Former Michigan point guard Trey Burke's special rookie season continues. The Utah Jazz standout, a two-time NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month selection (Jan. and Feb.), hit a three-pointer from the corner with 1.6 seconds remaining March 22 to lift Utah to an 89-88 win over Orlando. That and more in this pro update …
First, footage of Burke's big shot:
Burke is averaging 12.8 points, 5.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game in his first NBA season. He enjoyed a stretch of four straight double-digit scoring games, including two 20-point performances, between March 10-16, notched 16 points and six assists in a 96-86 loss at Memphis March 19, was 17 and four in the win over Orlando and scored 15 points in a 114-94 loss to Detroit March 24.
Some fans actually booed when Burke hit his game winner. The Jazz have been struggling with the league's fourth-worst record, and they've resorted to rooting for a higher draft pick.
"I think that's just selfish for a fan," Burke said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. "We play hard, practice hard every single day. Why would we go out there and try to lose? I just think wherever we do land in the lottery, that will be great for us. But to try to tank games and lose games is just absurd."
Tim Hardaway Jr., meanwhile, continues his fine rookie season with the New York Knicks, as well. Hardaway helped lead the Knicks on a six-game winning streak from March 5-15 following the team's seven-game losing skid from Feb. 21-March 3.
The former Wolverine was averaging 10.0 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game through March 24. During the win streak, he was scoring at a clip of 15.2 points per game. He poured in 28, 20 and 22 points in the last three, shooting 63.0 percent or better in all three wins while coming off the bench. The Wall Street Journal reports he's the first rookie reserve to accomplish that since 2010.
Knicks head coach Mike Woodson decided to play Hardaway Jr. next to Iman Shumpert, the team's best defensive wing, and the move paid off.
"It's fun, because we give a lot of energy, and that's what we were hoping for," Hardaway said. "We do a great job of playing with one another."
There's room for improvement, though. The Journal adds that Hardaway's 0.2 defensive win shares this season - an estimate of how a player's defense helps his team win - are the NBA's second-worst among shooting guards with 1,000 minutes played. His 5.7 percent assist rate is second to last among guards, and his 3.9 percent rebounding rate - the percentage of missed shots he grabs while on the floor - would go down as the seventh-worst season in NBA history for players 6-6 or taller.
"He's a shot maker and he's an athlete. He's capable of putting the ball down and getting to the rim," Woodson said. "But I want him to be a complete player, so I want him to get better defensively, and I think he will as the years come and go."
Hardaway is also scoring 60.3 percent of the time in transition, though, fifth best among NBA guards. He's also finishing at the rim with a 66.7 percent success rate, better than any NBA rookie guard per NBA.com.
Hardaway scored only two and six points, respectively, in wins over Indiana and Philadelphia March 19 and 21, and he scored 12 in a 106-100 loss to Cleveland March 23. Below is his big game against the 76ers:
Former Wolverine Jamal Crawford is averaging 18.7 points, 3.2 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game, but he as played only 10 minutes since Feb. 26 due to a calf injury. He's expected to return Saturday against the Detroit Pistons.
Former point guard Darius Morris (2010-11) remains a free agent. He spent time with the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers (on two, 10-day contracts) and Memphis Grizzlies and averaged 4.0 points, 1.6 assists and 1.0 rebound in 27 games played, but was released by the Grizzlies at the all-star break in late February. He's playing with the D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Avant cites grandmother, faith for his success
Former Michigan receiver Jason Avant, recently released by Philadelphia after eight years, is looking for a new team, but he's in a good place. The standout recently told The Christian Post his story of faith and courage.
"I was the worst gang-banger/drug dealer ever because my grandmother gave me too much truth for me to be comfortable in that environment," he said.
He admitted to dealing drugs as early as sixth grade when he was growing up on the south side of Chicago, but said his grandmother helped turn his life around. The interview below is certainly worth watching.
In other news, LaMarr Woodley - recently cut by Pittsburgh - signed with Oakland recently. He seemed on the brink of being a Pittsburgh Steeler for life after signing a six-year, $61.5 million contract in August 2011. But after starting the 2011 season on a tear, including 7.5 sacks in one four-game stretch, Woodley got hurt chasing New England and former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady and has been on and off the injured list since.
Woodley has missed 14 of his 49 games since suffering the hamstring injury and wasn't himself when he did play. He mustered only 9.5 sacks in 35 games after notching 50.5 in the 68 games prior to getting hurt.
That led to his release by the Steelers in March after a disappointing season. He played in 11 games and managed only 36 tackles and five sacks.
Woodley, a linebacker with the Steelers, will play defensive end for the Raiders, who signed him to a two-year deal worth up to a reported $12 million.
"Woodley should be fine moving to defensive end as that is what he played in college when he tormented quarterbacks for Michigan," ESPN.com Pittsburgh wrote. "The move might help him regain some of his pass-rushing mojo as Woodley won't drop into coverage nearly as often as he did with the Steelers.
"I like the signing for the Raiders, especially if Woodley prepares and plays as if a fire has been lit under him. Did complacency set in after he signed the six-year, $61.5 million in 2011? It sure seems that way, and maybe getting released is what Woodley needed to get his career back on track."
Former Michigan quarterback Chad Henne, meanwhile, signed a two-year extension with Jacksonville. He inked a two-year, $8 million contract (with $4.5 million guaranteed) in March. The veteran started 13 games last season (including the last 11) and played in 15 in replacing the injury-prone Blaine Gabbert, throwing for 3,241 yards with 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Henne started all four of the Jaguars' wins last season, completing 60.6 percent of his passes.
He called Jacksonville his "first choice" after he inked the deal.
"[Henne] was really committed to Jacksonville and he has a good comfort level here," Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said. "He likes the community and likes the city and wanted to be a part of this as we grow."
Head coach Gus Bradley called re-signing Henne "very important" given the quarterback's knowledge of offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch's system.
"We talked about Chad being a top priority right after the season and now to get it done prior to free agent starting, I think it opens up some other options for us," Bradley said.
Henne enters spring camp as the Jaguars' No. 1 quarterback and is expected to start fall in the same capacity.
Mario Manningham inked a one-year deal with his former team, the New York Giants. He signed a two-year, $7.3 million contract with the 49ers, but played 12 games in 2012 and caught 42 passes for 449 yards and only one touchdown before needing left knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and PCL. He made it back for only six games in 2013 and caught nine passes for 85 yards before he went back on injured reserve.
"I'm happy to be back," Manningham told the New York Daily News. "I'm real excited. It's just great to see everybody, be around familiar faces, knowing everybody in the past and just being comfortable around everybody.
"Once a Giant, always a Giant. That's how I feel. This is a very special place. I wanted to come back."