SALT LAKE CITY — The ground fell out before it was even stable. Trey Burke’s career as the Utah Jazz starting point guard seemingly hit its first roadblock last weekend before it gained any real speed. In only the third preseason game, Burke fractured his right index finger just minutes into the first quarter.
For a moment, the entire Jazz fan base held its breath in disbelief.
According to Burke, trainer Gary Briggs "popped" the finger back in place, and Burke re-entered the game not long after. Jazz fans then let out a collective sigh of relief.
That relief, however, was short lived after Burke checked out the game for a second time. The gravity of the situation started to slowly sink in as injury reports were released. Early reports were unclear as to the seriousness, but Burke suffered a dislocated finger and would be out for an undetermined amount of time.
If couldn't be that bad, though, right? It was only a finger after all. The reports to follow suggested Burke would need surgery, which undoubtedly lengthened the time frame, probably four to six weeks. Then it was reported he might need pins to hold the finger together, possibly resulting in as many as eight to 12 weeks. Suddenly, all the air that Jazz fans had been holding in and blowing out got sucked out of the room entirely.
Who knew one small finger could carry so much weight?
That sort of timetable would put him returning anywhere from Dec. 7 (eight weeks) to Jan. 4 (12 weeks). For this young, promising point guard, this was the worst thing that could happen. OK, maybe not the worst — the worst would have been a career-ending neck injury or something of that magnitude. Knock on wood. But a lot of games nonetheless.
This year was all about development for the Jazz, and this injury is definitely a development killer. So far, these preseason games had been a great precursor for Burke’s potential. It was important for him to gain court experience as the floor general and mesh with the other guys while the outcome of the games wasn’t the most important. It would have taken some of the pressure off the already highly touted rookie. The only way to play through the rookie blues is to do just that — play through them.
Let’s take a trip in my DeLorean-shaped time machine to Dec. 7, after missing 21 games, or more than a fourth of his entire rookie season. Now imagine you are Trey Burke. All that initial build up of nerves and emotions for the first game of the season is still there. Fans, coaches and teammates are all still waiting to see you in action, so the pressure is still there, too — maybe even greater. Critics are still looking for everything wrong with your game. Everything that should’ve been happening during preseason, again, when it didn't matter as much, simply got put on hold.
There is one more element that looms as the greatest issue of all, though. After 21 games, everyone will have a pretty good idea of what this Jazz team is made of. And at the likely chance they aren't very good, Burke suddenly becomes a savior figure. The expectations for the rookie point guard would sky rocket. The expectation then becomes, "Everything will get better when Burke is back," and we simply have no way of knowing that. It's human nature to build someone up to be more than they actually are, but Burke is still an untested rookie point guard. He may be great one day, but this injury and time away from his team are not helping him get there.
During the Jazz's preseason loss to the Blazers last night, several fans on Twitter commented how that game wouldn't have even been close had Burke been able to play.
Thankfully, the reports of eight to 12 weeks were negated by a source close to Burke — himself.
Burke tweeted a correction on his expected timetable for return. It would be more like four to six weeks. This shortened time frame would fall between Nov. 9-23, potentially causing Burke to miss as few as six games or as many as 14.
While still not ideal, six games is a small price to pay for having your franchise point guard back in the starting lineup. Hopefully, rather than having a negative impact on his development, it will fuel him to be even more ready. He struggled in summer league, and he struggled again in the scrimmage. It wasn't until the first couple preseason games that he finally showcased the player he was at Michigan.
Only time will tell how much of an impact this injury will have on Burke's development and that of the Jazz. He will wear a hard cast on his finger for the next three weeks, at which point he will be reevaluated.
How many wins and losses is this injury really going to affect? Probably not as many as one might think. Especially if he's only out for as little as four weeks. The preseason will last for nearly two weeks longer until the regular season begins anyway. The Jazz might just have to rely on players like Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks to help distribute the ball.
Injuries are a part of sports. It's just sad to watch a young, talented player get sidelined so soon. It's the exact opposite of what everyone was looking forward to.
You can find Scott on Twitter @slstevens3
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