Do the Utah Jazz Have the Right Point Guards to Mentor Trey Burke?

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistNovember 4, 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 have one of the strangest point guard rotations I've ever seen.

Their marquee free agent signing this summer was John Lucas III, who's averaged 5.2 points a game while shooting 39.1 percent from the field during a career in which he's played in Italy, Spain and China.

When rookie, and presumed point guard of the future, Trey Burke went down with a broken finger on his shooting hand, they re-signed another journeyman, Jamaal Tinsley.

His career is a bit more accomplished, as he averaged double figures in three of his 10 NBA seasons and logged some playoff minutes with the Indiana Pacers.

Both players have their strengths—Lucas can get hot as a shooter, while Tinsley has good awareness and a pass-first mentality—but it's their weaknesses that have shown through early in this 2013-14 season as Utah has struggled out of the gate.

So the question has come up: Is either one of these guys a good fit to mentor the rookie Burke? It's a fair one to ask, and there are some indications that the answer is "no". And while arguments can be made for both, the best option might be to look elsewhere.

John Lucas III

Sep 30, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard John Lucas III (5) is interviewed by the media during the Utah Jazz media day at Zions Bank Basketball Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

JL3 or Luke (as Jazz play-by-play man Craig Bolerjack calls him) was the first option to fill this mentoring role. He played in his first NBA game with the Houston Rockets during the 2005-06 season and has a wealth of international experience.

He was brought in as a veteran leader who would also be able to stretch the floor while playing off the ball while point forward Gordon Hayward ran the offense.

So far, it hasn't worked. 

Jazz fans are learning what Rockets and Chicago Bulls fans already knew about Lucas, he gets icy cold as often as he gets red hot. It's just not as well known because the cold streaks of a role player aren't frequently highlighted on ESPN.

During his entire NBA career, Lucas has never shot 40 percent from the field. This season, he's shot 32.1 percent, and 18.8 percent from three-point range.

I imagine if Lucas had some kind of mantra, it may sound something like this, "When in doubt, chuck it up." And I wouldn't be surprised if he repeatedly mumbles it to himself under his breath during games.

Is the shoot-first model really what Utah wants Burke to become too? Try to think of one shoot-first point guard who led his team to a title. Actually, I'll save you some time, there really isn't one.

Magic Johnson's Lakers and Isiah Thomas' Pistons were the last two championship teams about which you could say the point guard was the best player. Both of them were distributors.

Jamaal Tinsley

Jan 7, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz point guard Jamaal Tinsley (6) talks with referee Eli Roe (44) during the first quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

So of the two options currently on the roster, Tinsley is the obvious one to mentor Burke. 

According to Basketball-Reference, a player has to log 15,000 career minutes to qualify for the career leaderboard for assist percentage. Right now, Tinsley is closing in on 14,400. 

If he stays healthy, he'll likely pass the qualifying mark this year. At that point, his career assist percentage of 37.9 will rank him 13th in NBA history.

The guy knows how to distribute the ball; he's just been doing it in a limited role recently.

The problem with Tinsley, though, is that he's also one-dimensional. Lucas is really only a scorer (and not an efficient one), while Tinsley is only a distributor.

His shot selection has been suspect throughout his career as well. Through just over 10 seasons, his effective field-goal percentage (a number that weights three-point makes) is just 43.7.

The problem is those threes. He's averaged over two attempts a game but hit just 30.1 percent of them. His career would have looked much better to all the efficiency-crazed bloggers out there if he had cut that shot out of his repertoire. 

So while Tinsley may be the better option to mentor Burke for now, I'm not convinced he has the all-around game that would make him ideal.

Other Options

Oct 14, 2013; Denver, CO, USA;  Denver Nuggets guard Andre Miller (24) reacts during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

I could spend an entire article on outside options to bring in as a mentor for Trey Burke—plenty of others already have. But for right now, I want to focus on who I think is the best option.

The Denver Nuggets have three point guards on the roster in Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson and Andre Miller. At some point, one will likely become redundant and Denver has needs elsewhere (particularly on the wing where Andre Iguodala's defense once reigned).

The odd man out would likely be 37-year-old Miller. Lawson is Denver's only real star and the future of the franchise. Robinson was just signed as a free agent this summer.

A deal of Miller for Utah's Brandon Rush could greatly benefit both sides. 

Rush could be a three-and-D (I hate that I use that term) wing for Denver. His career three-point percentage is 41.3, and he developed a reputation as a solid, physical perimeter defender with Golden State.

Those are both things Denver stands in need of without Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari (who has no sure timetable for his return from ACL surgery).

Rush is also on an expiring contract. So if Denver so desired, they could let him walk next summer and enjoy the $5 million extra in cap space.

As for Miller, he played his college ball at the University of Utah, where he led the Utes to a Final Four appearance. Ending his career in the Beehive State would be kismet.

And the thought of him mentoring Burke is much more pleasant than the current alternatives.

In some ways, Miller is similar to Burke. One of the biggest knocks on the rookie this summer was that he might not have the athleticism to compete with NBA point guards.

Well, Miller has never been known as the most explosive guy, and he's managed to average 13.8 points a game while working his way up to 10th all-time in career assists.

He possesses some of the most important traits for a traditional point guard in spades. He is a very crafty ball-handler and finisher around the rim, always sees the entire floor and can pass with touch, accuracy and zip when needed.

Merely having him on the team wouldn't guarantee Burke would develop all those skills to the same degree, but it would certainly do more than not having him.

Whether Denver goes out and makes a move or decides to stand pat remains to be seen.

There is something to be said for both Lucas and Tinsley, but it's not looking good right now. In fact, I haven't watched a team yet this season that looks worse at the position.

And things might not get much better when Burke returns. He showed us in the summer league and preseason that the NBA learning curve is going to be extremely steep for him.

A mentor might be exactly what he needs, and making a deal for Miller or some other veteran would help now and in the future.

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

For 140-character pearls of wisdom from Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey, follow him on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.


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