Spotlighting and Breaking Down Utah Jazz Point Guard Position

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2013

GREENBURGH, NY - AUGUST 06:  Trey Burke #3 of the Utah Jazz poses for a portrait during the 2013 NBA rookie photo shoot at the MSG Training Center on August 6, 2013 in Greenburgh, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz are clearly committed to incoming rookie Trey Burke as their point guard of the future. Even after a dismal showing at the 2013 NBA Summer League, the team signed only John Lucas III to back him up.

They also have a couple of 6'3" gunners in Jerel McNeal and Ian Clark, who made names for themselves in the D-League and Summer League respectively.

So, if you're counting, that gives Utah two point guards (Burke and Lucas) and two combo guards (McNeal and Clark). And three of the of the four weren't even drafted into the NBA. 

That translates into a ton of minutes for the starter.

Playing time will have to be earned on the depth chart, but in a rebuilding year anything can happen.

Trey Burke

Strengths: The Jazz traded two first-round picks to move up and take Burke at No. 9 in the draft this year in the hopes that they were picking up a true point guard who could make the rest of the young core better.

That's exactly what Burke has the potential to be. At Michigan, he showed two of the most important traits of a playmaker: leadership and court vision.

On a team filled with star power (the Wolverines had three players with family members who were NBA All-Stars), Burke stepped into the alpha-dog role and led the pack all the way to the national title game.

He led the team in scoring at 18.6 points a game and scored in a variety of ways. His strong ball-handling allowed him to get to the rim fairly easily against college defenders, and he kept them honest on the perimeter as well by hitting 38 percent of his three-point attempts.

His natural leadership ability was on display as he took over several individual games when his team needed him most. This South Regional Semifinal game against Kansas was one of his best examples of his ability to take over in a big spot.

Burke does a lot more than score, though. He had 10 dimes in that tournament bout against the Jayhawks and led the Big Ten in assists per game at 6.7.

Weaknesses: The size and speed of NBA competition got the best of Trey Burke during the 2013 Summer League. In four games, he averaged 8.8 points while shooting a dismal 24 percent from the field (including 1-19 from three-point range).

The summer games highlighted Burke's lack of top-flight athleticism. He still had enough quickness to get to the rim (though not as easily as he did in college) but was not explosive enough to finish over NBA bigs there or gain separation for pull-up jump shots on the perimeter.

If he had been more concerned with creating shots for others rather than himself, he would have been more effective. Too often, he tried to make a spectacular play (which was usually a tough shot) instead of the smart play (which was usually a pass).

Projection: Burke is going to struggle for the first couple of months of the year. But there's basically no other option on the roster. Tons of minutes will mean tons of opportunities to rack up points and assists (not to mention turnovers and missed field goals).

He'll figure it out before long and put together a solid rookie campaign, even if it's not terribly efficient.


John Lucas III

Strengths: Lucas is one of those irrational confidence guys Bill Simmons is always talking about. If he gets hot, he can put up a bunch of points in a hurry.

Over the last two years, he's averaged over 16 points per 36 minutes and hit 39 percent of his three-point attempts.

Weaknesses: The problem with Lucas is that confidence can be really irrational sometimes. He's averaged over 15 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes for his career, and he has never finished a season shooting over 40 percent.

His lack of size can be a problem as well. At just 5'11" and 165 pounds, he lacks the length to bother fellow Western Conference point guards like Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul.

Projection: Lucas is one of just two point guards on the Jazz roster and should have a role similar to the one he had in Chicago and Toronto the last two years. He'll provide offense off the bench and a little bit of rest for the starter for about 10 minutes a game.


Jerel McNeal

Strengths: At both Marquette and in the D-League, McNeal has shown that he can score points in bundles.

Over the last two years with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and the Bakersfield Jam, he's averaged 18.8 points while hitting 38 percent from downtown. 

He's shown decent playmaking ability as well, averaging 4.9 assists in his D-League career.

Weaknesses: McNeal isn't a true point guard but lacks the size to play the 2. He'll have to improve his handles and passing to be able to take some minutes away from Lucas.

Projection: He's not likely to appear in a ton of games, unless his point guard skills advance quite a bit. When he does get in, he'll get his shots up and score some points.


Ian Clark 

Strengths: Clark lit it up in the Las Vegas Summer League championship game for 33 points. He hit seven of 10 three-point attempts, and apparently the Jazz noticed. They signed him just a few weeks later.

It wasn't just one hot night for Clark. He shot 43 percent from downtown during a four-year career at Belmont (including 46 percent his senior year). 

Weaknesses: He's something of a redundancy with McNeal on the roster. He's a better shooter, but lacks the point guard skills to carve out a role right away.

Projection: There's no telling whether or not Clark will even make the regular season roster yet. If he does, he might be in street clothes for the majority of the team's games.


Point guard has been a weakness for the Jazz ever since the team traded Deron Williams to the Nets, and that will likely be the case this year as well. But with Trey Burke in the organization, there may finally be a future there.


All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.



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