The Philadelphia 76ers rolled into Salt Lake City Wednesday night on the heels of two straight defeats – games lost by nearly 90 points combined. Despite this abysmal matchup, a decent story was still waiting to be told.
Trey Burke, the ninth overall pick and 2013 NCAA National Player of the Year, faced off against eleventh pick and current Rookie of the Year favorite Michael Carter-Williams, the first time the two players went at it since the Final Four last April.
Carter-Williams outplayed Burke Wednesday night, scoring 19 points, dishing out 8 assists, and grabbing 5 boards. Carter-Williams, who is 6’6” to Burke’s 6’, made a noticeable difference on Burke’s game. Burke only scored 7 points on 3-of-12 shooting, along with 2 assists and 2 rebounds.
Despite Burke’s pedestrian performance, watching these two players go against each other was still the highlight of the 105-100 Jazz win.
Both Carter-Williams and Burke enjoyed nationally prominent careers in college. Carter-Williams played for Syracuse last year, and the Orange finished 30-10, losing to Burke’s Michigan team in the Final Four. Burke, who was the star of the NCAA tournament despite losing the national title to Louisville, outplayed Carter-Williams in their last head-to-head matchup.
Both guards had less-than-stellar performances, but Burke finished with 7 points, 3 steals, 4 assists, and 5 rebounds, while Carter-Williams had 2 points, 2 steals, 2 assists, and 5 rebounds. That poor showing in the Final Four game might be what knocked Carter-Williams’ draft stock down below Burke’s, but Burke was still the best college player in the nation last year.
With both players in the NBA now, the competition has increased, and the different strengths of Burke’s and Carter-Williams’ game have been highlighted immensely.
Comparing Burke and Carter-Williams now is almost unfair, but since the two are the leading candidates for winning Rookie of the Year, the comparisons are inevitable. Carter-Williams is the number one option on a Philadelphia team that desperately needs another player of above-average caliber. The Sixers lost by 45 points to the Los Angeles Clippers, and followed that up with a 43 point loss to the lowly Sacramento Kings. Because of how bad Philly is this year, Carter-Williams’ numbers are a little inflated, to say the least.
Comparatively, Burke has a much different situation here in Utah. He’s playing for a team that’s much better than most people expected, and he’s not the number one option offensively. Added to that, Burke’s emphasis wasn’t ever really scoring – he’s more of a pure point guard. His ability to see the floor, run a team, and distribute the basketball, are the key aspects of his game that separate him from the rest of the rookie point guards.
So after watching the two players go head to head for the first time in the NBA, it’s hard to say which player is better, simply because both of them bring different things to the table.
Defensively, Carter-Williams is a huge asset. His length helps stifle opposing guards, and Jazz coach Ty Corbin noticed that Wednesday night.
“When you got angles on a bigger guy like that, it takes a little more to get in front of him, and when [Carter-Williams] came off the pick and rolls he was in position . It’s a little more fight with a longer guy to get back in front so you’re not out of rotation,” Corbin said.
Aside from defense, Carter-Williams is also a little more comfortable as a scorer – although, Burke did hit another late game jumper to give the Jazz a 91-88 lead with about 2:20 left in the game. Carter-Williams scored 19 points on 46% shooting, which is pretty good for a rookie in the NBA. Additionally, Carter-Williams had a lot of looks in the paint, which is to be expected from a 6’6” guard. Even with his added height, Carter-Williams is only shooting 2.5% better from the field than Burke this season.
On the other hand, Burke brings a different skill set when he steps on the court. Although he had a rough night as far as assists goes, his court vision and ability to set up his teammates have been the hallmarks of his rookie season.
“My role is just to continue to contribute, continue to set the offense up, things like that,” Burke said after the game Wednesday.
Burke also helps space the floor with his shooting. Utah hasn’t had point guards that are legitimate threats from downtown since Deron Williams, so the added spacing is a great benefit of having Burke on the Jazz this season.
While right now it may seem that Carter-Williams has more success as a player than Burke, you can’t just look at an individual player’s success. Basketball is, after all, a team sport.
Since Burke has been with the Jazz, they’ve been almost a .500 basketball team. Burke missed 12 games due to injury – Carter-Williams has played 41 games, and his team has only won 15 games. Granted, the Jazz have only won 18 games, but the Jazz seem to be a more complete team than Philly.
At this point in their careers, Burke seems to be the better fit for the Jazz in terms of filling a need. Utah needed a pure point guard – someone who understands basketball and how to run an offense. Burke definitely has the edge in that regard, and unless Carter-Williams makes improvements in that area, then Burke is the point guard for Utah.