Underrated Draft Prospects: Trey Burke
Burke certainly is an interesting prospect. Everyone and their mothers recognize him as the best point guard in college, he’s a sophomore by the way, and yet all of the big time draft sites peg him as a mid-first-rounder. So where’s the disconnect?
For one, Burke is pretty short. Now I’m not going to try to sell you the size doesn’t matter bullshit like I did last year, because size does matter, especially for wings and especially on defense. But size is less of a limitation for point guards than it is for other positions. And this is demonstrated quite convincingly by the size of some of the league’s best point guards. Chris Paul, of course, is one of the three best players in the league at six feet even with shoes on. And it doesn’t end there: Rajon Rondo, Mike Conley, Ty Lawson, and Kyle Lowry are elite at the position – and they’re all under 6’2″. Even Jameer Nelson, Raymond Felton, T.J. Ford, and Nate Robinson have had reasonable success in the NBA. And Burke has a case for being a better offensive college player than any of these guys. He has almost certainly been the best scorer of the bunch – shooting a 59% true shooting percentage while averaging more points per pace-adjusted 40 than all but Nelson (his senior year), who played against weaker competition. Plus Burke is on pace to average more assists per pace-adjusted 40 than every player on that list except T.J. Ford. Factor in turnover rate – Burke’s is the best of the bunch – and what we have is an efficient, finely tuned offensive weapon who is still only 20.
Though he is not a superb vertical athlete, Burke is extremely quick and fantastic at handling the ball. This allows him to create space and penetrate at a very high level, and because of his court vision and elite passing, he can find the open man when defenses collapse on him. It is difficult to find a comparison to Burke because of his offensive versatility. Chris Paul was not the scoring threat in college that Burke is, though he developed into a great scorer with time. Paul separates himself from Burke on the defensive end though, where his instincts were much better than Burke’s are. And this is where Burke’s critics are the harshest.
Burke steals the ball at a respectable rate, but his on-ball defense has been criticized as sub-par for an NBA prospect. However, while defense is unquestionably important, it is less of a factor for perimeter defenders than for interior defenders. I’ll expand more on this in a future post, but a bad defensive center is generally much more detrimental to a team than a bad defensive point guard. And I don’t think anyone is calling Burke a bad defender, only a sub-par one. Besides, quantifying defense by observation is tough and there is plenty of room for error. Either way, it is very doubtful that Burke’s shortcomings on the defensive end even approach canceling out his sensational offense.
My draft model, of course, projects Burke as a +2 in the league, which puts him in elite company, and suggests that he’s the fourth best prospect in the draft – and the second best point guard. As much as I love the top point guard prospect, Marcus Smart, his offense is just not on par with Burke’s at this point. As I’ve already noted, Burke’s quickness and ballhandling allows him to go just about anywhere on the court any time he wants. And this ability is amplified by his extraordinary jump shooting. Just a few weeks ago, Jonathan Givony tweeted that Burke was statistically the best off the dribble jump shooter in college basketball. Burke’s deadly shooting is the final piece in a combination that makes him a constant threat with the ball as soon as he crosses half court. And though his defense is pretty far behind his offense, it’s not far enough behind where I’d wait until the mid-first-round to take him. There are a very limited number of players in any given draft that will pan out in the NBA. Burke looks to be one of them – he crosses my +2 threshold and he’s one of the best players in college basketball as a sophomore. It would be a shame if he slipped past the top ten in this year’s draft.