Jazz guard Burke stays positive despite loss of playing time
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The rise of Shelvin Mack has precipitated the fall of Trey Burke in the Utah Jazz lineup, but the former No. 9 overall pick hasn't been a distraction on a team looking to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Burke's career has yet to take a definitive shape since he was named National Player of the Year in his final season at Michigan. He was thought to be the point guard of the future when the Jazz traded for him on draft night in 2013, but now the future is unclear.
''I know I'll have a long career in this league, regardless of what anybody says,'' Burke said. ''That's my mindset. It is a little frustrating because you want to be out there. You know you can help the team. But, for me, I'm looking at the big picture. I don't really look at the temporary situation. I just try to get better every day. Be the best version of me that I can be.''
Burke has had mixed results throughout his short career. He started 69 games as a rookie and averaged 12.8 points per game, but shot just 38.0 percent from the field and 33.0 percent from 3-point range. The points average stayed the same in 2014-15, but both percentages dropped and he lost the starting job to the new point guard of the future, Dante Exum, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Still, Burke had a defined role as an influx of offense with the second unit as the 6-foot-6 Exum was a much better defender for defensive-minded coach Quin Snyder.
Exum was lost for the season because of an ACL injury during the summer and the Jazz decided to go on with the combination of Burke and rookie Raul Neto. Burke was playing some of the best ball of his career early this season and Neto has played well for a second-round rookie, but the position remained a weak spot in the starting lineup.
The Jazz sent a second-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for Mack at the trade deadline. He has played 21 games in Utah, started 20 and the team is currently in the No. 8 playoff spot in the Western Conference. He's been a better defender than Neto and Burke and his 5.8 assists per game are more than those two combined.
Mack has already started more games in Utah than he had in his previous four seasons combined and his points (12.4), assists, minutes, rebounds, shooting percentages are all career highs. He was a second-round pick by the Wizards in 2011 and never had the opportunity that he has now.
''When you're always prepared, you never have to get ready and have to worry about different things,'' Mack said. ''When I first got in (the league) it was difficult, when you're not playing. You just try to make the best of your situation. In Atlanta, I used to come in and try to play one-on-one every day with somebody. Talk a little smack just to keep my mind fresh and mentally healthy. Just try to think of the positives.''
Burke rededicated himself to the game over the summer and made the conscious decision to be more professional - more work on and off the court, a better diet, better sleep habits. That mentality has been helpful as he endures the most difficult stretch of his basketball life. He's been a healthy scratch seven times since the trade and has played 14-plus minutes just twice.
''It's motivation for me, more than anything,'' Burke said. ''I'm in the gym every night, pretty much. Just coming to get work in early and staying after late. Getting your extra shots when no one is around. I think that's what's really been keeping me grounded and keeping me positive in this role.''
Snyder has repeatedly praised Burke for how he's handled the situation, though his role is not exactly defined at the moment. All focus is currently on the playoffs.
''We're aware of that situation, you go from playing minutes to all of a sudden as the year progresses to not playing minutes,'' Snyder said. ''But we made a trade and that's the reality of the situation. That's being on a team. You have to keep your skills current and stay ready. That's what Shelvin Mack did for two years. I'm using him as an example because that's the kind of mental approach that you have to have to be successful in this league. Whether you're a starter or reserve or trying to make a team.''