Following a devastating loss to Louisville in the National Championship Game, it was obvious this would be Trey Burke’s last game as a Michigan Wolverine. The 6-1 floor general, interestingly a product of rival state Ohio, solidified his spot as the top point guard prospect in this year’s draft. Sporting nice totals of 18.6 ppg and 6.6 apg as a sophomore, Burke showcased an array of intangibles that will place him in good stead to run an NBA calibre offense. Heart, determination, grit, feistiness and leadership come up a number of times in scouting reports. Questions have been raised about his size and athleticism raising the fear that he might find it difficult gaining separation between the defender when shooting or have his passes deflected.
Burke is an excellent scorer in the half court, particularly in pick and roll situations (which is a constant staple of every NBA offense). He only turned the ball over 8.2% of pick and roll possessions this past season. In terms of scoring, Burke is an above average spot-up shooter, isolation scorer and off screen threat scoring 44.7% off jumpshots this year. The pull up jumper, which contributes to a large percentage of Russell Westbrook’s and Derrick Rose’s offense, accounted for 46.4% of Burke’s attempts in the half court. To put his conversion rate of 1.01 points per-shot of said pull-ups in perspective, Damian Lillard converted 1 points per-shot coming out of Weber State – pretty good company. Conversely, Burke only generated a below average 1.052 points per-shot off his finishing opportunities. Due to his lack of size and athleticism, this will be a point of emphasis for Burke to improve upon as he develops in the NBA.
Labelled as a better scorer than distributor, his vision and ability to make everyone better have also come into question. Despite his high assist total, scouts are still not convinced he can become a true facilitator at the next level. This is mainly due to an average first step and questionable ability to use his left hand which NBA defenses will easily identify and overplay to one side.
Burke should look to Kemba Walker’s highs and lows in his short NBA career as a blueprint for success. In his rookie year, Walker struggled converting at the rim (36.6% FG%) and running a less than ideal Charlotte offense. Given full reign of the offense one season later, he was able to convert at the rim better, become more efficient on his jump shot, and, most importantly, get his teammates more involved – leading to increases in basically every statistical category.
Although Greives Vasquez had a wonderful statistical season as the general of New Orleans, sliding him to the shooting guard position is not unforeseeable – especially if Eric Gordon continues his disastrous run of injuries. At 6-foot-6, Vasquez is tall enough to guard prototypical shooting guards in the NBA. Additionally, he has showed in the past (at Memphis) and last season that he can play off the ball to create scoring opportunities.
If Burke is indeed selected by the Pelicans, it puts Eric Gordon at a variety of crossroads. A three-guard lineup of Burke, Vasquez and Gordon would hold their own against the majority of NBA lineups but with Vasquez and Gordon coming into this season with health concerns, will this be a sustainable lineup? Particularly if Anderson (struggles mightily on defense) and Davis (a power forward at his core) complement this lineup, the three-guard rotation would have to score at the rate similar to the Warriors to compete with their deficiencies on defense.
Another narrative that could fester if Burke is selected is “Has New Orleans moved on from the Eric Gordon experiment?” Gordon has only played a mere 51 out of a possible 148 games in his tenure with New Orleans. Constantly hampered by knee problems, he has never been able to showcase his supreme potential that flashed on occasions with the Clippers. In my opinion, if Burke’s drafted, Gordon’s career at New Orleans will go one of three ways.
- Provided he’s healthy, he will welcome the new role of playing primarily small forward (with spurts of shooting guard) and play to somewhat of his potential.
- Hampered by injuries yet again, the three-guard lineup will effectively not exist due to minute’s restriction and inconsistent lineups.
- Become disgruntled with the new direction and demand a trade creating a toxic environment for a young team.
It will be interesting to watch which scenario comes to fruition if the Pelicans draft the fierce competitor out of Michigan.