Trey Burke was set to play at the Detroit Pistons' Palace on Friday night for his first and only time this season. The temptation is to compare the former Michigan point guard to Pistons rookie shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Don't. Compare Burke to Brandon Jennings.
Or to Michael Carter-Williams, the rookie point guard in Philly, who, like Burke, is making several general managers wish they could have a redo on draft night. Of course, you aren't worried about the decision-making of other general managers in the NBA.
You are worried about Joe Dumars.
With Burke's return to Michigan, it's a good time to remember there still is a professional basketball team in town. And to ask whether Josh Smith just launched another three.
Wait, that's completely unfair to Mo Cheeks, who was hired last fall to lead the Pistons, and whose job now is to convince Jennings to pass more and to convince Smith to shoot less, at least from behind the three-point line.
What? Smith already has launched 146 threes this season? More attempts per game than at any time in his career?
Cheeks benched Smith three times this season, though presumably not for shooting too many threes. Clearly, he's trying to reach Smith.
He's also trying to reach Jennings, and he has to a degree. The point guard is averaging a career-high 8.5 assists. What he hasn't done, at least not yet, is instill an offensive identity.
Some of this is Smith, some of it is Jennings, and some of it is lack of spacing when Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Smith are on the floor at the same time. Cheeks has experimented with sitting one of his big three, usually leaving Smith on the floor with either Drummond or Monroe.
Whether this helps or not, it is too early to decide whether Cheeks is the right coach. He's a players' coach with an odd collection of players, not the best combination.
Clearly, the Pistons are more talented this season. They have yet to be more competitive.
Dumars took a chance by trading for Jennings and signing Smith. Then again, he had little choice. His owner demanded the playoffs, an edict that might cost the team going forward.
Hiring Cheeks was the safe bet to meet Tom Gores' demand. Drafting Caldwell-Pope was, too. The shooting guard offered mainstream NBA measurables. He has size and speed, and he defends.
Burke, meanwhile, doesn't look the part. At 6-1 and 190 pounds, he is small by today's standard. With one exception -- the guy who played in last year's NBA Finals.
Tony Parker isn't a fair comparison for Burke. Parker is quicker and finishes at the basket better than any small guard since Isiah Thomas. He's also a perennial MVP candidate. Sure, Burke might never be that good.
Then again, here is what Doc Rivers told the Salt Lake Tribune a couple of weeks ago.
"There are guards who can score. There are guards who are just playmakers," said the Clippers' coach. "Then there is that rare group that can do both. Chris (Paul) is one of those guys. ... I think Trey Burke is going to be that."
Burke struggled in summer ball and suffered a broken finger three games into the exhibition season. He missed 12 games. Since then, he has pushed Utah to a 12-16 record and was named Western Conference rookie of the month in December.
This isn't surprising considering Burke's history. He stepped onto Michigan's campus and wanted the ball at the end of the game. As a sophomore, knew when to shoot and when to find a teammate. And boy, could he shoot.
He is beginning to show those same things in the NBA. He might never drive and hammer dunk like Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook.
Yet he knows how to play, and in less than two months, he has given the Jazz an identity. It may be awhile before the Pistons find theirs.
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