The Make Or Break Year For Trey Burke

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

After being drafted with the ninth overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, the University of Michigan product, Trey Burke, failed to live up to the expectations that come with winning the Wooden Award in his first two seasons as the Utah Jazz point guard. After losing his starting job to then rookie Dante Exum last season, Burke has become desperate to show the Jazz why they traded for him on draft night. In a crucial third season, Trey Burke has shined.

In his first two season, Burke has been far short of what the Jazz organization had hoped for when they acquired him in a draft night trade. He averaged 12.8 points per game, to go along with 5 assists in 30.1 minutes per game, while shooting an abysmal .374 from the field, including .324 from behind the arc. Not only did Burke’s offense leave a lot to be desired, his defense was also horrendous. He had a defensive rating of 115 in his first season (T-471st), and 108 last season (T-311th), as well as a defensive wins shares of 0 his first season (T-441st) and 1.6 last season (T-147th). (Keep in mind that playing limited minutes is a huge bonus for defensive efficiency. There are many players in front of Burke that barely played the last two season and have phenomenal defensive ratings). Based off of those rankings, it is clear that Burke was a horrendous defender his first two seasons.

Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images
Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

After Exum tore his ACL while playing for his home country of Australia, Burke was expected to step up as the Jazz new starting point guard. However, when the season started, Jazz coach, Quin Snyder, turned to Raul Neto, a second round pick of Atlanta in 2013, who is playing in his first NBA season after spending the last four in Europe, sending Burke back to the bench.

Although Neto is starting ahead of Burke, Burke has played more minutes this season. He is averaging 23.3 minutes per game to Neto’s 17.1. Burke has also made the most of his minutes, looking like the player the Jazz were hoping he’d be. In only 23.3 minutes, Burke is averaging 13.4 points per game. This comes out to 20.8 points per 36 minutes, which is 25th in the league among players that have played at least 150 total minutes this season. If you take away his first game in which he played only 15 minutes and scored 0 points on 0-2 shooting, Burke is averaging 15.7 points per game, including 17.3 in the month of November.

However, the most impressive improvement so far for Burke this season has been his shooting percentage, more specifically his three-point percentage. He is shooting .480 from the field this season and .522 (12-23) from behind the arc. Right now he is eighth in the league in three-point percentage among players with at least 10 three-point attempts. Burke has looked immensely more comfortable shooting threes and has looked more confident in his ability to make them. Burke has provided some exceptional scoring off the bench for the Jazz this season.

Looking forward, many people will wonder why Trey Burke doesn’t start over Raul Neto, who is only averaging 3.9 points per game on an atrocious .294 shooting percentage from the field. It is a tough question to answer because Burke could easily start the next game with the way he has played off the bench, but if Snyder was going to start Burke, it would be reasonable to assume that he would have started him at the beginning of the season. The fact that he didn’t start then doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t start in the future, but when Exum went down, Snyder opted to start Neto instead.

Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

The reason for this is fit. Although they are known for their exceptional defense, the Jazz are loaded with offensive playmakers in their starting line-up. With Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, and Derrick Favors starting, the Jazz would need Burke to be more of a playmaker. However, Burke is more of a scoring point guard than a facilitator, although he does not turn the ball over that often (only 1.8 per game in his career). On the other hand, Neto is more of a facilitator than a scorer, which is why he fits better in the Jazz starting line-up than Burke.

This is why Burke is best coming off the bench in this situation. Alec Burks, Joe Ingles, Trevor Booker, and Trey Lyles are the Jazz players that get significant minutes coming off the bench. Besides for Burks, no other player on the Jazz bench can create their own shot. This is why Burke fits so well on the Jazz bench. The backcourt of Burke and Burks has been phenomenal so far this year. Burks is averaging 15.6 points per game in only 27.4 minutes (20.4 per 36) to go along with Burke’s 13.4 points. Because the Jazz do not need him to facilitate on the bench like they needed him to do in the starting line-up, Burke is able to focus more on scoring, which is what he does best. Oh, and he has a defensive rating of 100 which is a huge improvement from the past two season. Whatever Trey Burke did this offseason, it definitely has helped turn his short career around.

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