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.
Whether the San Antonio Spurs and their fan base consider the Phoenix Suns a rival or not matters little. Two of the Western Conference’s winningest franchises have quite the history because of sheer probability and the resulting volume of their clashes.
The Suns’ success in this history hasn’t been a high point in the Valley of the Sun, though the 2010 sweep served as a catharsis of sorts.
The tenures of Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan in the Alamo City paralleled the Suns’ Seven Second or Less era, and even before that time, Phoenix’s influence on the Spurs might be greater than anticipated. What’s made Popovich one of the best head coaches in NBA history is his ability to evolve. Even though his Spurs often defeated the Suns, they still learned.
The Spurs are on the cusp of their fifth title since 1999, and their last three title runs went through Phoenix.
Popovich has learned from his enemies. He speaks little as is so he probably won’t admit that, but he’s gotten the most out of his run-ins with the Suns. Here’s how the Suns fit into the Spurs’ progression of what looks to be a dynasty.
The teardrop from heaven and the teardrop learned (2003)
David Robinson’s last NBA season in 2003 and Manu Ginobili’s first was a memorable one. The Spurs’ second championship run started with a first-round matchup against the No. 8 seed Phoenix Suns, who were led by point guard Stephon Marbury.
But this storyline is about second-year point guard Tony Parker’s time to grow up.
Marbury had torched Parker in the regular season, averaging 32.5 points per game all while holding Parker to 29 percent shooting. He was bigger, stronger and had that New York swagger. Through two games in the first-round playoff series, Marbury averaged 29 points — many of those off the now-Parker-patented floater — and held Parker to 3-for-20 shooting.
Game 3 was all Parker’s. The Frenchman broke through to score 29 points on 12-of-21 shooting, and that was the end of the Suns.
PHOENIX – “I’m focusing on mainly the defensive side of the ball, rebounding and blocking shots. I feel like that’s what I’m going to be getting my minutes for in my first chapter of the NBA. That’s what I’ll get on the floor for. I’m just focusing on that, making sure I’m getting all of that on lockdown.” – Steven Adams on his mindset going into pre-draft workouts
Steven Adams’ freshman season at Pitt (7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 23 minutes per game) was nothing to write home about, yet the 7-footer has shot up draft boards in recent weeks, and according to Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, he’s being considered as a potential option with the No. 5 pick.
For one, it’s hard to teach the type of mobility and athleticism Adams has for his height. While at 19 he’s not a polished shooter or post player, what he did show under Jamie Dixon was an extremely high motor and an ability to impact the game without the basketball (terrific screener who also averaged 5.0 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per 40 minutes).
While he’s definitely a project pick for whatever lottery team takes a chance on him, Adams possesses several of the intangibles necessary to be successful at the NBA level.
“Steven Adams is a very impressive physical specimen,” McDonough said. “He’s a terrific athlete, good hands and feet. He’s still raw and developing offensively, but there is a lot to work with there.”
There are plenty of question marks regarding Adams, including is he ready on June 27 to be an NBA player. The main reason Adams, who is one of 18 siblings, cited for leaving Pitt was his desire to help some of the struggling members of his family. That’s absolutely commendable but by no means does that mean he’s ready to play basketball at the highest level.
The New Zealand native’s back-to-basket moves are a big work in progress because he lacks the type of footwork that’s required to beat his man off the first step. Also, at 250 pounds, Adams should be a much better finisher in the paint than he was in his only year of college basketball. He’s not exactly soft, but he’s also not exactly a guy a team can count on to bang inside for easy buckets. That’s just not his game.
Because he didn’t get on the court his freshman season of college before entering the NBA Draft, Providence Friars shooting guard Ricky Ledo never showcased his ability to score against Big East competition. Perhaps his draft stock would have been jolted to lottery status had he done so.
Ledo’s academic struggles kept him sidelined, but there’s no doubt the 6-foot-6 guard with a 6-foot-7 wingspan was considered one of the best shooting guards coming out of high school. His range is unlimited but he’s also advanced as a ball handler and playmaker.
Running Providence’s scout team, Ledo also has point guard capabilities that give him an edge on some of the higher-rated prospects from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope all the way up to Ben McLemore.
