Last summer, Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke had a difficult Summer League.
Coming off a spectacular NCAA tournament run at Michigan with his National POY award in tow, expectations were high for Burke in his first foray into professional basketball. Unfortunately, his jump shot didn’t really cooperate, and neither did his Summer League pick-and-roll partner Rudy Gobert or his fringe/non-NBA teammates, but Jazz coaches maintained throughout the process that Burke would be okay.
They knew he could play and once the season got underway, Burke rewarded the team’s faith en route to All-Rookie first team honors.
This year’s edition of Summer League basketball figures to be a less arduous task for Burke, but no less important than his rookie experience. With No. 5 overall pick and fellow point-man Dante Exum now in the mix, it is imperative that Burke demonstrate the ability to coexist with the Australian phenom.
Exum and his camp elected not to work out for Utah in the weeks leading up to the 2014 NBA Draft because of Burke already being there. When asked about it on draft night, Exum’s line was that it “wasn’t a good situation” and yet, here we are now with the two of them together on the Jazz’s roster.
For his part, Burke has been all class. He voiced his approval of the Exum pick on draft night, and has even taken to Twitter with his feelings. Exum seemed more optimistic about it after the draft and at his introductory press conference as well, but in order for this pairing to be truly successful, he and Burke need to develop an on-court chemistry.
Exum’s size, length and ridiculous speed should keep him from having some of the individual struggles that Burke had in Summer League, but as an 18-year-old rookie with little experience, he could benefit from Burke’s tutelage and counsel in the coming weeks. Such a relationship could go a long way in establishing the kind of trust the two of them will need to have in order to mesh well together on the court.
They may both consider themselves point guards, but they are totally different players. Those differences aren’t hurdles in their development; they are what will allow them to play together and flourish.
Trey is kind of player who likes to take the big shot. With Exum on the floor with him, he could find himself playing off the ball and getting more chances to take those shots. Burke can also lift some of the weight off of Exum’s shoulders and run the team at times when Exum struggles with inexperience. With that combination of speed and size, Exum should be able to get into the lane and finish at the hoop or distribute, something Burke struggled to do last season.
Defensively, if Exum can grasp the team’s concepts and play to his physical potential, he should be able to body up on opposing two guards while Burke handles the point. Or, as matchups demand, Exum may be able to relieve Burke and use his length to better handle the craftier, quicker, more athletic PGs in the league. A lot of this depends on Exum’s ability to develop as a young player, but the blueprint is there for mutual success.
Summer league isn’t the end-all/be-all to gauging how players will perform at the next level, but its an important first step in the process. Burke and Exum are both smart people and high-character guys; it’s probably a safe assumption that they are both aware of what they need to do to become a cohesive unit in coach Quin Snyder’s system for the Jazz.
If they’re able to get it done, Utah’s backcourt could become a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.