They Can't All Be Winners, Part 18: Utah Jazz

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Every gunner is an order of magnitude less talented than they think they are. Even Allen Iverson was a very fast car who didn’t understand he wasn’t a space shuttle. But that can be an endearing trait—the most delusional players also tend to be the most charismatic—and that out-of-whack self-perception facilitates rare, sublime spans in which J.R. Smith is completely right about being the best shooter who ever lived and starts pouring in threes from fans-peering-through-their-fingers range. You miss a hundred percent of the attempts to make 37 consecutive contested jumpers you don’t take. You miss a hundred percent of the ones you do take, too, but sometimes something beautiful results anyway.

The central appeal of the gunner is his ability to make a disregard for reality seem appealing. To achieve the kind of thrilling transcendence he only occasionally grasps, you must either be Kevin Durant, or willing to fuck up a lot. And to fuck up a lot and not be despised, he needs to be a comedian, to possess some grace, or gumption, or confidence that, when he barrels blindly into a crowded lane or steps into a 26-footer, causes us to laugh, in the way that we laugh at a friend for doing something that perfectly expresses who they are, or in the way we laugh at pure audacity. The gunner is an asshole with a force of personality that overwhelms his worst tendencies. He is beloved beyond reason.

Trey Burke, to point out a meaningful difference, is just some chucker. He is at dinner, blithely explaining the plot of a book his date has not read, positive the conversation is going extremely well. He’s Zack Snyder, doubling down on the emotional power of his 9-11 imagery. He’s got opinions about that border fence, and he is not afraid to unleash them on grocery store checkout clerks. How wrong he is about the extent of his talent is bleak and banal, seen most clearly in the determined faces he makes when the ball goes in the basket, as if he has just proven a point he has in fact spent the past few minutes undermining. There is no chill to Trey Burke, which is a fitting quality in a bulldogish defensive specialist like Patrick Beverley, but scans as uptight in a scorer. It is one thing to shoot an abysmal percentage; it is another to do it with the misplaced, I’ma-go-hard-on-’em verve of a pitifully unimaginative bottom-rung-of-the-crew rapper. Burke is the league’s least fun weed carrier.

With a bit of brio, or self-awareness, he could be something altogether more enjoyable. But instead he scowls purposefully, and so we scowl back.

Previously on TCABW: Charlotte Hornets | Philadelphia 76ers | Houston Rockets | Los Angeles Lakers | Dallas Mavericks Indiana Pacers | Oklahoma City Thunder | Memphis Grizzlies | Chicago Bulls | Washington Wizards Cleveland Cavaliers Brooklyn Nets New York Knicks Denver Nuggets Miami Heat Los Angeles Clippers | Atlanta Hawks

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