Trey Burke odd man out in the Jazz point-guard platoon
Rick Bowmer, AP
TORONTO — It didn’t happen for Trey Burke when he was a little kid learning the game in Columbus, Ohio. Nor did it when he was Celtics big man Jared Sullinger’s teammate or when he began his high school career as a freshman at Northland High School.
Not at Michigan, for sure. And not even in the first two and a half seasons in the NBA after the Utah Jazz traded two first-round picks to acquire him ninth overall in the 2013 draft.
The last time Burke was benched?
“Probably never, to be honest,” he said with a bit of sarcastic laughter.
That changed Monday night when he received his first DNP-CD (Did Not Play-Coach's Decision) on the box score.
As has been the case since shortly after the Jazz’s most recent trade happened, fifth-year NBA player Shelvin Mack started at point guard for the Jazz in the 100-95 loss.
Rookie Raul Neto, who had been starting due to Dante Exum's offseason knee injury, then got all of that position’s backup minutes after splitting reserve time with Burke since Mack arrived a week and a half ago.
In all, Mack played 30 minutes, scoring a season-high 18 points with just one assist, and Neto logged 18 minutes with seven points and four assists.
That left Burke with an unprecedented goose egg.
The third-year playmaker, considered to be the franchise’s point guard of the future just two seasons ago, was characteristically professional in his postgame remarks in the somber locker room at the TD Garden.
“It’s his decision,” Burke said, referring to Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “I was ready whenever he called my number. I was ready to go in, but that’s the decision he made.”
Burke might’ve had an indication that this decision was in the works, but he said Snyder didn’t tell him in advance that he wasn’t going to play.
“Nuh, uh,” Burke said, quietly. “He hasn’t.”
Snyder had told reporters on multiple occasions, however, that he was hoping to tighten up his point-guard minutes distribution. At Monday morning’s shootaround, the Jazz coach compared it to a quarterback controversy.
“At some point,” Snyder explained, “there’s something to be said of one player being able to prepare a certain way.”
In this case, Neto is that one player who’ll prepare to be Mack’s main backup until further notice.
“I don’t want to box myself in, but philosophically it’s hard to play three point guards,” Snyder said. “We’ve committed to Shelvin (as the starter). We haven’t had time. We haven’t had a training cap to make a determination (on a backup), but it makes sense.”
Utah has gone 1-4 since he’s started playing for the Jazz, but Mack has averaged 13.0 points on 50 percent shooting, 2.8 assists and 1.0 steals with his new team after sitting most of the season on Atlanta’s bench.
Snyder’s No. 2 point guard decision came down to a couple of factors: Neto has been a better defender this season than Burke and the Brazilian has been shooting well the past month, including 47.8 percent from 3-point range.
“Some of that’s been Raul coming off the bench has given us very steady defense,” Snyder said. “As you know, that’s always been a priority for me.”
Burke, whose camp was hoping for a trade before the recently passed deadline, has never been a strong defender and has steadily declined in his offensive efficiency since a good start to the season.
Burke’s shooting percentage has dropped every month of the season, going from 47.8 percent in October to 32.2 percent in February. Snyder is quick to credit Burke for thriving in a backup role by being an offensive spark off the bench, as was the case when he hit three 3-pointers in the Jazz’s win over Houston a week ago. That was Utah’s last win, by the way.
The 23-year-old Burke is trying to maintain an optimistic attitude during this rough patch in his pro career. In a short interview in the Boston visitors locker room, Burke repeated the phrase “stay positive” four different times.
His plan of attack from here on out?
“Stay positive, go to practice, get extra work in, do what I’ve been doing, stay positive — that’s all I can do,” Burke said. “I’ve been through a lot of adversity in my life. This is just a little bit of adversity. Just stay positive, really. We’ve got another game on Wednesday in Toronto, get ready for that.”
“A learning process” is one way Burke described his current experience.
“I’m growing every day on and off the court,” he said. “I’ve just got to stay positive, man. That’s where I’m at.”
Burke also credited his teammates for being there for him.
“They’ve been great, encouraging. It’s not about me. It’s really not about me,” Burke said. “I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing every day, working hard, helping this team win. That’s about it.”
JAZZ NOTES: Power forward Trevor Booker will be available to play Wednesday after missing Monday's game to attend his grandmother's funeral in South Carolina. Rookie Trey Lyles scored 18 in his absence. ... Utah is hoping to snap a three-game losing streak and a stretch of six losses in eight games. ... The Raptors most recently lost to Detroit to end a four-game winning streak, but All-Star guard Kyle Lowry was given the night off after scoring a career-high 43 in a 99-97 win over Cleveland. Lowry is expected to play tonight. ... Former University of Utah point guard Delon Wright filled in nicely for Lowry, posting career-highs in points (13), assists (six), rebounds (three) and minutes played (31).
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