Alright, I’ll admit it up front. I’m a little biased towards one of the candidates for Rookie of the Year. With that being said, let’s take a look at Trey Burke’s positioning against the other leading rookies.
It’s no secret about the upper echelon of talent among rookies this season. Three players have already proven themselves as the early favorites: the Sixers’ Michael Carter-Williams, the Magic’s Victor Oladipo, and the Jazz’s Burke. Other players such as Ben McLemore, Kelly Olynyk and Cody Zeller have made nice names for themselves, but nowhere to the level of the first three.
MCW has been the consensus favorite to this point in the season. He astounded the entire league with his opening night stat line of 22 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds and 9 steals in 36 minutes. I mean, wow! Three rebounds and a steal away from a quadruple double. The NBA hasn’t had a quadruple double since David Robinson did it in 1994. There’s a chance he could win the award from the lingering effects of that game alone. But he has since continued to impress. He’s won the only Rookie of the Month so far this season, and is averaging 17.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists, leading all rookies in all three categories. Needless to say, the kid can play.
Oladipo, meanwhile, has excelled while adjusting to a new position. His averages aren’t quite up to the level of MCW, but impressive nonetheless: 13.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists. He has displayed the most pure athleticism of the three thus far, which was no secret coming in to the season. His defensive abilities are also probably a notch above the other two, although defense doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet.
The most impressive thing when you start comparing Burke to these other two rookie phenoms, is how quickly he has climbed into this conversation after such a huge disadvantage to start the season. While Oladipo and Carter-Williams were impressing the league and slating themselves at the top, Burke waited patiently for his chance to shine. I honestly didn’t think Burke was going to get the recognition he deserved just because of the importance of first impressions in this league. As I mentioned earlier, I think a lot of analysts were ready wrap up the award and hand it over to MCW one game in.
It didn’t take long for Burke to make his impact, though. And more than any individual stat, he has the Jazz clicking. After starting the season 1-11 without him, they’ve now gone 6-8 with him in the starting lineup. Miserable to mediocre— a large jump! He simply makes everyone around him better, as good players usually do. His averages have climbed up to 13.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists. One of the most impressive stats is how well he’s protecting the ball. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.73 is 4th in the NBA, not just rookies, that’s everybody. Take that, MCW.
Each of these three brings something unique to the table. MCW has set himself apart as the best individual player, Oladipo on the defensive end, and Burke as a true floor general. The other two notched their first triple-doubles in the same game, while Burke surpassed both of them on Wednesday with the highest single-game point total of 30—against Oladipo might I add.
Each of them, however, has his disadvantages as well. I already talked about Burke’s uphill battle to recover from the finger injury. He missed a total of 12 games. And while MCW set the bar fairly high to begin the season, he too has succumbed to injuries, missing 11 total games—including the last seven. Oladipo seems to have the tendency of disappearing, as he did against the Jazz, and his plus/minus has been in the negative in well over half of their total games—as low as -25 in some.
So if the season ended today, who would get the award? It would be hard for me to say Michael Carter-Williams, purely because of his current injuries, although he is slated to return on Friday for the Sixers game against the Nets. Oladipo has seemingly eclipsed MCW in most rookie power rankings, but that seems like a placeholder to me. That’s why I think Burke is in a great position to claim this award. If you were to remove MCW from the equation for whatever reason, and both Burke and Oladipo maintained the same level of productivity, you have to give it to Burke. However, at this point, MCW has a leg up. But I’m not the only one who thinks Burke might be the new sheriff in town.
Burke’s only chance of winning is to keep improving. He might have a few rough games like he did against Miami this week, but the most important aspect was that the bounced back and had his best game of the year in the very next go-around.
Burke still has that chip on his shoulder, and I wouldn’t want to mess with him. If you don’t believe me, look again at the picture at the top. He’s so hot right now, he doesn’t actually touch the ground when he plays.