaged 10.8 points and 4.5 assists per game. That may have been the beginning of his power struggle with legendary Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, which finally boiled over in February 2011 and resulted in Sloan's abrupt resignation followed by Williams' trade to the New Jersey Nets a couple of weeks later.
Burke is neither Stockton nor Williams. Physically, he is much closer to Stockton's size and stature, but his playing style — that of more of a scoring point guard than a playmaking one — might be more similar to that of Williams.
Indeed, in his inaugural NBA campaign, Burke had his moments when he was arguably the best player on the court. But at other times, he would disappear and play more like, well, a wide-eyed rookie who was having trouble with the intense nature of the NBA game.
Teammate John Lucas III, whose playing time diminished dramatically due to Burke's presence and improvement throughout the season, feels like the young point guard became the league's best rookie performer this season once he got accustomed to the athleticism and explosive speed and pace of the NBA.
"Later on through the year, you saw how Trey just went from the beginning where everything was a push, push, push, rushing, and how he slowed down and he let the game come to him," Lucas said. "I think he should be Rookie of the Year — definitely. I feel like he's had that type of year this year.
"I always tell Trey, 'You know, look, man, like, as long as you've got this (heart) pumping and you don't listen to nobody else, you set your own destiny, you set your own path. You can will your way into whatever you want to do. And just don't listen to outside things, just listen to your inner spirit because that's what's gonna keep pushing you. That's your alter ego.' "
Burke greatly appreciated the way Lucas handled what could've been a very challenging situation — a young, inexperienced guy coming in and basically beating him out for the job that he had his eyes and heart set on earning for himself.
"You always hear people say, 'Look out for those guys that are behind you and play the same position' as far as in a negative way," Burke said. "But he's been like a big brother to me to be honest with you. I could talk to him about anything.
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