Jazz fans have been getting rumblings that Trey Burke is close to returning, which is such welcome news for a team that has severely struggled at the point guard position in Burke’s absence. Alec Burks has spent some time at point guard, sometimes playing solidly, and but most times neither passing nor shooting all that well, though at least possessing the height to keep opposing players from posting him up or shooting over him consistently. John Lucas III has shown why he’s played fewer minutes in his NBA career than Burks (for reals). Jamaal Tinsley, while he was on the payroll, tried his best to be a stopgap, but not having a training camp or preseason to get into game shape probably hurt his play more than we realize. Diante Garrett provided a breath of fresh air in his first game in a Jazz uniform, but as some have joked, once he learned the offense, his play went downhill. Still, at times he’s been the best option at the point on the floor, and his 6’4’’ frame has helped on defense.
Because of the point guard struggles, Gordon Hayward has been given the ball in his hands, leading the Jazz in assists per game at 4.4. Looking at some of the new, fancy SportVU stats and throwing on a couple of filters—playing 9+ games so far and averaging 20+ minutes per game, Gordon Hayward is in the top 25 of assist opportunities (passes by a player to a teammate in which the teammate attempts a shot, and if made, would be an assist). Who are the forwards in that top 25? Gordon Hayward and LeBron James. While that’s been made necessary by the lack of good point guard play, it also shows how well-rounded Hayward’s game has become, as he’s been filling up the stat sheet. When Burke comes back, having two very good playmakers on the floor can only help an offense that has been bogged down with too few passers.
When your starting point guard (counting Lucas, since he’s started more games at PG than anyone else) has fewer assists per game (1.8 APG) than your starting power forward (Derrick Favors, 1.9 APG), you’re going to have problems on offense. Admittedly, Favors plays more minutes per game (34 MPG), but that’s still a glaring stat. I don’t care how good of a passer a power forward is—and the Jazz had several here through the years, with Malone, Boozer, and Millsap each being excellent passers out of the post—a starting point guard should never be anywhere close to their assist numbers.
You know it’s bad when everyone is waiting with baited breath for the rookie point guard who hasn’t shot well yet since making the jump to the pros—the same one who shot 1-19 from three and 24.1% from the field in summer league. But what Trey Burke gives up in shooting abilities (though his TS% as a sophomore was 56.9% and his eFG% was 53.0%), he can hopefully compensate by bringing his playmaking game. His freshman year at Michigan, he averaged 4.6 assists per game, and he increased that to 6.7 assists per game his sophomore year, even though he played slightly less each game (36.1 mpg to 35.3 mpg). His assist percentage started at 28.7% his freshman year and shot up to 37.3% his sophomore year, tops in the Big Ten. With his playmaking abilities and assuming he finds his shot better than Tinsley, Burks, Lucas III, or Garrett—and I think it’s safe to say that shouldn’t be too hard of a task—we’ll start to see a better offense once gets back into game shape and gets up to speed. At the very least, things can only look up, right?