Trey Burke still looks like he can pass for a high school kid. And he’s still one of the youngest point guards in the NBA, at a position where inexperience can be a fatal flaw.
But even subtly over the past week, Utah’s floor general has made strides for himself, within the organization and among his teammates. He’s been more vocal on and off the floor. He’s made no secret that he thinks this team can improve rapidly this coming year.
» Made the NBA all-rookie team this past season
» Is Utah’s starting point guard
» Is looking to make amends for a subpar summer league performance last season
And just to think: His summer league debut wasn’t until Saturday night against the Philadelphia 76ers.
"He’s certainly been one of the guys who have stepped up for us," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.
It isn’t that often that a second year player who made an all-rookie team and gained as much trial by fire as Burke re-ups for summer league to play with rookies and veteran hopefuls. But Burke belied that reputation this year, coming back to play for the Jazz and to mesh with the new guys that will dot the roster come training camp.
He’s sort of like a new man. He feels that he’s better. He says that the pro game has slowed down for him. He’s more sure of himself on the floor. He has a much better understanding of what to expect. And that’s from mini-camp practice. Now, does it translate to the real thing? That’s the question that will be answered this coming week.
"I first started talking about it with the coaches about a month ago," Burke said. "We all thought it would be good to come back and get acquainted with the new guys. It’s been very beneficial so far. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m glad that I’m playing."
If nothing else, Burke is playing with something to prove. Jazz fans remember the nightmare of last year, when Burke struggled so mightily during the Orlando Summer League that people thought he would turn out to be a bust.
That didn’t come to fruition, as Burke played well enough during the season to make first team all-rookie. But not much went as planned for Burke in his initial tour through the NBA. He played awful out of the gate. He then injured his hand and missed a good chunk of the first month. And even if he did play well upon return, he still never had a great rhythm.
"I hit that rookie wall pretty hard," Burke said. "So I want to get into better condition. Playing summer league is a great way to do that."
Of course, getting in sync with rookie guard Dante Exum is another reason for Burke suiting up. getting used to Snyder’s new system is as well. In the week the team has been together, Burke has found new freedom in Snyder’s pick-and-roll based offense.
Last Thursday - at the team scrimmage - Exum drove baseline, and found Burke in the corner for a 3-pointer. Swish. On other possessions, Burke initiated the offense and found others for open shots.
Burke found himself playing off the ball a lot last season. That could change in his second year, as Snyder will have him creating for himself and others more frequently. If Burke plays well early on, he may not suit up for the entire summer league. The Jazz want to get a good look at Exum, and want to do it with him running the point.
It’s evident that Burke is stronger and quicker off the dribble. Snyder has been riding him to defend. In the team scrimmage, Burke on one play hounded his man around the screen, got picked off, fought through and still challenged the shot.
Snyder called it his best play. And more than anything, defense is where Utah wants Burke to improve.
"He’s been really good for us," rookie forward Rodney Hood said. "He’s been a leader, and he’s telling us where to go. We can go to him for advice if we have a question on a play. I like playing with him a lot."
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