Is It Too Late for Trey Burke to Challenge for Rookie of the Year?

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIDecember 18, 2013

Dec 9, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke (3) is defended by Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) during the first quarter at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Often times, first-year NBA players need to draw attention with a hot start if they hope to contend for the league’s Rookie of the Year award. Utah Jazz rookie point guard Trey Burke didn’t have that luxury, as he missed the first 12 regular-season games with a broken finger. But is it too late for the youngster out of Michigan to challenge for the award?

Michael Carter-Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers and Victor Oladipo of the Orlando Magic have emerged as frontrunners for the honor early in the season, but Burke is showing that he can’t be counted out just yet.

In Wednesday’s game against the Orlando Magic and fellow rookie Oladipo, Burke exploded for 30 points (on 12-of-20 shooting), eight assists and seven rebounds in an 86-82 Jazz win. He finished with a plus/minus of plus-21.

Burke said prior to the key matchup, "It gives me a little motivation going into those games," per Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune.

Oladipo, meanwhile, laid an egg with one of the worst performances he’s posted all season. He finished with just three points on a paltry 1-of-12 shooting to go with five rebounds and two assists. His plus/minus was minus-21.

Dec 18, 2013; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic shooting guard Victor Oladipo (5) drives to the basket as Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke (3) defends during the second half at Amway Center. Utah Jazz defeated the Orlando Magic 86-82. Mandatory Credit: Kim
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Not only did Burke outplay the Indiana product, he also performed like an elite floor general and led his team to victory.

Here’s a statistical comparison between both players entering the game Wednesday:

Oladipo: 13.8 points, 3.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks, 41.3/27.6/75.7 percent shooting splits, 13.00 PER.

Burke: 12.4 points, 4.9 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, 37.4/33.9/89.7 percent shooting splits, 14.79 PER.

Oladipo has a commanding lead on the defensive end of the court, averaging more steals and blocks than Burke. However, Burke is shooting with more efficiency from three-point range (33.9 percent) and the charity stripe (89.7 percent).

Additionally, Burke’s player efficiency rating ranks him fourth among all rookies, while Oladipo’s PER ranks him seventh.

Just to reiterate, those numbers exclude Wednesday night’s game (in which Burke dominated).

When compared to Carter-Williams—who experienced an amazing start that included a 22-point, 12-assist, seven-rebound, nine-steal effort in a season-opening win against the Miami Heat—Burke’s numbers aren’t as comparable.

Philly’s first-round pick is leading all rookies in points (17.7), assists (7.3), rebounds (5.8), steals (3.13—which leads the entire NBA) and PER (18.93).

With that said, Carter-Williams has missed 11 games due to injury this season—including the Sixers last seven games. If he continues to miss significant time, could Burke leapfrog him in the rookie standings?

From a statistical standpoint, MCW has been the better player. However, the impact both rookies have had on team success is virtually identical.

The Jazz are 1-11 without Burke and 6-10 with him.

The Sixers are 1-10 without Carter-Williams and 6-9 with him.

When these guys are healthy, their teams are far more competitive.

There are still plenty of games left in the 2013-14 season. And while the Rookie of the Year race appeared to have only two horses, a third contender has joined the running.