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JuMu's Jazzmen Previews: #6 Trey Burke

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Today we break down the player of the Jazz who probably has received the most criticism since Kanter left, but does he deserve it?

This is Burke's year to prove himself
This is Burke's year to prove himself
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Top 10 so far:

#7. Trevor Booker (His post)
#8. Elijah Millsap (His post)
#9. Joe Ingles (His post)
#10. Trey Lyles (His post)
(#11-20 post)

Last year's projected #6: Dante Exum (His post)

I would nominate Exum as the player I overrated the 2nd most last year in the rankings. He was a top 5 pick, I had high expectations despite all the reports stating how raw he was.

Here are the stats I projected for him having last season vs. what he actually did:

GP MP PTS AST REB FG% 3P% FT% PER WS/48
Exum Projected 72 27 10.2 4.5 2.500 42.0 35.0 67.0 13.7 0.1
Exum Actual 82 22 4.8 2.4 1.600 34.9 31.4 62.5 5.7 0.0

I was way off! I'm trying to think of why I projected Exum to do that much, and then I remembered my mindset going into last season. I envisioned Exum having slightly worse stats than Burke's rookie season with mildly better shooting, unfortunately Exum did not manage to be either.

His defense was his bread and butter, and because of that, most basic stats and even many of the advanced stats will not be too flattering for Exum. That's okay though, he was a raw teenage rookie straight out of high school.

Many Jazz fans including myself are high on his potential and that impressive record that the Jazz experienced after inserting Dante and Rudy in the starting lineup shows that we may not be that crazy after all.

However, (cue sad violin music) Dante will be out this season after experiencing a left knee injury playing for Australia this summer. Get well soon, Exum!

Note: Had he been healthy, I would have projected Exum to be about our 5th or 6th best player this season.

Instead of wishing for what we can't have this season, let us express some gratitude for what we do have this season in today's installment:

#6. Trey Burke, 3rd year, 23 years old, 6'1", 185 pounds, PG (Last year's rank: 5)

Source: Deseret News

Backstory:

Trey Burke's fresh NBA career has been quite the roller coaster so far.

There is so much that I can say about how Jazz fans have felt about Burke, but I don't think my words will get the point across any better than this graph:

Burke produces for a point guard, unlike Exum's measly offensive stats last year, Burke averages just under 13 points per game, right around 5 assists per game, and even gets a couple boards and a steal for you per game. He plays a tidy game with a solid A/TO ratio close to 3.

Now for some of his limitations so far. He's in the bottom quarter of the league in Defensive Plus Minus. And as far as his shooting efficiency goes, you can see in the graph above that even in his best shooting months thus far, Burke is just short of being an average point guard, while if he sustained his worst month each season, he'd be the worst shooting point guard in the league.

You can also see within that graph a rough estimate of how popular Burke was with Jazz fans. He came into the league as a bright spot on our team as a rookie much greater than any other point guard on our roster (John Lucas III, Diante Garrett). Then his shooting took a dive mid-season, but so did the rest of the team's performance so there was no use in singling out any one player, especially a rookie.

He then bounced back for the rest of his rookie year, to have a very passable good season for a rookie point guard.

Then his sophomore year came. Rabid fans get hungrier for more and mediocre to sub-par stats no longer get the benefit of hiding behind the "He's a rookie" shield. It is disconcerting that Burke did not improve up to many of our expectations,  and by some metrics he even played worse as a sophomore than as a rookie.

However, this is not completely damning to Burke's future. One must remember the context of Burke's career thus far. He was an alpha dog point guard who led his Michigan team to the national title game as a sophomore, averaging over 18 points and 6 assists per game with a 57 TS% (that would have been 8th best in the NBA last year).

He then came to our dumpster fire of a team system and fed to the wolves. With no cohesive system in place, we were essentially playing jungle ball in the 2013-14 season. Burke was able to get pretty good stats for a rookie even though our team was not essentially getting any wins.

Then the summer of 2014 happened.

Burke's baby boy was born, his slip-up of some leaked photos came out, the Jazz drafted another self-declared point guard with a top 5 pick (usually top 5 picks are players that teams want to be their future stars), and on top of all that the Jazz brought in a new mastermind of a coach who wanted to implement a masterpiece of a system which did not essentially highlight many of Trey's strengths.

