SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — During the first 14 games of the season, Utah's offense was often politely described as sputtering and disjointed. Over the last six games, Jazz players and opponents have started using words like rhythm and flow.
The biggest difference is often the smallest guy on the court: Trey Burke.
The season started with Utah's lottery pick on the bench recovering from a fractured finger. The Jazz dropped 14 of their first 15 contests, often in blowouts. Now they've won three of their last six, and many are crediting Burke.
Burke was the AP Player of the Year last season at Michigan. The Jazz packaged their two first-round picks to get the 6-foot-1 guard, who slipped to No. 9, then let most of their top veterans go in free agency.
Watching the Jazz flounder while he watched from the bench to start the season stoked his desire to be on the court.
"I was so ready to play again," Burke said. Once he became the starter, the Jazz topped the 100-point mark three consecutive games after reaching that plateau only once in the first 15 games.
Burke's emergence and the team's recent surge was no surprise to veteran forward Richard Jefferson.
"When you draft a point guard and believe in his abilities, you craft your offense with his skills in mind. Then when you lose that guy in preseason, guess what, you're going to struggle a little bit. We missed him, no doubt," Jefferson said.
After only six games of Burke in the starting lineup, the whole outlook has changed.
"He's getting better and he's only played a handful of games. It usually takes rookies a while to find that rhythm. We will continue to improve as he improves," Jefferson added.
Already, Burke has displayed a growing command of the offense and he takes care of the ball. In the last 133 minutes, he has only committed two turnovers. His ability to break down the defense is at a premium on this Utah team where few can create their own shots.
"He has started making the simple plays — like putting pressure on the defense and then dropping the pass to the bigs. It's not sexy but it's the right basketball play and it sets you up for things later on," Utah coach Ty Corbin said.