Moxie. Swagger. Cool. Fearless. Calm. Patient. Composed. Confident. Poised. Ice.
We’ve been hearing all sorts of adjectives to describe Trey Burke, especially his clutch, late-game play. After last night’s game—even though it was a loss—those descriptors are even more solidified as he scored the Jazz’s final 11 points in about a minute of action. In fact, I had to re-watch that last minute-plus of play about five times just because it was so cool watching his game. Sometimes I forget he’s a rookie.
He hadn’t been hitting his shots most of the night—he was 3-11 through the first three quarters—but that didn’t stop him from stepping up and taking—and making—big shots in the final minute of the game. That takes a lot of guts to keep taking shots when you haven’t been hitting them much on the night, especially when the game is close. Even more impressive is that he’s doing this as a rookie. Sure, we see him making some rookie mistakes or picking up ticky tack fouls, but he plays with such a calm confidence, completely fearless out there at the end of games, that I can forget he’s a rookie.
I think we’re familiar enough with Burke and his time at Michigan to know that this is a pattern, where he takes and makes big shots, but it was fun to go back and re-read some articles (do a Google search for “Trey Burke” and “moxie” and see what comes up!). Here’s one that describes how Burke carried his Michigan team to a huge win over 6th-ranked Ohio State:
With just more than 11 seconds remaining in the game and the 19th-ranked Wolverines clinging to a three-point lead, the freshman had taken Aaron Craft — one of the best on-ball defenders in the nation — off the dribble, finishing with a high-arching layup off the glass over former high school teammate Jared Sullinger.
It was just a few possessions removed from another drive where he had beaten Craft off the dribble and crossed over in the lane for a left-handed layup. The 5-foot-11 point guard had in essence put the entire Michigan basketball team, coaching staff and fan base on his shoulders and given the Michigan fans something they haven’t had in a long time — a win, something to be proud of and cling to in this often lopsided rivalry.
So what did the final minute of last night’s game look like? The Trey Burke Run started when he got the defensive board off the Kawhi Leonard miss, pushed the ball (maneuvered around Richard Jefferson), pulled a quick hesitation move before crossing over and blowing past Parker before kissing the ball off the glass and getting the and-one. It was beautiful. Then he nailed the free throw. On the next Jazz possession, Alec Burks missed a heart-breaking layup. San Antonio hit one of two free throws, and then Burke calmly hit a jumper at the elbow off a screen with 27.9 seconds to go. San Antonio hit a couple more free throws, and Burke used a Kanter screen to take a leaning, off-balance three pointer that he nailed. Ice, ice baby. It was one of those shots that you’re watching, thinking, “That is NOT a good shot!” And then when it goes in, you can’t take it back, but you’re okay with it. On the next Jazz possession, Burke drove and missed a layup, but the Jazz got possession and, after calling a timeout, hit a DEEP three pointer. And to see him catch that pass far behind the three-point line, you could see him put his head down, collect himself, take a dribble, and launch that three with confidence. He held his arm in the air as he waited for it to fall through the net. It was beautiful. Eleven points in just over a minute.
I ran some numbers on NBA.com to get a feel for what Burke’s numbers look like at the end of a close game. How does he stack up to other good players, and where is there some room for improvement?
First, Burke has played in 15 games where the Jazz are within 5 points with 5 minutes remaining. Their record in that time? 10-5. Chris Paul’s numbers: 10-7. Damian Lillard: 16-7. Michael Carter Williams: 9-4. Those numbers are especially impressive for a team helmed by a rookie point guard who missed most of the preseason and the first chunk of games with a broken finger. Burke’s field goal percentage in those minutes is 46.2%–much higher than his FG% on the year—and his 3-point percentage is an incredible 60% in those clutch minutes (Paul’s numbers: 40.8% and 30.0%, respectively; Lillard’s numbers: 47.6% and 47.8%, respectively; Carter-Williams’s numbers: 45.8% and 33.3%, respectively). Burke also hasn’t missed a free throw in those circumstances. Ice, ice baby.
Burke has the same number of assists per game in those clutch minutes (0.5) as Damian Lillard, Steve Nash, Wilson Chandler, and James Harden, but he’s shooting a much higher percentage from three than all of them. And while Burke did have a career-high 11 assists last night (topping the double-digit mark for the second time in his short career), that’s one area where Burke could improve his already-improving game. Michael Carter-Williams averages 1.5 assists per game in those clutch minutes, which is incredible when you see that Chris Paul’s numbers are 0.9 (Marc Gasol, interestingly enough, is at 0.8).
What does this tell us? We’ve got a clutch player on our hands, ladies and gentlemen. And he’s only going to get better from here. Ice, ice baby.