Ex-UM star Trey Burke adjusts to reserve role with Jazz

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Salt Lake City — It’s not the position Trey Burke envisioned when he was named national player of the year and entered the NBA draft after his sophomore season at Michigan.

After going ninth overall in the draft, Burke appeared destined for a long career as an NBA starter and when he was traded to the Utah Jazz, he looked to have nothing but big things ahead of him.

In his third season, Burke is going through more growing pains as a reserve point guard, playing behind Raul Neto and trying to recast his career as a sparkplug off the bench.

After going through some struggles last season in that transition, Burke has begun to settle into that role, averaging 12.7 points per game — fourth in the NBA among reserve players. He’s posted 15.5 points, 2 rebounds and 2.5 assists in his last 15 games and is rounding into a solid option for the Jazz second unit for coach Quin Snyder.

“It’s been great; for me, it’s just been doing whatever the team asks me to do,” Burke said. “Coach told me he wanted me to be a spark coming off the bench and being a team guy, I’ve always just wanted to win. That’s really what it’s all about for me.

“I’ve grown a lot this year, mentally as a player, going through some adversity, but it’s helped me out.”

The Jazz have been decimated, losing Dante Exum and Alec Burks to serious injuries and just getting Derrick Favors back from a 16-game absence.

That’s thrust Burke into a different role, playing with an assortment of reserves, but having to be a scorer and some nights and a distributor on others. 

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He admitted there were some bumps along the way, but he’s when he found out last season that he could be reduced to playing a secondary role, he was a bit surprised.

“I knew it could be a possibility. I was prepared for it but for me, I can play both ways, start or off the bench,” he said. “It was an adjustment because I’ve never come off the bench and it was something I had to get used to.”

Burke was held scoreless on 0-of-8 shooting on Monday night against the Pistons. That ended his streak of 11 straight games of scoring in double figures; it’s the second time the Pistons have held him without a point this season In his development, Burke has learned that it’s just of working his way through the difficulties and the grind of the NBA.

He cited his two seasons at Michigan under coach John Beilein as critical to his success as a pro — a boost he didn’t fully appreciate while he was playing for the Wolverines, including the run to the NCAA championship game in 2013.

“It prepared me for pick-and-roll situations and 80 percent of the game — if not more — at the NBA level is pick-and-roll,” he said. ‘Just being in that system prepared me.”