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SALT LAKE CITY — When the Jazz traded up in the NBA Draft to grab their point guard of the future he was given the keys to the franchise, but a preseason injury stunted the growth. Now with a healthy sample size with and without Burke it's time to dissect the two halves of this season.
The Jazz have been a completely different team with the return of Burke, along with Marvin Williams and Jeremy Evans. The difference has been team wide. It hasn't been all good change, but it has produced wins. There will be two periods discussed, before and after Burke started, which was Nov. 24.
Without Burke the Jazz started 0-8 then went to 1-13 before Burke got his first start. The point guard spot was in flux with Jamaal Tinsley and John Lucas III running the point for the eight games until Tinsley was waived. The Jazz signed Diante Garrett who played 22 minutes his first day and helped the Jazz to their first win Nov. 13 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Jazz didn't win another game after Burke started against the Chicago Bulls. Since the return of Burke the Jazz have gone 7-10. It has all started with the offense.
The first 14 games of the season the Jazz scored 89.6 points per game. This was historically bad — now the Bulls are the worst offensive team with 91.9 points per game. The average for the NBA is 99.9. Since the return of Burke the Jazz haven't had a prolific offense, but have since moved to 95.3 points per game. Burke's first game was an outlier with the Jazz scoring 73 points.
Two stats jump out between the two parts of the season. The first is 3-point shooting and the second is assist-to-turnover ratio. The Jazz shot 29.8 percent from beyond the arc before Burke came back. Since he returned they are shooting 38.2 percent. They were shooting 18.4 times and making 5.5 and now are taking 17.9 while making 6.8.
The 3-point shooting stat is partly Burke's ability to make plays, but also the return of Williams who has become a stretch-four. The most recent starting line, Burke, Gordon Hayward, Richard Jefferson, Williams and Derrick Favors, has stretched the floor with Jefferson and Williams shooting around 40 percent. Jefferson has shot 53.5 percent since Burke's return.
This has allowed Burke to work with Hayward and Favors to get easy assists and keep turnovers down. Burke has been stellar in his ability to keep turnovers down while still controlling the ball and dishing out assists. He has a 3.62 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is sixth in the NBA.
The team dished out 19 assists in the first half of the season while turning the ball over 17.8 times. Since Burke's return it has turned to 20.5 assists to 13.5 turnovers.
One player in particular who has benefited from Burke's return is Alec Burks. During the injury-filled first half of the season, Burks was forced into playing point guard and had issues getting his offensive game going. Burks started the season scoring 11.2 points per game shooting 37.6 percent and only 24 percent from the 3-point line.
Since Burke has returned those number have gone up significantly. Burks is now scoring 13.6 per game, but is doing it much more efficiently. He is now hitting 48.3 percent of his shots and 41.4 from deep. He is actually taking a few less shots, but scoring more and has had a few huge games.
The healthy return of players has also started to solidify lineups for coach Tyrone Corbin.
There is now a divide between the regularly used players and reserves. There are eight players who play more than 20 minutes a night since the return of Burke. The other players all play less than 13. Before the return, seven played an average of more than 22 minutes, including Lucas, and the lineups were a mess with all but two players playing more than 12 minutes, including Tinsley.
The return and subsequent lineup adjustments have also put the less productive players on the bench. This is mostly about Lucas. The Jazz brought in the veteran point guard to be a cheap backup and was thrust into the starting role. The first half of the season he played 22.5 minutes per game. During that time he scored 5.9 points and dished out 1.8 assist per game. Horrible numbers for a point guard.
Since Burke's return, he has only played 11.9 minutes per game, but still has put up 3.9 points per game. His shooting numbers have actually gone up. He was shooting 30 percent from 3-point range — now he's shooting 44.4 percent.
On the other hand the Jazz are one of the worst defensive teams in the league. While they don't give up the most points in the league at 101.5 per game they do have the worst defensive rating in the league. Defensive rating is based on points allowed per 100 possessions.
The Jazz give up 108.5 points per 100 possessions. The next worst team is the Philadelphia 76ers at 107.1. The Indiana Pacers have the best defensive rating at 93.4.
Since Burke's return, the Jazz have had a 110.1 defensive rating. They have slowed down the pace of game to minimize the defensive impact and Burke has been the main reason for it. However, when teams can get out and run on the Jazz they will give up a ton of points, such as the Portland Trail Blazers did when they scored 130.
Despite the downside, the record speaks for itself. The Jazz are now 8-23 after started 1-14. Burke has helped the Jazz win games.
This year it is all about developing defense for the team, which coach Tyrone Corbin hasn't done to this point. If they can find a way to get a defensive identity going into the offseason Corbin could get himself another year with a good draft pick.
Right now the team is showing significant improvement. Since Burke's return the Jazz are winning. They won't make the playoffs, but it shows that they are on the right track.