Saturday night at Target Center was the first time Wolves fans could look live at Trey Burke and wonder, what if?
Burke is the rookie out of Michigan who is starting at point guard for Utah. He came into the game averaging 13.9 points per game, second among rookies. He was held to nine points in the Wolves’ 98-72 rout of the Jazz.
He is coming off Western Conference rookie of the month honors for December after averaging 18.1 points, 7.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds in 16 games during the month, scoring in double figures 13 times.
What has allowed Burke, last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year, to acclimate to the league so quickly?
“His toughness,” Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. “And his desire to be one of the best guys to play his position. He’s not afraid of big moments.”
Burke also played a significant role for the Wolves on draft day last summer.
When things didn’t fall ideally, the Wolves — who held the ninth pick and sought a shooting guard or small forward — took Burke, then sent him to Utah in exchange for the 14th and 21st picks, which turned out to be Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng.
But before fans start to think of Burke as yet another one that got away, realize that the Wolves were not going to add another point guard to a roster full of them. The organization felt then, and still does, that Ricky Rubio is the team’s future at the position. And, at the time of the draft, the Wolves also had two other point guards on the roster in J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour.
Shortly after the draft, Ridnour was traded to Milwaukee.
If Burke was with the Wolves, he wouldn’t be getting the playing time he has with Utah.
Still, with the Wolves struggling — having lost three games in a row before Saturday — and with Rubio still working to regain his rhythm, it’s not surprising that some opinions expressed by fans on social media pined for Burke to be wearing a Wolves jersey.
Burke broke his finger in October and the Jazz went 1-11 without him in the lineup. Since his return the Jazz has gone 13-17 overall, alternating wins and losses in eight January games.
Burke came into Saturday’s game on the heels of back-to-back double-doubles.
“We put a lot of demands on him, and he’s learning,” Corbin said. “And he’s getting better every night out there.”
Bye bye Dome
Corbin was on the inaugural Timberwolves team, the 1989-90 squad that played its first season in the Metrodome, which was deflated Saturday.
For Corbin, the Dome held great memories for him.
“I remember the long runs to the locker room at halftime,” he joked. “And I remember, coming to the Wolves from Phoenix, the cold. We had to park [outside]. And, going out after the game, it was freezing.”
But it was an interesting season, one in which the Wolves drew more than 1 million fans. That included an announced crowd of 49,551 that turned out to see the team’s final game at the Metrodome.
“I saw they took the Dome down today,” said Corbin, who played 15 NBA seasons, including two-plus with the Wolves. “Playing there was special. Every night, no matter the weather, the fans didn’t care. They came out. The fans were great.”
• Kevin Love passed Wally Szczerbiak for second all-time in Wolves history in three-pointers with his 344th career three in the first quarter. Anthony Peeler (465) is first.
• Utah swingman Gordon Hayward (hip) was inactive.