When they woke up on Monday morning, Utah Jazz fans knew that highly touted rookie point guard Trey Burke would be out indefinitely after breaking his right index finger during the team's Saturday preseason loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Just a few hours later, though, that amorphous timetable was replaced by something a bit more concrete ... but no more comforting, I'm afraid.
First, we heard from Steve Luhm of the Salt Lake Tribune:
Trey Burke surgery on broken finger tomorrow in Salt Lake. Timetable for return will be announced after surgery, Jazz just announced.
— Steve Luhm (@sluhm) October 14, 2013
And then, just 16 minutes later, from Jody Genessy of the Deseret News:
Trey Burke needs pins in his fractured index finger. He will be out 8-12 weeks after surgery, per his agent.
— Jody Genessy (@DJJazzyJody) October 14, 2013
Here's more from Genessy:
The Jazz begin their 2013-14 season on Oct. 30, and that timeline would have Burke return somewhere between Dec. 9 and Jan. 6. That could leave the Jazz's starting point guard sidelined anywhere from 22 to 36 games.
Initially, Burke's camp hoped the 20-year-old would return after three weeks.
"It’s unfortunate," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "It’s part of the business getting hurt and seeing how he responds."
That's a pretty big bummer for Burke, who certainly could have used the next two to three months to help acclimate himself to the rigors of running an NBA team after two seasons of college ball.
Burke won a slew of National Player of the Year honors in leading Michigan to the NCAA national championship game last season, with his scoring flair, ability to get to the rim and penchant for big plays in big moments helping make him the No. 9 overall pick in June's 2013 NBA draft. The Jazz selected Burke in the hope that he'd become the team's first long-term solution at the point since trading former All-Star Deron Williams, setting their sights on the rookie combining with their young core — bigs Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, plus wings Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks — to create the next generation of title-contending Jazz squads. While the likelihood of him getting plenty of playing time and opportunity for what looks to be a rebuilding Jazz team have earned him consideration as a potential Rookie of the Year favorite, the early returns from his in-game performances to date haven't been quite so impressive.
It is, of course, commonplace for incoming rooks to struggle in transitioning to the pro game, but Burke seemed to struggle to create space and finish during a four-game stint in the Orlando Summer League. The issues continued in the Jazz's first three preseason games, as Burke had missed 21 of his first 30 field-goal attempts before fracturing his finger on Saturday. On the plus side, he'd dished 12 assists against five turnovers in that limited action; on the minus side, though, he had yet to attempt a free throw in 65 1/2 minutes of floor time over the course of two games. It's still far too early to consider draft-night feelings that the Jazz had found their point guard of both the future and the present misguided, but the combination of early offensive struggles and the challenges associated with a months-long stall of his development curve do raise the specter of an especially rough year ahead for the former Wolverines standout.
Burke will likely get the keys to the Jazz offense back from coach Tyrone Corbin as soon as he's healthy enough to receive them without reinjuring his finger, but in the meantime, Utah looks poised to enter the season scarily thin at the point. Veteran offseason addition John Lucas III will figure to get the lion's share of the work in the short term, with training-camp signees Scott Machado and Lester Hudson looking to work their way toward increased minutes, but Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey could look to add some more bodies to the mix — the team has reportedly shown interest in Chicago Bulls backup Marquis Teague, could look to bring back 35-year-old triggerman Jamaal Tinsley, who spent the last two years in Utah, or may look toward the ranks of D-League prospects or players cut from other teams' training camp rosters as the preseason rolls forward. Hayward and Burks, both of whom spent plenty of time handling the ball on the wing for Corbin last season, figure to factor into the playmaking mix as well.
That's admittedly not the most thrilling collection of point-guard talent in the NBA. It's worth remembering, though, that even with a healthy Burke available to play big minutes from the season's opening tip, Utah still figured to be among the league's worst teams this season as Corbin, Lindsey and company hand the reins over to the young talent they've accumulated over the years and begin the process of building something new and (hopefully) successful around Salt Lake. Losing Burke for two or three months likely won't impact the short-term business of looking toward the 2014 draft lottery very much; here's hoping, for Jazz fans' sake, it doesn't have too significant an impact on the longer-term development of the team's core, either.