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Underrated Draft Prospects: Trey Burke

March 13, 2013

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.

-James

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. zebano permalink
    March 13, 2013 10:31 am

    If you ever do scores for past drafts I’d be really curious how Ty Lawson grades out because he’s the guy that Burke really reminds me of. Always looks like the best player on the floor, great shot, good distributor, court vision etc. Downsides are they’re short and not freshmen…Ty lasted until number 15 where the Wolves picked him and dealt him to Denver.

    • March 13, 2013 5:41 pm

      Ty Lawson was the exact comparison that came to my mind too. Lawson was less of a defensive liability in college, but Burke is more of a scorer and his A/TO ratio is even better than Lawson’s was in college (somehow!). I’d be very interested to see if Lawson was a guy that crossed the+2 threshold too.

  2. March 13, 2013 5:51 pm

    Lawson is a fairly good comparison, but he was not better than +2. To compare, Burke put up better numbers in every main stat but steals, and he’s a year younger than Lawson was when he came out. Burke separates himself more as the better prospect when we compare his numbers to Lawson’s when Lawson was the same age as Burke.

  3. March 14, 2013 4:16 am

    Height doesn’t tell the whole story with Trey as you point out. However I would also add that Trey jumps very well, and this helps him play bigger than he is, at least on offense.

    He elevates very well on his jump shot and at the rim.

  4. March 14, 2013 4:26 am

    Also, his on ball defense is superb. Not sure how any scout could conclude otherwise.

    • March 14, 2013 9:43 am

      That’s good to hear from someone who (I assume) watches every Michigan game. Both Draft Express and Chad Ford express concern about his on-ball d. Don’t know exactly how they came to the conclusion, but that’s hurting his draft stock in their eyes.

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