Oklahoma City • On the night of his NBA debut, Trey Burke led his team out of the tunnel at New Orleans Arena, only to look back a moment later and see his teammates had stopped following and were laughing as the rookie jogged out onto the court alone.
Burke smiled with the slightest embarrassment at the prank and kept going.
Trey Burke file
Height » 6-1
Weight » 190
Position » Point guard
College » Michigan
Drafted » 9th overall by Minnesota (acquired by Jazz via trade)
About » The reigning college player of the year, he led the Wolverines to the NCAA title game last season.
He’d already spent too much time away from the court.
"I’m ready to get out there and help my team win," said Burke, who missed six weeks with a fractured right index finger to start the season.
The wait has been difficult for a young player eager to prove himself. He’s had to watch his new team struggle and all the while read the monster box scores produced by fellow rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams in Philadelphia.
"A lot of guys were clowning on me, like, ‘Man you should just tape that up. As soon as it happened, you should have just taped that up,’ " Burke said.
But while the Jazz have struggled, the injury may have been a boon for Burke.
"Trey has a great opportunity to learn where he’s not forced into the action," Jazz legend John Stockton said just a week or so before Burke was cleared to play. "Being hurt might actually be a positive for him. … I know my first year I spent on the bench behind Rickey Green was a great learning tool for me, and I would recommend that for young guards."
Burke has had a front-row seat to observe Brooklyn’s Deron Williams, Chicago’s Derrick Rose, San Antonio’s Tony Parker and New Orleans’ Jrue Holiday.
"I think that’s the biggest thing for me, learning when to attack and when to set up the offense," Burke said. "Just watching guys like Tony Parker and Deron Williams, some of the top guards, and just their pace, having the opportunity to see the game from the coach’s perspective, I think it’s definitely helped me out a lot."
Through two games, Burke has been neither savior nor slouch. He’s averaging 8 points and two rebounds in 16 minutes a night. But, as forward Richard Jefferson said, "You can obviously see what the coaching staff and the organization was excited about."
He’s playing with more confidence than he did when he went 1 for 19 from 3-point range during the Orlando summer league slate.
He waited only until the first time he touched the ball to score his first NBA bucket, blowing past a defender and then floating a layup over the long arms of New Orleans’ Anthony Davis. Later, he stretched out the Pelicans’ pick-and-roll defense, spotted forward Derrick Favors late and hit him with a perfect pass.
It’s an element the Jazz have lacked in the early parts of the year.
"They’re going to play him that way because the way he can shoot the ball, and if not, he’s got the shot," Corbin said, while adding that "guys will set better screens because they think they have a chance to get the ball."
Teams will indeed have to game-plan different for Burke, said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who called Burke "a threat any time he touches the ball."
"He’s a scoring point guard-type," Carlisle said when asked if Burke reminded him of any guards in the league. "You could draw similarities to [Thunder guard Russell] Westbrook and some guys like that that really score. He’s good."
Corbin isn’t ready to go that far just yet, saying that Burke is still trying to "find who he is in this league and who he can be."
But Corbin may be willing to match the rookie up against Westbrook on Sunday.
"We may look at changing some things [regarding Burke’s role] as we go forward here," Corbin said Saturday, the morning after another slow start turned into another Jazz loss.
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