Ranked as a borderline top-100 high school prospect by recruiting services just a year ago, few could have projected Trey Burke
developing into one of the best freshmen point guards in college basketball, splitting Big Ten freshman of the year awards with Indiana's Cody Zeller
, and being named to the All-Big Ten Second Team.
After a disappointing first round NCAA tournament exit at the hands of the Ohio Bobcats, Burke was already out the door last spring according to all accounts. He reportedly made up his mind to leave Michigan for the uncertainty of the 2012 NBA draft, where he was considered a possible first rounder in a shallow class for point guards.
Burke ended up changing his mind a few days later after heavy pressure from his parents, coaches and Michigan fans, and now returns as one of the faces of college basketball and the leader of a team ranked in the top-10 of most preseason rankings.
Measured at 6-0 in shoes at the Lebron James
Academy this summer, Burke has average size for a NBA point guard. His 6-5 wingspan will help him a lot in overcoming that, though, as will his excellent athletic ability and aggressive mentality.
As the primary ball-handler of the slowest tempo team in the Big Ten conference, with no real post presence and very few creators besides him, Burke is by nature a very ball-dominant point guard. A huge amount of his offensive possessions (nearly half) come in pick and roll situations, where he is pretty effective.
Extremely fast in the open floor, Burke is an excellent ball-handler, capable of playing at different speeds and showing a terrific burst blowing by opponents en-route to the rim. He does a good job of keeping his dribble alive and weaving his way around traffic, which allows him to draw the defense and find open shooters spotting up on the wing or cutters diving to the basket.
While much more of a scorer than a pure playmaker at this stage, Burke is capable of creating for others as well, doing a good job reading the floor and anticipating teammates getting open. He makes smart passes ahead in transition, and is very effective in particular on the drive and dish.
Burke's best weapon offensively revolves around his jump-shot, as he has very good shooting mechanics, and is equally effective spotting up with his feet set as he is pulling up off the dribble. He in fact took almost twice as many jumpers off the dribble last season as he did with his feet set, but made both at nearly the same rate (38-39%).
The thing that hurts Burkes' offensive efficiency the most is his propensity for losing patience and falling in love with the pull-up 3-point jumper, something he does on a couple of occasions per game, sometimes before any of his teammates get a chance to touch the ball. Nearly half of his field goal attempts come from beyond the arc, and he makes 35% of them. Pull-up jumpers from 3-point range aren't a particularly high percentage shot for anyone, but he takes plenty of them every game, sometimes by necessity. Now that he will have more help around him this season (Michigan's incoming recruiting class is very strong), it will be interesting to see how well Burke can utilize the new different options he has at his disposal, and whether he can improve his fairly paltry 0.73 Pure Point Rating.
The place Burke's size seems to affect him the most is as a finisher around the basket, where he makes just 50% of his attempts, and gets to the free throw line 4.4 times per-40 minutes, both average rates. While a pretty solid leaper for his size, Burke tends to struggles finishing in traffic against better competition. This could be an even more pronounced issue in the NBA, where everyone is taller, stronger, longer and more athletic, especially the big men. Getting stronger could help here, as could developing a better in-between game inside the lane to finish over the top of taller defenders.
The area where Burke might be scrutinized the most heavily this upcoming season by NBA talent evaluators is on the defensive end. Already projected to give up a couple of inches in most NBA matchups, Burke isn't the toughest or most attentive defender you'll find, not doing a great job keeping his man in front of him, and sometimes looking like he's only going half-speed on this end of the floor. While he has the length and quickness to be relatively effective here, and will show that in small doses from time to time when really called upon, he doesn't really put as much pride into his work on this end of the court as he does offensively.
Still very young, and shouldering an inordinately large share of responsibility as his team's primary ball-handler, facilitator and scorer, Burke looked pretty wore down by the end of last season. He has plenty of time to improve defensively, something that NBA teams would likely want to see considering the concerns that already exist due to his below average size.
There aren't a huge number of 6-0 point guards in the NBA right now, but the ones that are are similar to Burke-- extremely fast, excellent ball-handlers, and prolific scorers who can shoot with range, play the pick and roll and show great poise, confidence and toughness. There will surely be adjustments that he'll need to make to playing in the NBA, particularly if asked to start off in a backup role, but Burke looks to have the talent to do so.
Coming off an unexpectedly strong freshman campaign, NBA teams will be watching closely all season to see how Burke follows up as a sophomore and whether he's able to take his game, and his team, to the next level.