This is part of a SLCDunk series of articles on players who we stanned for when they were drafted by the Utah Jazz or who we wanted to be drafted by the Utah Jazz, but never had the success we boasted they would.
It is well known that I have had a fondness for Trey Burke ever since we drafted him in 2013. He has not turned out to be quite the player most thought he would become. Let’s delve into what made him such an intriguing prospect before the draft, his projected ceiling, and what caused him to fall short in his time with the Jazz.
Highlights of Trey Burke and the #4 seed Michigan taking down Jeff Withey and the #1 seed Kansas in the 2013 March Madness tournament.
Trey Burke had a storied career as a star point guard before entering the NBA. He was an ultra-competitive player, who always seemed to find success in the spotlight. Trey was the 2011 Ohio “Mr. Basketball”, and earned plenty of other accolades throughout High School and College. His crowning achievement was leading his #4 seed Michigan Wolverines to the national championship game in the 2013 March Madness, falling only to the #1 seed Louisville squad in those finals. Throughout that 2012-13 season, Trey put up solid numbers, which looked even more impressive with the strong competition and the formidable defenses he faced in the Big 10 with Michigan.
Coming into the draft, he was lauded for his scoring abilities, and his ability to consistently hit three point shots from NBA range. His passing and basketball IQ were exactly what you would want from a top point guard prospect. Trey also showed the ability to be a commendable leader. One of his weaknesses was his size, standing at 6’1’’ with shoes. However, he seemingly made up for this with a wingspan of 6’5 1/2’’. He was considered by many to be the best point guard prospect in the 2013 draft.
It would come as no surprise that many Utah Jazz fans were ecstatic upon hearing the news that general manager Dennis Lindsey traded up in the 2013 draft to select Trey Burke with Minnesota’s #9 pick. I was at the draft party held at the then Energy-Solutions Arena. The hype was real. The Utah Jazz already boasted a core of potential stars in Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Alec Burks. Having lived through a slew of mediocre starting point guards such as Mo Williams, Jamal Tinsley, Earl Watson, it was very apparent that the Jazz had a hole that desperately needed to be filled. We needed a guard who could shoot, space the floor, and run the pick and roll with Favors and Kanter. Trey Burke seemed to fit the bill perfectly. As we looked at his accomplishments and strengths, he looked like a natural fit.
Trey Burke may have had a little too much hype for a #9 pick. Many, including myself, expected him to be as good as—if not better than—our top prospects. He drew some comparisons to Chris Paul as an undersized point guard who still won his team games through craftiness and good decision-making. In his first couple years, he showed some major flashes of potential, dropping 25+ points on multiple occasions. Yet, for some reason he just didn’t seem to gel with the other players on the team, and slowly the fan base turned against him.
One of my favorite highlights, displaying Trey’s skills with the ball, is at the 0:35 mark, along with the following one at 0:51. This video should show that he does in fact belong in the NBA.
How it fell apart
I believe the downfall of Trey Burke is a three horned beast. The three things that kept Trey Burke from becoming the next sensational point guard were:
- Adversity/a short leash
- Stiff competition
- Not enough effort
Adversity/a short leash
Trey Burke had always been the star of the team throughout his entire career up until the NBA. While he obviously had experienced adversity before, it came to him in waves when he entered the NBA. He was no longer the best player on the team. Coach Tyrone Corbin and Coach Quin Snyder ran systems that I believe Trey had a hard time getting accustomed to. Instead of a pick and roll heavy offense that focused mainly on getting either Trey or his big man a look at the hoop, Trey had to learn to play with passes and movement, especially under Coach Snyder. His inability to fit within this system led to him sitting on the bench very early in his career—which would have caused the fan base fits if his name were Enes Kanter or Alec Burks.
Even with his few major successes, fans quickly turned against him. Imagine if we acted similarly toward Trey Lyles today. Obviously we needed a good point guard at that time as fast as we could get one, but fans gave him a short leash and expected nothing less than fringe all-star production. Of course, Trey Burke had his weaknesses, and much of the criticism was warranted, but imagine if every rookie received the same amount of criticism for not immediately producing at a high, efficient rate. Comparatively, if we had selected Devin Booker over Trey Lyles in the 2015 draft, Devin Booker’s inefficient shooting would have rocketed him out of Utah so fast it would have made the roadrunner dizzy.
The Utah Jazz were starting a 23-year-old Trey Burke against the superstar likes of Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, among other superstars who made him look silly, especially on defense. Trey hadn’t gained an NBA body yet, so this created a perception that Trey was inevitably bad at defense. This may be true to an extent, but it is a label that was prematurely given. Not to mention, there are not many guards that possess the ability to slow great offensive players down. Trey showed toward the end of the 2014-15 season that he had learned a great deal on the defensive end, and was improving. Yet, he wasn’t quite good enough for Quin Snyder’s ideals, and remained on the bench.
Quickness has always been somewhat of a weakness for Trey, but in the past he was always able to outsmart his opponents with crafty moves, and elite ball handling. In the NBA, players are significantly smarter. Trey was able to use his moves and basketball IQ to his advantage, but not to the degree that he had previously. I believe this lack of quickness, compared to the competition, is the swinging factor in this situation. If Trey had developed better quickness, we would be writing about how he saved the Jazz from utter doom. Which brings us to our final point:
Not enough effort
Trey Burke is a hard worker, don’t get me wrong. You don’t make it to the NBA without a lot of hard work. Even just looking at those two highlight reels earlier in this article, you can see how much he improved during his time with the Jazz. However, I don’t feel like he put in enough work to fulfill all of his potential. You hear stories of people like Kobe Bryant being insane work horses. Even guys like Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert have put in obviously gigantic amounts of work into improving their game. In Trey Burke’s case, I feel like he did just enough to get by. He improved mostly in what he wanted to improve on, not necessarily what he needed to improve on. Instead of working on his quickness, he worked on his already-impressive handles. Instead of perfecting defensive techniques, he practiced his step-back long 2. Instead of learning how to adapt and play within Quin Snyder’s system, he would do his own thing, opting to try forcing the team into playing his style. Instead of embracing the challenge of being benched, he (respectfully) requested a trade.
I cannot say I blame him for a lot of this. He was a young player with the mentality of a college star. He had all of his friends and family members who had followed him throughout his star days telling him that there were greener pastures in any place but Utah. Maybe his time in Washington will have given him a little more perspective and humility.
I still root for him, and hope he finds his place in this league. I do not think he is a failure overall, though he did not fit with the Jazz. There is still a chance he becomes the next Lou Williams or Jamal Crawford “6th man of the year” type of player. All in all, I wish things would have worked out better between Trey Burke and the Jazz, but life moves on, and the mighty wizard Dennis Lindsey has brought us some very talented players. In retrospect, everything ended well for both parties, and Trey Burke will be a respected Jazz man in my book.