Oct 8, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke (3) is introduce prior to a game against the Golden State Warriors at EnergySolutions Arena. The Jazz won 101-78. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Trey Burke vs. Damian Lillard: Jazz/Trail Blazers Rematch

When rookie point guard Trey Burke met former Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard in pre-season, I was hoping to see something special. He had entered the 2013 NBA Draft as the most anticipated point guard in his class, and was taken by the Utah Jazz with the 9th overall pick—one spot ahead of CJ McCollum. Would we catch an early glimpse of this year’s best juxtaposed with last year’s?

Maybe, but if Burke is everything he’s supposed to be, he sure didn’t look like it back in October. He put up just 7 points to Lillard’s 23 in a forgettable 3-10 shooting performance. The following night, Burke fractured his right index finger in a home game against the Los Angeles Clippers. His final pre-season performance left many disappointed, but redemption would have to wait six weeks.

Things that happened during those six weeks:

  • The Utah Jazz got off to a 1-11 start for the worst record in the NBA, despite a young core of talented big men and Gordon “Jordan” Hayward.
  • The Portland Trail Blazers shocked the NBA with an unexpected 9-2 record, 7 games into their historic 11 game winning streak.
  • Utah called point guard Diante Garrett up from the NBA developmental league as a last ditch effort to keep their offense afloat.
  • Portland’s CJ McCollum (who had been injured one week before Burke) remained on schedule for his return, albeit still to be seen.

Trey Burke returned to NBA action on November 20th against the New Orleans Pelicans, and re-entered the starting lineup on November 24th against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Jazz are now 3-3 with Burke starting; not exactly a tanking team’s dream, but reason enough for the rest of us to take notice. Don’t let Utah’s abysmal start fool you—they’re not an easy W.

Burke has averaged 16.2 points in games where he has played more than 25 minutes, including two 20+ point performances (both wins). Now that he has found his footing, a rematch with Lillard will be much more even. The rookie stated that he has felt himself improving since making his return two weeks ago. The scary thing is that he’s still climbing. Burke has barely scratched the surface, much less his ceiling.

“I think I’ve come a long ways since then [November 20th]. Just from picking up the offense, knowing where guys are supposed to be and just having that feel for the game, it’s starting to come along. I think I’m a much better player.”

-Trey Burke via Deseret News

The Trail Blazers take on the Jazz in the Moda Center at 7:00 p.m. tonight. We’ll see just how much he has improved then. Expect a show. The Trail Blazers are on a tear, but they cannot discount the Jazz and their up-and-coming star rookie. Burke is the X-factor Utah hoped he could be and, with a little luck, they’ll be back in the race before you know it. Portland can’t sleep on him this evening.

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Tags: Damian Lillard Portland Trail Blazers Trey Burke

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