When it comes to the rookies of the NBA, many fans are quick to jump on and off the bandwagon of multiple rookies. Believe it or not most of the bandwagon jumping starts before the season even starts. It’s during Summer League that most fans get over excited about a rookie’s success or downfall.
This past summer, rookie point guard Trey Burke was the subject of bandwagon doubt. By now most people know that Burke was an amazing talent while at Michigan. As a freshman at Michigan, he earned the 2011–12 Big Ten Freshman of the Year award from the Big Ten media while averaging 14 points, five assists and three rebounds a game. Then in his sophomore year he was even better, leading the Wolverines to a National Championship game all while earning almost all the possible National Player of the Year awards, including the John R. Wooden Award. It was due to those great two years at Michigan that Burke was selected 9th in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves and then traded to the Utah Jazz.
While many fans were excited and already talking about his potential success, the hype quickly fell off when he didn’t have a good showing at Summer League. He shot 24 percent from the field, including 1–19 on three-point shots, while trying to adjust to the pace of the NBA game. At one point he was even benched for a game. Then to make matters worse, in early October, Burke broke his right index finger below the middle knuckle and was listed as out indefinitely. While many fans were quick to say he was going to suck, I told people to relax that it wasn’t only summer league.
Now I’m not saying that Summer League isn’t important because that would be in-correct. Summer League performances are very important because they give coaches, teams, players and even fans an idea on what they need to do better. However, Summer League performances don’t define a player’s future. I remember not to long ago, a young guard by the name of Jrue Holiday, who had a horrible showing at Summer League, yet with a little patience and hard work, Holiday has become one the better rising star point guards of the NBA.
Guess what? So has Trey Burke. Since coming back from his injury, he has let the game come to him and he has played well. He is currently averaging 13 points, five assists and three rebounds a game. He is only averaging one turnover a game and is shooting solid from the field at 40 percent. Now his three-point stoke is still being worked on, as he currently shooting 35 percent from beyond arc but the point being is that Burke is performing solidly, just as I expected him too.
To many people doubted him after Summer League. If you go back and look at his Summer League performance, it honestly wasn’t that bad. Yes, he shot 24 percent from the field and could only hit one three pointer the entire Summer League but what the stats don’t show you were the little things. While he struggled to score, he never hung his head down and quit. He always played hard and did his best to make up for what he was lacking at the time. If he were to turn the ball over, he would take responsibility and take constructive criticism. He was a young leader even in his moments of struggle. Then if you one for stats, be sure to remember that he made his presence known in other areas averaging five rebounds as a point guard in Summer League. He also racked up four assists and close to one steal a game in summer league. Are they glamour stats that most fans like to see? No they aren’t but that doesn’t change the fact, that he is a good hardworking player.
Even while he was injured and sitting on the bench he was being productive. How? Mainly because while sitting on the bench, he would learn and process information that would help him on the court. It could have been something as small as finding or noticing a teammate’s hot spot or it could have been as big as finding deficiency in an opponent’s game. The point being that he used his time on the bench wisely and it shows in his game. Like I said before, you have to learn to look beyond the stats.
That’s exactly what Burke has done so far this season since getting back on the court. Lat Wednesday against the Orlando Magic, he had his best performance so far of the season, putting up 30 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Believe it or not, that’s only a taste of what he is capable of individually. Which leads me to the more important fact about Burke, which is that he makes his teammates better. So many times when rookies are evaluated, fans look at the stats, while I understand that stats are important they don’t tell the whole story. You can have the best stats in the world but if you’re not making the team better, what are you really accomplishing. That’s what makes players like LeBron James special, he has amazing stats but he also makes his teammates better. Now don’t get it twisted, I am not comparing Burke to LeBron James, I’m simply saying Burke makes his team better. The Jazz went 1-11 without Burke and they are currently 7-12 with him. While the losses still out weigh the wins in the 7-12 record, it doesn’t change the fact that the Utah Jazz plays better and looks better with Burke on the floor.
Keep in mind that Burke has plenty of improve on, starting with his jump shot but more importantly his shot selection. Just like in Summer League, Burke has an unfortunate tendency to take the same shots he did in college, he can’t do that if he plans to succeed in the NBA. In college he was able to attack the rim despite his height and while he should be able to still drive to the rim at times in the NBA, he needs to use his ability to separate himself from his opponent so when he drives to the rim or shoots a jump shot, he isn’t highly contested. More than anything, he must understand what is a good and bad shot in the NBA. I feel he will develop that even more as the season goes on. Since I know Burke is a willing passer, I would also like him to distribute even more. He is currently averaging five assists a game which is great but he is more than capable of averaging close to eight assists or more a game. I understand that he is still building chemistry with his teammates but as he builds that chemistry, I’d like to see those assists numbers increase even more.
Overall, Burke has developed into a dark hose Rookie of the Year Candidate, despite all the comments earlier this season that he wouldn’t play well this year. Now there is obviously still room for improvement in his game, as I mentioned above but there is no doubt he has high potential, he just has to continue to work hard and improve his game a long the way.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com