INSIDER PLEASE (Regarding Burke)
About a week old so may have missed it, but been kind of busy.
Years ago, the top golf instructor in the country was Harvey Penick, a country club pro for 50 years and also the longtime head golf coach at the University of Texas. He authored "The Little Red Book," which is the best-selling golf book of all time.
In the book, he wrote about one of his players who walked into his pro shop one day and explained to Penick that he had just made the finals of a tournament in Texas. The player said his opponent in the championship round had a bad grip and a bad swing, so a win was assured. The next day Penick's player dragged into the shop, clearly having lost the tournament.
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Penick taught him an important lesson: In a golf-crazy state like Texas, if a player can make the finals of a big tournament with a bad grip and swing, it means he has figured out how to score and thus should be respected.
Likewise, Michigan guard Trey Burke might not have the prototypical physical attributes of an NBA superstar, but if the team that lands the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NBA draft does not have its long-term point guard already in place, it should select Burke without hesitation.
In the TrueHoop TV episode introducing this piece, Henry Abbott offers a chart that illustrates the volume of 6-foot point guards. The point is that the very best 6-footer is the best of millions of players, while the best 6-foot-10 player is the best of a very small group of players. And since height is obviously a big advantage in basketball, it stands to reason that teams will be attracted to big men who either have been productive or look like they can be productive soon.
The problem is, as Abbott points out, with so few agile bigs around, drafting one (when available) has become standard protocol. Teams drafting in the top five are looking for those bigs -- franchise pillars -- but they will take smaller players if those guys are elite-level athletes and fill an immediate need.
Burke is neither tall nor an elite athlete. But despite being smaller and an under-the-rim player (high draft pick guards such as John Wall, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook are all bigger and far more athletic than Burke), Burke still figured out how to be the best player in the country and dominated all season.
That is no small feat. He trumped his regular-season accomplishments by carrying Michigan -- the least experienced team (according to kenpom.com) in the NCAA tournament -- to a play or two away from winning the national championship. True, Michigan boasted elite talent, but the Wolverines' second-best draft prospect, Glenn Robinson III, averaged just 11 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, far less than Burke's 18.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG and 6.7 APG (and overall production).
Now take a look at previous drafts. Here's a list of the top point guards (excluding international draftees) in each draft since 2005, where they were drafted and where they now rank overall in terms of NBA players in their draft class:
Ranking Top PGs
Year Name Draft Order Rank in class
2005 Chris Paul 4 1
2006 Rajon Rondo 21 1
2007 Mike Conley 4 4
2008 Derrick Rose 1 1
2009 Stephen Curry 7 3
2010 John Wall 1 1
2011 Kyrie Irving 1 1
2012 Damian Lillard 6 3*
*Overwhelming favorite to win Rookie of the Year and likely the third best player in draft class.
How does Burke compare to these guys? He is not the physical specimen Wall, Westbrook or Rose is. He is not a special passer like Wall, Rondo or Paul. His quickness can't compare to Mike Conley or Rondo. He can't shoot like Stephen Curry or Kyrie Irving (at least not yet), or rebound and dominate defensively like Rondo, and his ball skills might be a tad below Damian Lillard. So how did he destroy college basketball this season?
In the NCAA title game, Burke was challenged with helping his young, underdog Michigan team get off to a good start. On Michigan's first possession, he used a strong left-handed dribble to burst into the lane from the top of the key, lowering his hips to get past his man, and he lofted a gorgeous floater high off the glass to avoid the opponent's best shot-blocker. Bucket.
On Michigan's next possession, he took an open 3-pointer and nailed it. The fact that it was clearly beyond NBA range illustrates that he already has that shot in his wheelhouse (some shooters need a year or two to adjust to the longer shot; Burke does not). Michigan leads 5-0.
Then, following an offensive rebound, he smartly faked refusing a ball screen, then used it, slicing into the lane with pace before elevating to the rim off of two feet. He smartly lured Louisville's elite shot-blocker Gorgui Dieng behind him, and instead of twisting his body to reach for the rim, Burke jumped straight up and kept Dieng on his back while squaring his shoulders to the rim.
It was an impressive three-possession series for Burke, indicative of what he can do on offense: blow by his defender in isolation, shoot with range, use a ball screen to get into the paint and finish over bigger people. Burke can do it all.
But there was more to gain from watching this unfold.
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports
David Thorpe thinks Burke has an advanced offensive game that will allow him to flourish in the NBA despite his small stature.
There are some NBA players who are dominating now, but as college players, they were mainly focused on running their teams. It has taken years for them to figure out how to be more assertive. Prime examples Conley and Ty Lawson, once game managers for Ohio State and North Carolina, respectively, now are huge difference-makers for their contending teams. In fact, Conley's Grizzlies and Lawson's Nuggets could win the Western Conference mainly because these two point guards have become bigger scoring threats.
Of course, Burke is more like Irving, Lillard and Curry -- guys who use an outside shot to set up strong drives but are always ready to pull the trigger on a jumper. It is a talent that Burke can use to make an immediate impact in the NBA, and he has the kind of attitude to immediately take advantage of his offensive talent. He has an excellent change-of-speed dribble/attack move, and uses great body control (like Rose) to finish at the rim. Defenders will try to go under screens to keep him from getting buckets in the paint, but Burke showed Louisville he will make you pay regardless.
Unlike many NBA guards, Burke can make deep shots off the dribble. He made two long 3-pointers near NBA range when his defender went under the screen in the second half. As a rookie, he is going to be very hard to defend.
I understand that Burke does not have prototypical size and is not as quick as other small guards in the NBA. But he is long, and that will help him a great deal, as will his strength. Overall, he brings a complete offensive game to the NBA. I don't project him to be a strong defender early on, but neither was Curry, Irving, Wall or Lillard. In time, he'll be solid, which is all an offensive phenom like Burke needs to excel in the NBA.
It's possible that one or two players from this class will end up better than Burke in five years. And, as I alluded to earlier, if a team already has a future or current star at point guard, taking Burke might not make sense. Any other team passing on him at the top few spots, however, is taking a big risk and perhaps surrendering a huge reward in the process.
Think about this: The list is long in terms teams that drafted bigs and eventually realized they made a huge mistake. Conversely, the number of teams that drafted small and erred is very, well, short.
Remember what Penick said? When a player has overcome his flaws and figured out how to dominate, he is to be respected, admired and, in this case, drafted above players who might look like better prospects but probably won't end up being better players.