Trey Burke may have struggled mightily during the NBA summer league in Orlando, but for a number of reasons, he still has a very real shot at Rookie of the Year in 2014.
The former Michigan Wolverine and 2013 AP Player of the Year is one of the few big names in what was widely considered a weak crop of newcomers.
He was drafted by a Utah Jazz team that is rebuilding and will look for him to take on a big role, especially since the team has no other potential starting point guard on the roster. And he happens to play the position that the league has been trending toward over the last few years.
Burke was adored by Michigan fans all season long, but didn't truly capture the nation's attention until March Madness.
It was his leading of the Wolverines to the national championship game that got the draft pundits talking about him possibly going No. 1 overall if the Orlando Magic or some other team in need of a point guard had won the lottery.
ESPN's David Thorpe wrote a piece in April warning teams to "Pass on Trey Burke at your own risk." Much of that talk ceased when the ping pong balls bounced in Cleveland's favor prior to the draft, but Burke created enough of a stir around himself to secure top-10 status.
Not wanting to miss out on a potential franchise point guard (a foundation upon which the Jazz could build a future), the organization traded two first-round picks (Nos. 14 and 21) to the Minnesota Timberwolves in order to move up in the draft and snag arguably the best college basketball player in the country in 2012-13 with the No. 9 pick.
And the argument goes as follows: Burke won five national player of the year awards, including the Wooden and Naismith awards. He led the Big 10 in assists per game, minutes played and win shares and trailed only Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas in points in per game.
How could the Jazz afford not to go after 2013's most dominant major-conference point guard with all three of their own players at the position hitting free agency?
And how does the team not hand over the reigns to Burke immediately after allowing Mo Williams, Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley to walk (and only signing John Lucas III to come off the bench)?
As is often the case with hypotheticals, the answers to those two questions are pretty obvious. Burke is the point guard of the future for Utah, and out of necessity (self-inflicted though it may be), the future is now.
The point guards weren't the only guys the Jazz sent packing this summer. Utah's two leading scorers from last season—big men Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap—will have plenty of shots at each other as Eastern Conference foes, representing the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks.
That opens doors for up-and-comers Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors to now occupy the frontcourt. Gordon Hayward (who may now be the veteran leader of this team?) and Alec Burks figure to start on the wings.
A 20-year-old point guard being asked to lead an NBA team starts to look a bit less far-fetched when the average age of the supposed starting five is under 22.
Add the fact that Hayward is the only one of the five who's ever averaged double-figures in the NBA, and you see that Burke and the Jazz have no choice but trust each other right away.
This situation sounds somewhat familiar, doesn't it?
Take a look at the Rookie of the Year award over the last five years. Four of the five winners (Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose) were point guards who started right away on teams that asked them to take on the responsibility of leading despite their youth.
His toughest competition for the award will be others who are entering into rebuilding situations and facing lots of early responsibility. Fellow Big 10 products Victor Oladipo of the Orlando Magic (who might also spend some time at point guard) and Cody Zeller of the Charlotte Bobcats fit that description.
Those two, along with Burke would be my early favorites for 2014 Rookie of the Year.
I guess it's kind of like exposure therapy or trial by fire. Call it a hunch, but I think Burke will pass that trial and keep the trend alive, becoming the fifth point guard in the last six seasons to win the NBA's top honor for rookies.
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