As we’re creeping up towards March, and inevitably March Madness we’re about to witness everyone take up a significant interest in college basketball, because that’s the way this works. Some players capture the spotlight and go on to have great success in the NBA (Carmelo Anthony, Kemba Walker, Anthony Davis) and some take their 15 seconds, then fade away – I mean we all still talk about Ryan Arcidiacono right? – One of the team’s I loved watching most was Michigan; flaunting an insane 5 future NBA players at one time with Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mitch McGary, and Glenn Robinson III. Like Michigan teams before them, they fell just short.
Falling short is actually quite common for future NBA players to do in the NCAA tournament. A huge number of players go through the college system without sniffing a significant victory, or at least one that would be recognized. No one cares that DeMar DeRozan led USC to a Pac-10 title, because they lost to Michigan State in the second round of March Madness. Burke’s Michigan team is largely recognized because five players went on to the NBA. The better those players perform, the more fondly we’ll look back at that Michigan team.
In Burke’s freshman year – the one we care about less, they didn’t have any March Madness success – he was named to the All-American second team, led all Big10 freshman in scoring (15.8 per game), and was nominated for the Bob Cousy award, shoutout Bob Cousy:
The big year for Burke came in 2012-13. Michigan was a juggernaut in March MadnessTM only being stopped by Louisville in the final; Burke was resoundingly selected as college basketball’s player of the year (Wooden, AP, NABC, Naismith, Robertson, and Sports Illustrated) on top of solidifying his position as a lottery pick in the upcoming draft. Not to mention he hit the coldest shot of the tournament:
As we all know the 2013 draft is considered to be a total crapshoot, with Anthony Bennett being selected first *shudders and the 2 All-Stars and 1 All-NBA team players were selected 2nd (Victor Oladipo) 15th (Giannis Antetekounmpo) and 27th (Rudy Gobert). In all this chaos, Burke emerged as the first point guard selected at 9th overall by the Timberwolves – later traded to the Jazz for Shabazz Muhammad, and Gorgui Dieng – and was finally set to start his NBA career.
In Utah Burke got off to a bumpy start, getting benched in summer league, and breaking his finger –required surgery – before the season started. In his stead, Utah marched out the underwhelming pair of Jamaal Tinsley and John Lucas III. The point guard options in Utah were pretty meek, even if you’re including Burke.
What transpired in Burke’s years in Utah was a complete loss of confidence, and a really tough time finishing at the rim and from downtown. The size and speed of the NBA was far too much for him to handle, and he found himself out of the league before he could reach year 5. Over the course of his first four years he put up a paltry 51 percent at the rim, he didn’t play within the flow of the offense, and was a complete liability on defense.
In 2017, Burke was playing for the Knicks G-League affiliate the Westchester Knicks and put up high volume numbers of 26.6 points, 5.4 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.9 steals. This earned him a call-up and a return to the NBA, with a team that was ready to feature him as a primary ball-handler with Jarrett Jack and Frank Ntilikina in the guard rotation, Burke’s skillset actually seemed the best fit in a Porzingis-less Knicks team.
This year, this team, is exactly what Burke needs to showcase himself as a legitimate guard in the NBA. There’s countless guards who come in from the G-League, or on 10-day contracts that work themselves into meaningful roles in the NBA (eg,. Fred VanVleet, Ish Smith, Cory Joseph, Patty Mills). Lucky for him, the book has been written on how to do that; efficient three-point shooting, feisty defense, and heady pick and roll playmaking.
For starters, Burke is putting up the best assist/turnover ratio of his career. As a bench guard it’s really important to take care of the ball, and not let opposing bench units get started in transition with live ball turnovers. He’s serving up 3.4 assists to 0.8 turnovers, and the cherry on top of this pocket pass sundae is Burke’s robust 40 percent assist rate.
A wrinkle that Burke has added to his pick and roll play; he’s become quite proficient at snaking it. His time away from the league has seemed to change his approach. He’s far more patient in the paint, and with team’s getting more and more spaced out, he can use his quickness to beat rim protectors to the glass. With the attention he commands, he’s been far more effective passing to his cutting wings – Tim Hardaway Jr. Is shooting 62 percent on 2-pointers when Burke is feeding him, and 67 percent for Courtney Lee – and they’re reaping the rewards of Burke’s ability to probe in the paint.
There’s not much to take away from the numbers so far, as it’s a small size sample, but Burke is holding opponents to incredible shooting splits. 41.5/30.3 from the field and downtown. For a guard of his size it takes a lot of effort to force players into misses when you don’t have the wingspan to disrupt their jumper’s motion.
Another facet of his game that helps the defense; 45 percent of the rebounds he’s grabbing are 10+ feet away from the basket. There’s no worse way for a defense to surrender points than to give up long rebounds, and with Burke chasing down the loose-balls they’re cutting down on second chances and getting started in transition more often.
Offense and the Overall Game
First off, Burke is shooting 73 percent at the rim. For a guard who’s sub-6-foot that’s insane. Secondly, he’s shooting 40 percent from downtown; 39 percent on pull-up threes. If you didn’t know how important the pull-up three is, feel free to check out another piece I did.
With a PER of 24.5 and a true shooting percentage of .594, it’s clear he can score efficiently. Sometimes those numbers can be empty though, and it’s important to see that the Knicks are succeeding while Burke is on the floor. He’s registering an offensive rating of 123 and a defensive rating of 113. For those of you counting at home, that’s a net rating of +10, and that’s bloody good.
All things considered, Burke seems to be well on his way to establishing himself as a guard with staying power. It’s always fun to see players reinvent themselves, and I’m excited to see what heights Burke can reach.
Hope you guys enjoyed this, if you did, feel free to follow me on twitter @samfolkk, and listen to the podcast I co-host “Deep Thoughts with Mascots” on iTunes.
Have a blessed day y’all.