SALT LAKE CITY — Amid the expected struggles and inconsistent rookie performances, Trey Burke has had some flashes of brilliance and multiple instants of excellence during his four-month NBA career.
Important late shots in both wins against Charlotte.
A long jumper in the victory over Miami.
The 30-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound game in Orlando.
An all-around sensational and triumphant return to Michigan.
But, borrowing from a March Madness theme, the first-year point guard had his one shining moment, NBA-style, in the final seconds of Saturday’s 89-88 thriller against the Magic.
One-point-six seconds to go. Jazz trailing by two. Gordon Hayward drives and dishes the basketball in the corner.
Burke for the win from 3 just like you’d imagine in the backyard swish!
“(He) embraces those times when you need something big to happen,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “He’s not afraid. He (doesn’t) seem to be afraid of those moments.”
Not only is Burke unafraid, he relishes the spotlight. The nation learned last spring while he helped lift Michigan to the NCAA championship game. His shining moment in that tournament run came in the Sweet 16. In that March 29, 2013, game, he drained an overtime-forcing 3-pointer in a game the Wolverines went on to win over No. 1 seed Kansas for the school’s first Elite Eight showing since 1994.
Burke said he had about 10 game-winners like Saturday’s in his Michigan college and Ohio high school days. Corbin appreciated the awareness Burke displayed in the play as he got to the right spot so an equally alert Hayward could find him with a terrific pass.
“Last night was a great indication, a young guy coming off, understanding when and where the clock was, what had to be done,” Corbin said. “(He) drifted down. He was ready and made the shot for us. Those are the things that give you a comfort level and an understanding (that) this guy has something a little different about him.”
The best part of Burke’s latest big shot is it helped the Jazz snap a six-game losing streak and gave them just their second victory in 13 outings.
“It was great. We need that win. They needed that win,” said Burke, who's averaging 12.8 points and 5.3 assists. “To be able to walk off the court with a ‘W’ (Saturday) felt good. We’ve just got to keep it up.”
The Jazz will have a good chance at stringing together two straight wins Monday night when they host another lottery-bound team in Detroit. In front of a very receptive pro-Michigan crowd in January, Burke played one of his best pro games against the Pistons with 20 points and 12 assists in a 110-89 blowout victory.
Two months later, and Burke has put together his longest streak of double-figure scoring games. He’s averaged 16.7 points while scoring at least 10 in seven straight games.
It’s been encouraging for the Jazz to watch the development Burke has made since summer league when his shot was very off and he looked to be lost on that Orlando court against other young pro prospects.
“I get to see him in practice every day. I get to see him in the games,” Corbin said. “So I have a little bit more of an admiration for the work that he’s putting in than you guys may see.”
Even though 12 games remain in his rookie campaign, Burke has already begun to map out a plan for his summer work.
“My development has come a long way since the summer, on and off the court,” he said. “Now a new summer is about to come. I look forward to going into this summer and working on a lot of things.”
Burke said he’ll bounce around between working out with the personal trainer in Columbus, Ohio, who’s helped him since high school. He also plans on training with the pros at the P3 performance lab in Santa Barbara, Calif., where the Jazz send their players each offseason. He’ll likely drop back in Utah for some work, too.
Burke’s offseason goal is simple: “Just get more explosive, get stronger, lower body specifically.”
Burke has been working with player development coach Johnnie Bryant on attacking in the paint and finishing at the rim. On Sunday before practice, the pair worked on a move that had Burke burst to the paint then spin around a defender to create an open layup.
This summer, Burke also plans on trying to maintain his upper-body strength and “staying consistent with my shot, getting a lot of reps up.”
Corbin said Burke will have a better idea of what he has to do to be NBA-ready next fall now that he’s gone through the bulk of a season. That can be an eye-opening experience because players think they’re in shape — and they are for a college season — but they don’t realize how demanding an 82-game schedule is.
“After this year,” Corbin said, “he’ll have a better understanding of what we’re talking about.”
From leadership (something he's been working on with former NBA point guard/Jazz assistant Sidney Lowe) to pick-and-roll duties on both ends to dealing with the pace of play, Corbin has liked the progression that he’s seen so far from a 21-year-old player he “absolutely” believes deserves Rookie of the Year consideration.
“He’s learned a lot this year. There’s a lot of pressure on him,” Corbin said. “I think he’s responding very well on both ends of the floor.”
Of course, you'll know Burke's really made it in the NBA when coaches say that about him in April, May and June, not just in January, February and March.
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