LOS ANGELES — Trey Burke has had better games.
And, yes, the NBA noticed.
Hours before the Jazz point guard struggled during Utah’s 110-99 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center, the 21-year-old received some pretty exciting news.
Burke, the No. 9 pick of the 2013 draft, was honored by the NBA as the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for December. Orlando’s Victor Oladipo was selected as the Eastern Conference’s top first-year player.
“It’s a great honor,” Burke said. “Thanks to my teammates and my coaches as well.”
Even Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin was surprised to hear how long it’d been since a player from the organization earned rookie of the month honors.
Hint: It wasn’t Deron Williams.
Hall of Famer Karl Malone was the last Jazz player to win the rookie award back in December 1985 — seven years before Burke was born.
“It’s surprising,” Corbin said when told of that fact. “But it’s a great honor for him. It’s a great honor for us to have him on this team.”
Burke had a rough go on a night the Jazz (11-25) were hoping to notch their first three-game winning streak of the season against the Lakers (14-19), who’d lost six straight.
The 6-1 playmaker only hit 3 of 15 shots for six points with nine assists while being outplayed by new Lakers starting point guard Kendall Marshall, who had 20 points, 15 assists and six rebounds in the win.
Even on a down night, Burke hit a jumper to cap a 10-2 run early in the fourth quarter, making it an eight-point game, as the Jazz rallied to make the final period competitive after falling behind the short-handed Lakers by as many as 21 points.
The Jazz playmaker then got Utah to within four points at 94-90 with two minutes remaining before Jodie Meeks and Marshall hit clutch treys to clinch it for the Lakers.
In last Thursday’s 105-103 win over the Lakers, he scored 14 points with seven assists and seven turnovers.
Fittingly, Burke spoke about learning to deal with the highs and lows of an 82-game NBA season just before Friday’s game tipped off.
“Keep everything in perspective. It’s my first year. I’m a rookie. I understand that I’ve got a lot being asked of me,” he said. “I can’t put too much pressure on myself, first and foremost. I’ve just got to go out there and be myself, not try to do too much, just try to be aggressive at the same time, make plays for the team and everything will work out.”
That was similar to the attitude Burke had coming out of his first pro experience — a shaky-at-best showing during the Orlando Pro Summer League.
Shortly after Utah traded two first-round picks to Minnesota in exchange for the 2013 NCAA player of the year, Burke shot just 22 percent from the field, including 1 for 19 from beyond the 3-point arc, in a summer performance that tempered some of the draft-night excitement.
Burke spent the next couple of months working on his shot and confidence before coming into training camp a changed player.
Three games into his first preseason, Burke suffered a broken right index finger. That injury and ensuing surgery had him sidelined for almost six weeks, forcing him out of the first 12 games of his rookie season.
Burke has been a bright spot since he returned from that early injury, which contributed to the Jazz’s 1-14 start.
In December, Burke showed that he can play in the NBA like he did while leading Michigan to the NCAA championship game last spring.
In his first full month of action, Burke averaged 14.8 points, 5.9 assists, 3.1 rebounds and hit 91.9 percent of his free throws.
In his best pro game, Burke flirted with a triple-double by tallying 30 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in a win at Orlando.
Corbin couldn’t be happier to see the transformation and maturation Burke has made from summer to winter. The Jazz are clearly a much better team with him leading the way. Utah is 10-12 when Burke plays.
“He understands that he still has a lot of work to be done. He has to continue to grow on the floor and his game to make us better,” Corbin said. “He’s willing to do those things. He’s demonstrated that he’s willing to put the time and the effort in to get his game better to help us be better.”
NOTES: Gordon Hayward led the Jazz on Friday with 22 points, including 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range. ... Backup big man Enes Kanter tallied a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. ... The Lakers were playing with their 19th different lineup and their sixth different starting point guard because of injuries.
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