As far as point guards go, Michigan’s Trey Burke is the most-polished floor general heading into the 2013 NBA Draft. While he might not have the same upside as a Michael Carter-Williams or a wealth of experience like C.J. McCollum, Burke will be a lottery pick because he’s the closest you’ll find to a sure thing at point guard come June 27.
He’s certainly a willing passer (7.7 assists per 40 minutes in 2012-13), but he’s also the most creative one in his draft class. During his sophomore season, Burke showed off an impressive knack for setting his teammates up whether on alley-oops, in transition or in the half court.
But because Burke not only possesses first-rate court vision but terrific touch on his jump shot (50 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range), the 2012-13 Wooden Award winner is especially dangerous out of the pick-and-roll — a trait that could take him far at the NBA level.
Add in the fact he’s a tremendous penetrator and a smooth ball-handler who doesn’t turn the ball over much (4.3 assist-to-turnover ratio last season), and there’s plenty to like about the Columbus native.
With shoes on at the NBA Combine, Burke came in at 6’1” and 187 pounds. Those measurements aren’t necessarily a deterrent, after all Chris Paul and Mike Conley have similar body frames. However, until he proves otherwise, there will always be a concern as to whether or not he can take the pounding over an 82-game season at his size.
As mentioned above, Burke didn’t struggle to get into the paint during his two seasons in Ann Arbor. That ability to get to the basket also paved the way for plenty of free-throw opportunities (4.8 attempts per 40 minutes as a sophomore).
But what was easy for the 20-year-old guard in college may not be at the next level. Teams will game plan against his strengths, and will do everything within their power to knock him down every chance they get.
No one’s questioning his toughness, after all, he survived one of the most competitive seasons the B1G Conference has seen in recent memory. But the B1G is not the NBA.
On top of that, an area where Burke doesn’t compare favorably to Conley or Paul is at the defensive end. He averaged 1.6 steals per game, more so because of his 6-foot-5 wingspan than anything else.
The Michigan standout’s length is an asset, but he doesn’t exactly have quick feet defensively, and often struggled when having to guard his man off of screens or dribble-drive penetration moves in the paint.
How much better can he get? The common perception about this draft class is that Burke is the most talented point guard, but he’s not necessarily the one with the most upside or potential looking down the road.
He was a fantastic point guard in college and every bit deserving of the honor as the nation’s best player in 2012-13, but ultimately it remains to be seen if the growth he made from freshman to sophomore season can translate over to an extended NBA career.
The basketball IQ and notable assets (court vision, penetrates with ease, quality shooter) are certainly there, but adjusting to the speed of the game and the physicality of the game may be tougher at the point guard position than any other position on the floor.
Burke could be the next Conley or Paul – in fact there are facets of his game that are more NBA-ready going into his rookie season – but in a draft without a sure thing, even the safest bet isn’t necessarily safe.
How he fits with the Suns
The Phoenix Suns in theory appear set at the point guard position with Goran Dragic, but according to Arizona Sports 620’s John Gambadoro that’s not necessarily the case.
“The Suns are absolutely, 100 percent not against drafting a point guard, even though they have Goran Dragic,” Gambadoro said on June 11. “So anybody that thinks they won’t draft a point guard…not so fast my friends.”
Dragic had a great year comparatively to his teammates (14.7 points and 7.4 assists per game in 2012-13), but it appears the team’s new regime recognizes that he is not necessarily an end-all, be-all option.
And because Kendall Marshall did little to prove his worth as a lottery pick last season, there’s definitely no harm in taking Burke at No. 5 if targets like Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore come off the board before the pick.
There’s no telling at this point whether Suns GM Ryan McDonough actually values the Michigan guard more so than say UNLV’s Anthony Bennett or Maryland’s Alex Len, but after Burke’s workout, he didn’t exactly dismiss the notion of a two-point guard lineup.
“Most teams, us included, feel like you need a secondary ball handler,” McDonough said. “A lot of the defenses will trap the primary ball handler. When he gives the ball up you need someone who can catch it and make a play or the offense stalls out. You’ve seen Golden State do it, you’ve seen Denver do it some and other teams around the league feel like they need multiple guys who can shoot, run pick and rolls and help make decisions.
“Size can be an issue depending how big the point guards are. You only really get in trouble when you have two small guards, especially if the other team has a power guard that they can drop down in the post and exploit that matchup.”
If McDonough does in fact pull the trigger and take Burke, it’s hard to argue against his recent history. Above all else, the Suns already know one thing about their 33-year-old GM: he knows how to draft a franchise point guard (See: Rajon Rondo).
And 1 … a second-rounder to consider
Mike Muscala. The reigning Patriot League Player of the Year out of Bucknell comes to the NBA with four years of college experience, polished footwork in the post, impressive touch away from the basket and great instincts for a player of his size (6’11” and 230 pounds).
He’s not athletic/quick by any means, lacks true back-to-the-basket moves and played against inferior competition compared to other frontcourt prospects (Alex Oriakhi, Ryan Kelly, Erik Murphy and Trevor Mbakwe) that could be available in the latter stages of the second round. However, Muscala is a capable scorer and shot blocker, who could prove to be a valuable complimentary piece off the bench.