SALT LAKE CITY — A couple of weeks ago, Jazz coach Quin Snyder had to field questions about whether Enes Kanter or Rudy Gobert should be starting down low. Lately the question’s been, who should start at point guard — Dante Exum or Trey Burke?
Even though Burke has clearly outplayed Exum over the past five games — including Wednesday night when he scored 21 points to Exum's zero — Snyder isn’t worried about who starts and is pleased with Burke’s play off the bench.
“There is this fixation with the bench and starting,’’ he said. “But to me, what Trey Burke has embraced is not so much the bench, but I want him to do what’s best for our team. The point is, he has embraced being a better player. He had a good game tonight and what he’s done is put more focus on his defense, which is really concentration.’’
As for Exum, who shot 0 for 5 and was held scoreless for the third time in five games, Snyder says he’s not worried.
“He’s had off-nights when he’s come off the bench,’’ he said. “Ironically, I thought he played really well the first two or three minutes and was really attacking. I thought he was dynamic with the ball. As the game went on, I thought he (was) thinking a little more and being less aggressive.’’
The offensive numbers between the two point guards couldn’t be more dramatic over the past five games. While Burke is averaging 16.6 ppg since a big win over Brooklyn, Exum is averaging 1.2 ppg over the same stretch on 2-of-21 shooting.
Burke says he’s taking his coach’s advice and playing with more aggression and focusing on his defense when he enters the game, usually two-thirds of the way through the first quarter.
“I’m just searching for opportunities to make plays for the team,’’ Burke said. “Coach tells me to come in and be aggressive and if the shot’s there, take it and if not look to get into the paint and create for others. It’s just a mindset to be aggressive.’’
Exum admits it’s been tough going up against a bevy of the league’s top point guards, including Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard and Mike Conley in the past week. As a backup he didn't have to go head to head with the elite point guards as he has recently.
“I’ve been adjusting a lot,’’ Exum said. “Obviously you’re going against some of the best point guards in the world and it’s going to be a lot different going against the backup point guards. It’s a big step up. I’m just taking it game by game and trying to adjust.’’
As for his poor shooting, Exum said, “I’m still trying to find myself in the offense and trying to find what works with the rotation, but that will come and I’ll find it.’’
Burke started 68 of 70 games when he was healthy as a rookie last year and he can sympathize with Exum and the struggles he’s going through.
“You’ve got to just play through it. I think everybody goes through it,’’ Burke said. “I went through it, everybody goes through it, some more than others. My advice to him is to continue to play through it, get better every day, watch film, and look for areas where you can improve. You have to ignore everything else and focus on the game.’’
Snyder said he’s not worried about Exum, despite his 9.5 shooting percentage over the past five games.
“It’s a process for him,’’ Snyder said. “As far as confidence I don’t lose confidence in him. I really believe in him and his ability to improve. I don’t think we can define Dante’s game yet.’’