'Totally different guy': Utah Jazz guard Trey Burke has come a long way in 12 months
LAS VEGAS — No matter what happens the rest of Trey Burke’s career, it’s likely the point guard will always be associated with his shooting performance in his first professional experience last summer.
Two weeks after the Jazz sent a pair of first-round picks to Minnesota for him and three months after leading Michigan to the 2013 NCAA championship game, the 6-footer had a rough shooting week in the Orlando Pro Summer League.
During that debut, Burke shot 1 for 19 from 3-point range. How could he — or anyone — forget that?
Ten months later, Burke was named to the All-Rookie first team after being one of the bright spots during the Jazz’s 25-57 season.
Now that a year has passed, the 21-year-old has shown a maturity level and leadership capability that demonstrate how far he’s come since the rough start.
“I think it’s just his comfort level and his experience,” Jazz assistant coach Brad Jones said.
Jones, who’s coaching the summer league squad as Quin Snyder observes, pointed out that Burke’s “conditioning was a little behind” last summer after being named NCAA national player of the year and not participating in a lot of pre-draft workouts.
Burke used that subpar performance in Orlando as motivation. He returned home to Columbus, Ohio, and trained hard for the next two months, reporting to fall camp in better shape.
The preseason fractured right index finger injury and ensuing surgery added another setback to his career start. Once Burke returned, though, things started clicking. Utah, which started the season 1-14, played near .500 basketball for the next three months after the shifty playmaker was inserted into the starting lineup.
Burke’s first NBA season certainly included some struggles, including shooting difficulties beyond the arc (33 percent) and a struggle to penetrate the paint and score against mostly taller athletes.
But he established himself as one of the better rookies of his class, averaging 12.8 points, 5.7 assists (to only 1.9 turnovers) and 3.0 rebounds in 70 games.
“Obviously everybody saw he ended up having a terrific year for us, All-Rookie team,” Jones said. “He’s been a leader this week. He’s done a much better job. He’s like a totally different guy from last year to this year.”
Snyder has spent extra time with Burke, helping him direct traffic on the offensive end. And Jones credited the second-year player for taking the initiative to help dish out advice to teammate Rudy Gobert, who didn’t see nearly as much action in his rookie season.
“He’s done a nice job,” Jones added. “He’s really connected with Rudy well, trying to get him to run and get in good spots.”
It’s appreciated by Gobert, who’s been one of the Jazz’s better players so far in summer league action.
“I think he’s more trying to run the team, make plays for teammates. That’s good for us,” the 7-foot-1 French center said. “Of course, he’s been playing a year in the league, so he’s got more experience and he’s more communicative with his teammates, so that’s good.”
Rookie Rodney Hood credited Burke for helping Jazz players get to their spots in offensive sets and, more specifically, for helping them keep their heads up after falling behind by 12 points in Saturday’s loss to the Sixers.
Hood used the phrase “just leadership” twice while describing what Burke provides this summer team.
“We got off to a slow start (Saturday),” Hood said, “and he was telling everybody to pick it up.”
Burke is also being counted on to help tutor Dante Exum. The fifth pick in last month’s draft is a point guard, but the Jazz are experimenting with pairing them up to give Utah better ballhandling, passing and playmakers from the backcourt. Outside shooting and defense are concerns, but the Jazz are hopeful the reward will be worth the risk. Snyder hasn’t indicated whether he’d consider starting them together this fall or moving fourth-year shooting guard Alec Burks into a permanent starting role.
“He’s still young, but his work ethic is going to allow him to continue to grow in this league,” Burke said of Exum. “I certainly think we can play together.”
Burke said this summer is important for him, not just to try to erase bad memories of 2013 but also to help the Jazz begin to “build our identity.”
Burke said he’s “much more comfortable” this summer, a sentiment that reflects how he feels physically, mentally and in his approach to basketball.
“The game’s slowed down a lot for me. I’m seeing things quicker out there,” he said. “(The game’s) slow in the mind, fast in the court. I feel good right now. I’m just looking forward to continue to get better.”
Burke made a good impression on his coach early on in their relationship.
“There’s a willingness from him right away,” Snyder said. “You talk to him, he’s engaged.”
Snyder, who played point guard at Duke during a college career that included three Final Four appearances, also likes that Burke is willing to listen and learn.
“I want to see him get over screens. I want to see him defend pick-and-roll on the ball. You can tell it’s important to him. That gets me excited,” Snyder said. “Offensively, he’s got a great tempo. He just has a really good feel for the game. You can tell he’s played for coach (John) Beilein at Michigan. Those things come instinctively to him.”
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