Boy, if that combination of events is not going to mess with your head and confidence, I don't know what will.

Don't believe me yet?

How about this to support the position of Burke having confidence issues last season:

Burke made 90.3% of his free throws as a rookie, the 2nd best mark for a rookie with at least 100 free throw attempts ever!

His sophomore season he shot 75.2% from the free throw line, this placed him in the bottom third of all point guards in free throws last year.

How do you drop 15% and go from one of the best free throw shooters of all time to below average?

Confidence

Straight and simple, nobody is guarding you at the free throw line, exact same difficulty of shot every time. All signs point to Trey overthinking things a bit too much last season and his performance suffered a bit because of it.

What to Expect This Season:

Source: Fox Sports

So why should we expect Burke to do better this season, isn't his game just as likely to get worse or stay just as bad as last season? Well perhaps, but I have some reasons to be cautiously optimistic about Burke's play this season.

1. Burke will have a season of Quin's system under his belt and he is the heavy favorite to start the majority of games at point guard this season.

2. With Exum's injury leading to Cotton and Neto being the only other point guards on this roster, the stars have been aligned for Burke to thrive in a role much more similar to what he had his rookie season compared to last year.

3. The Gobert Effect: last year, many Jazz fans were getting frustrated by players driving right by Burke and making an easy layup on whoever was starting at center last year. Now, Burke's weakness against guarding speedier guards will be less magnified as opposing guards run right into the wall of Favors and Gobert.

4. We are going to be winning more games this year, there are few things that bring more confidence for players than winning

Some may see this as a gross overrating of Burke as our 6th best player next season. But if he is our starting point guard, which for now seems to be the most likely case, and he does well enough to be a part of our special unit who makes it to the playoffs this year, then I'm not so sure I can put more than a player or 2 off the bench in front of him.

Not more than a player or 2 off the bench will be averaging more points than Burke. It's unlikely that anyone but Hayward gets more assists than him. Burke's shooting will not get worse if he continues his role of starting floor general with us. If I am wrong, you can be reassured that Burke will lose his role. But Burke is completely capable of being in our starting unit on our long-awaited return to the playoffs.

I have got a strong feeling that Burke will be shooting his free throws on the right side of 80% this season. And furthermore, that Burke will be able to rise up a few notches in the very strong starting point guard pecking order in the NBA.

Here are my projections for Burke's production this season:

G MP FGA FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST PTS PER WS VORP
74 28.0 12 0.390 0.340 0.820 3.0 5.0 12.0 12.0 3.5 0.5

His shooting should improve modestly from last season and having 1 of Hood/Burks to play next to should help him be able to secure a couple more open shots compared to last year. And as I mentioned before, Burke's game is going to be directly related to his confidence.

Keep a wary eye though, in the possible scenario of Burke's performance not performing to a sufficient level for a starting point guard, it would make most sense for the Jazz to look into alternative options for starting point guards to better align our roster for when our team peaks and is ready to make some deep playoff runs.

Conclusion:

Burke has had heaps of criticism thrown at him in the last season. Since Kevin O'Connor, Corbin, and Kanter have been jettisoned from their former positions with the Jazz, Burke seems to be the next owner of the unenviable title of "Improve more or else suffer the scorn of Jazz fans"

Until the Jazz win championships, and heck maybe not even then, Jazz fans will always find a scapegoat. Last season, Kanter and Burke held that role. With Kanter gone, Burke will have to shake off his bad shooting nights and subpar defense from last year and show us all what he is really capable of. He will definitely have plenty of opportunities this season to do so.

Burke is a Jazzman through and through and took one for the team last year without any drama (cough cough unlike Kanter) while being relegated to a role that helped the team more last year as a 6th man.

Now the team needs him more than ever to play like the player Jazz fans and the whole organization hoped he can be when we drafted him a short 2 years ago.

How quickly we seem to forget how clutch Burke has been for us already in his young career:

Make us proud Trey, you put the work in while leading this team to some wins, you'll find that you can quickly regain favor with the fanbase once again!

Chances of him being with the team in the 2016-2017 season:

70%