In the first quarter of the preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Trey Burke fractured his finger. Thinking at first it was just a dislocation, Gary Briggs taped Burke’s first and second fingers together and Burke was back in action. After playing several more minutes with it, he was still in significant pain, so he came out of the game. X-rays later revealed a fracture that will require surgery and will sideline him for 8-12 weeks. (Editor’s note: this has since been adapted, following the results of Trey’s surgery, to be 4-6 weeks, according to Trey himself on Twitter)
One thing we can learn from this is that Burke is, as articulated by Jody Genessy, “a gamer.” The Jazz have had a long history of players toughing it out and playing through injury—sometimes we wouldn’t even hear about an injury until the offseason when a “minor surgery” would take place.
The injury is quite a blow for several reasons. One, Burke had yet to get the hang of the new offense, though Corbin did say he’d thrown some new plays Burke’s way and he’d implemented them well, sprinkling them into sets in the early part of a game. Two, other players—specifically the other starters—hadn’t played with Burke long enough to develop chemistry. That development will now be pushed back a couple of months, which is unfortunate given how lost the players have looked on offense at times. Three, who is going to pick up the PG slack from here?
On this last point, there are several options.
One, sign an available free agent. Some of the word going around the Twitterverse yesterday was that the front office has contacted some free-agent point guards and each of them was asking too much. One option might be someone like Jamaal Tinsley, someone who knows the system, someone who is a pass-first wizard of a point guard and who wouldn’t need to be The Guy once Burke came back. Tinsley might fit the bill nicely if Option 1 is a direction the Jazz decide to go.
Two, make a trade. The Jazz were rumored to have had interest in Marquis Teague, a young and promising point guard on the Bulls. A couple others floated the idea of Andre Miller, another pass-first point but who might want more minutes long-term than the Jazz would be willing to commit. Maybe the Kendall Marshall experiment has run its course in Phoenix. The trade options and partners are likely few, though the idea won’t be ruled out, especially if Burke is out closer to the 12 weeks side of things (Ed: again, this seems unlikely at this point).
Three, and what I see as the most likely, is to keep all the promotion essentially “from within” and see what talent is able to rise. This is, after all, the season of discovery™. We might as well discover what we have. So what do we have?
We have John Lucas III, a heady, veteran point guard and a career 39.3% shooter—and a true shooting percentage of 48.3%–who spends a bit more time looking for his shot than he does looking for teammates, according to my eye test (patent pending). He’s been a decent spark plug off the bench so far in the preseason and has found a way to score, but that’s usually a descriptor you like for your shooting guard or small forward, not your floor general.
An unheralded pickup this offseason in Scott Machado might be able to handle more minutes to hold down the point-guard fort (in a backup point guard role) until Trey Burke can come back. While his field-goal percentage in the preseason has left a lot to be desired, he’s been dishing the ball at a very good rate: 2.3 assists per game, in 9.7 minutes per game, or 8.5 assists per 36 minutes. In comparison, Lucas’ per-36 minutes assist rate is 2.25. Trey Burke’s is 6.5.
Lester Hudson got 12 minutes in one of the preseason games and had a couple of assists, hit a couple of field goals—on seven attempts—but didn’t seem to stand out.
This season of discovery™ might be the perfect time to see how Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward can utilize some of their strengths—a mix of three pointers and the ability to drive into the lane—with getting teammates involved. Both, and particularly Hayward, have shown a knack for breaking down defenses and dishing the ball out. Hayward is currently leading the team in assists per game at 4.7, and Burks has been third on the team at 2.7.
This injury might create an opening for Hayward, especially, to grab this team and really make it his. We’ve been hearing since training camp how he and Derrick Favors were going to be counted on to step up and lead the team. With Burke out for 8-12 weeks, there’s an even greater need for a leader on and off the court. Hopefully Hayward will seize the opportunity and will have the ball in his hands even more; when the ball is in his hands, good things usually happen.
What other options do you see? What would you like to see happen?