On March 21, 2013, the fourth-seeded Michigan Wolverines took on the Cinderella 13th-seeded South Dakota State Jackrabbits. The game pitted National Player of the Year-hopeful Trey Burke against the small-school Nate Wolters in a matchup that many hyped would help determine whether Wolters "belonged" in the NBA. The Wolverines won decisively that evening in their march to the National Title game, but the matchup of Wolters vs. Burke fizzled on the court as they combined to shoot 5-26 from the field. Instead, it was the 8-10 three-point shooting of Burke’s teammates Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway, Jr., that carried the Wolverines to victory.
Fast forward 16 months and the Burke and Wolters rematch was staged on center court on Night Four of the NBA’s Vegas Summer League. Once again, Burke and Wolters neutralized each other, and the hot shooting of a teammate of Burke carried his team to victory, as rookie Rodney Hood connected on 7 of his 10 three-point attempts en route to a team-leading 29 point game.
Burke opened this game launching a quick (foot-on-the-line) 3-pointer in an effort to get going early, but had difficulty connecting. So he went into facilitator mode and drove and dished his way to three assists in his first five-minute stint, leading the Jazz to an early lead.
Burke took the quick rest thereafter, handing the reigns to rookie Dante Exum to take the lead guard role which led to a Bucks comeback behind Giannis Antetokounmpo’s length and Jabari Parker’s weight.
Antetokounmpo was impressive as billed, and started the game listed at 6-11 in the media guide but finished the game at a generous 7-1 maybe 7-2. More importantly, he attacked the rim with a much improved handle this year and used his length to stifle the Jazz defensively.
Exum was mostly quiet in the early first quarter stretch though in his defense, even with the second unit he played a fair amount off the ball next to Ian Clark, which underutilizes Exum’s ability to probe the defense and find open shooters. One of the criticisms against Exum during the draft evaluation process was that when the ball was not in his hands he often stood and watched the action. This appeared true tonight and if the Burke/Exum backcourt is going to work long-term, Coach Quin Snyder is going to need to work with Exum on finding other ways to affect a game without always having the ball in his hands.
Coach Snyder talked after the game about the necessity of Dante to keep attacking, as had done more of on Saturday night. Until he more fully develops his outside shot, this is likely going to be key to Dante’s success this season. Perhaps Dante’s hesitancy was understandably borne in part to Antetokounmpo’s defensive length that forced a bunch of steals and bad passes in the second period.
Exum also appeared to be less than fully engaged on defense, which was another criticism of his film leading up to draft night. While summer league coach Brad Jones did Exum a favor in not counter-matching him against Antetokounmpo, his defense stance was lacking and I saw him ball-watching many times, which got him out of position.
Jazz performance did perk up upon Trey Burke re-entering the game and they finished strong to take a 46-37 halftime lead. Rudy Gobert continued his strong summer league play, nearly on pace for a triple double with 11 points, 4 blocks and 5 rebounds at the half.
From there however, the third quarter and the rest of the game belonged to Rodney Hood: Prince of Threes™ as the rookie forward from Duke not named Jabari showcased his three-point ability from various spots across the arc. Hood checked out with two minutes left in the third, with four 3-pointers under his belt in the quarter, and to a standing ovation from many of the Jazz fans in attendance.
After the game, Hood was mobbed by the media and was beaming from ear to ear. This was a big change from Saturday night when only two other reporters and myself stuck around to ask Hood questions about his disappointing opening night performance.
Rudy Gobert also finished with a strong line of 13, 9 and 5 and credited the new coaching staff building his confidence as opposed to the staff last year.
At the end of the day Wolters must be getting frustrated that he has played his counterpart Burke so well, but Burke does exactly what his team needs to pull out the win.