Utah Jazz: Trey Burke emerges as Rookie of Year candidate
NBA • Burke is averaging 12.4 points per game this season.
Published: December 18, 2013 12:46PM
Updated: December 20, 2013 04:54PM
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Orlando, Fla. • Trey Burke sat at his table on draft night, dressed in a blue suit with a gold tie, and waited for his name to be called.

The Cavaliers surprised everyone by picking Anthony Bennett out of UNLV. Orlando took Victor Oladipo. The Pelicans seemed a likely landing spot, but a trade brought veteran point guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans to fill the need. The Detroit Pistons skipped on the Michigan man, too.

The kid from Columbus, Ohio, who had been overlooked by some as a recruit only to take the Wolverines to the NCAA title game while being named the best college basketball player in the country had been passed over by eight NBA teams before he took to the stage.

Burke has taken the reins of the Utah Jazz and finds himself near the top of the heap in early Rookie of the Year talks a quarter of the way through his rookie season.

“I feel like I’m in the right spot,” he said Tuesday morning. “We have a growing team. We’re really young. I feel like we’re going in the right direction.”

That doesn’t mean Burke has completely forgotten.

“It gives me a little motivation going into those games,” said the point guard as he prepared to face Oladipo and the Magic on Wednesday night.

Of the eight players taken ahead of Burke, Oladipo is seen as the biggest competitor for the rookie prize. But while Burke said winning the award is a goal, it’s not something he spends much time thinking about.

“It’s not something I’m stressing over,” he said. “I’m just trying to play my game. ... That’s just putting extra pressure on yourself. I’ve played better when I just go out there freely. Don’t think about that and just play the game.”

Burke was Vegas’ favorite for Rookie of the Year before the season, but a fractured right finger in preseason cost him the first 12 games of the season. Burke has climbed up the rookie ladder since his return.

“Since he’s been healthy, he’s changed that team,” Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Once he got healthy and he got into the mix, it’s not a coincidence that everything starts to look a little bit more organized. That’s what happens with very good guard play. He has a very promising future. But that future is already happening right now.”

While Burke was hurt, both Oladipo and Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams, a point guard drafted one pick after Burke, dazzled at times. Carter-Williams, in particular, showed flashes of brilliance.

The three guards are the league’s top scoring rookies, with Carter-Williams averaging 17.7 points a game to Oladipo’s 13.8 and Burke’s 12.4.

Carter-Williams and Burke also are one and two in assists, averaging 7.3 and 4.9 a night, respectively. But Burke’s assist-to-turnover ratio is nearly twice as good (3.7 to 2) as the Philly guard’s.

Oladipo, meanwhile, is a top-five rookie rebounder and is dishing 3.5 assists a night.

Burke is coming off a poor performance Monday night in Miami, a game in which he hit just 1 of his 8 attempts and finished with just three points.

But Jazz coach Ty Corbin has seen Burke’s work ethic and steady demeanor, and he expects his young floor general to bounce back against Orlando.

It’s a matchup Burke said he’s looking forward to. Oladipo’s Indiana Hoosiers beat Burke’s Wolverines twice a season ago, including once while Michigan was ranked No. 1. The two were standing side by side at the end of the season, waiting to hear who had won the Wooden Award for the nation’s best player.

A year later, they’re in a battle for another title.

Jazz at Magic

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Records • Jazz 6-21; Magic 8-17

About the Jazz • Playing the second game of a five-game road trip and coming off a blowout loss in Miami. ... Guard Alec Burks scored a career-high 31 points against the Heat.

About the Magic • Have won just two of their last 10 games but have returned to central Florida for a two-week homestand.