It would be tempting to call Saturday night’s explosion from the three-point line a breakout game for Trey Burke, but really, this was just part of what’s been a pretty excellent start for Utah’s oft-maligned third-year point guard.
“He’s been great for us,” said Gordon Hayward of Burke. “He’s been embracing the role that he’s been put in. We need somebody to come off the bench like that and give us a lift.”
Along with near-namesake Alec Burks, Trey has done just that — and Saturday’s barrage from deep was just a more noticeable continuation. He’s now shooting an even 50 percent from 3 on the year after his 6-8 showing against the Grizzlies, along with nearly 47 percent from the field and a perfect mark from the charity stripe1. But as his coach explains, it’s about more than just the metrics for Burke.
“[Trey’s effect] shows up readily when you look at his shooting numbers,” said Quin Snyder following the win. “But there’s a part of it that you don’t see, whether it’s in a timeout or at the free-throw line when he’s communicating with a teammate. I just think he’s really focused on trying to do every little thing that he can do to help the team win and be a good player.”
It has to feel rewarding on nights like these when it all comes together. But the work around the margins is what makes it all possible — Trey and his teammates have spoken since the beginning of preseason about his renewed approach to the game, and feeling more comfortable in his own skin is clearly trickling down to the rest of his game. The move to the bench doesn’t appear to have slowed him down in the slightest, and may have in fact energized him.
“I just do whatever the team asks me to do, whatever coach asks me to do,” Burke told a large group of assembled media after the game. “He told me he wanted me to come off the bench and be aggressive, make plays for the team. For me it’s all about winning.”
The onus remains on Trey to prove this surge is more than temporary, but he seems more up to the task than in previous years. His words regarding preparation are far from empty — he’s been among the last to leave the practice facility on nearly every occasion this writer has been there to observe a practice or shootaround. His warmups before games, while a trivial matter to some, are a process he takes seriously and works hard at. The hope for Jazz fans will be that Trey embraces the success he’s having with his new approach, and becomes the player the Jazz hoped for when they drafted him back in 2013.
29.5 — Positive per-100-possession rating for the Jazz during the nearly 25 minutes Alec Burks spent on the court Saturday night. More on this below.
90.3 — Jazz defensive rating, once again tops in the league. It should be noted, though, that the only above-average offense (to this point) they’ve played so far is Portland, a game they lost and were out of sorts defensively.
Hayward takes another positive step: Burke’s great night from the field overshadowed it, but Gordon Hayward had his second consecutive strong game after seeming a bit off to begin the year. His first half, in particular, was excellent — 15 points on 5-6 shooting, five rebounds, four assists and a block without a single turnover. Burke spoke on how important it is, and will be, for the Jazz to have their leader in full form.
“It means the world,” Trey said. “First couple games he didn’t shoot it as well as we know he can shoot, [but] he’s picked it up the last few games — we’re going to need that from him all year. His aggression on the offensive end, his leadership, we’re going to need that.”
Alec Burks, plus-minus All-Star? Of all Jazz players who have played in each of the team’s six games2, who do you think has the highest on-court plus-minus? That’s right, it’s Mr. Burks. He showed why to a large degree Saturday — not quite at his usual level offensively, Burks nonetheless contributed elsewhere on the floor, especially defensively. His off-ball play was as good as it’s been all year, with several perfect shows and bits of help defense that will go unnoticed to the casual fan. He added another four assists after eight Thursday in Denver, and finished with a team-best plus-12 despite a pedestrian 9-4-3 line on 2-6 shooting.
Late-game complacency: The Jazz built up to a 20-point lead in the third quarter against Memphis, but what happened over a large stretch of the fourth following that was a bit of a warning for the group going forward. They allowed the Grizzlies to storm back to within five through a mixture of sloppy play and strong shot-making from Memphis, and while Snyder didn’t attribute it to his group letting down necessarily, he talked about their response to those sorts of situations.
“I don’t think we let up, just the level of the game and the physicality raised and we got sloppy,” said Snyder. “You get behind and you get urgent [like Memphis did], and there’s a physical level that kicks in. We just have to be stronger and take care of the ball, something we’ve been doing well.”
Neto, starter in name only: Raul Neto started each half for the Jazz Saturday night, but wouldn’t see the court again in either frame once he left it. While Neto is technically the starter, it’s becoming clear over the last few games that his role is in fact slightly less than that. Snyder is going to Burke for longer and longer periods, and has been very comfortable pulling out his three-wing lineup. The team continues to be pleased with Neto defensively and as a ball-handler, but it’s becoming clear that there are many situations where better options exist. This isn’t a bad thing — in the same way Burke is learning to embrace his new role, Neto is already clearly settling into a comfort zone.
Joe Ingles, spacing extraordinaire: Ingles was hot to close last year from deep, and has kept it up and then some to open the 15-16 season. He’s up to 46.7 percent on the year, and the Jazz’s True Shooting percentage rises over six full points when he steps on the court. There are games where he plays limited minutes, but it’s the way he fits himself in — shooting and otherwise — that allows him to be a vital plug-and-play option.
“Joe’s been good as far as figuring out different ways to impact the game — whether it’s shooting, being able to switch defensively, there’s a lot of things he can do,” Snyder said. “That’s what versatility is, really: trying to find different things you can do to help the team win.”