Ledo’s simple lack of game tape over the course of the last season makes him a risky pick, but what caused him to the sideline is the bigger issue. Known as a bit of a vagabond during his high school days, he’ll need to clear up the character questions surrounding him if he wants to get drafted.
He can’t become poisonous to a locker room – that is something he allegedly was as a high school player.
Still, Ledo is hovering at the end of the first round or early second, so it appears he’s drowned out those questions thus far. And he’s projected to be taken in that position because he’s still very unexperienced. Though he was able to practice with the Friars, Ledo’s year without true game action hindered his growth. On the defensive end, that is especially the case. Ledo will be a major project on that side of the ball when he hits NBA practices and for that he might be too big of a risk come gametime.
PHOENIX – “I embrace it. We’re different players. Demeanor is what sets him apart. I think we share that demeanor.” – C.J. McCollum on the comparisons between himself and small-school guard and 2013 Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard
Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum didn’t play for a majority of the 2012-13 season but that’s done little to derail his draft hopes. Spending four years at a small school, McCollum had the door opened even wider by Damian Lillard’s success this past season for the Portland Trail Blazers. Similarly, McCollum is a scoring point guard who has used the college experience to his advantage.
“I would say there are a lot of advantages,” McCollum said of staying in school for four years. “I stayed there, I committed myself. Just my character. Just how smart I am. I know my game … I won’t make mistakes off the court. You were a student first, athlete second. That’s how I kind of approach this game, approach life.”
Professionally, McCollum’s biggest asset is his scoring. He’s an insanely accurate shooter despite being the focal-point of most defenses that he faced. He shot 49.5 percent from the field and 51.6 from beyond the three-point line in his senior season that lasted just more than 11 games.
The word that describes the 6-foot-3, 200 pound guard with a 6-foot-6 wingspan would be “fluid.” He’s at his best in the open court and in pick-and-rolls, and he resembles a smaller version of Joe Johnson in how he uses his ballhandling and shiftiness to get open. He knows how to use to body to keep defenders on his hip and can pull up for jumpers or get into the paint for smooth floaters.
Though McCollum isn’t a natural point guard, he has the smarts to be a floor general and the vision to at least find the open man when he breaks down defenses.
Defensively, McCollum will have issues adjusting because of his lack of elite athleticism. He averaged more than two steals per game in his junior and sophomore seasons at Lehigh and knows how to play off the ball to jump into passing lanes, but he’ll have a learning curve in guarding the elite NBA point guards, many of whom rely on their athleticism to create. His on-ball defense that could use some improvement might also hinder him from playing a lot of time at the shooting guard spot.
The average athleticism will also hurt McCollum’s ability to get shots off in the paint. Going back to the Johnson comparison, it’s obviously easy to play as does the Nets shooting guard because he stands 6-foot-8. McCollum’s wingspan and natural feel for the game should make this a lesser concern but not one to go unmentioned.
McCallum uses current interviews with the key principals involved with the series as well as a few 20-year-old interviews to tell the story of a wild Finals that included road domination (home teams lost five of six), the Suns winning a triple-overtime Game 3 that ranks among the top handful of Finals games ever, superlative play from Michael Jordan at the peak of his powers against that year’s MVP Charles Barkley and a series-clinching shot by John Paxson that Suns fans still haven’t forgotten. Although it’s a painful trip down memory lane, it’s one well worth taking.
The piece ends with interviews with three former Suns players:
AINGE: We were a better team the next year and the year after. But one year Charles gets hurt, the next year Danny Manning, who had really helped us, blows out his knee. It was always something….
BARKLEY: The next season I had taken so many injections in my knee, I wouldn’t have been able to play in the Finals anyway.
JOHNSON: On the 20th year after those great Finals, we managed to keep a team in Sacramento, and that’s as good as it gets. But honestly? The 1993 Finals still keeps me up at night. The history of the NBA has these teams that come up short, learn their lessons then win it. That was supposed to be us. But we didn’t. And being ‘one of the best teams never to win a championship?’ That’s a sorry state to be in.
Although the SSOL Suns never reached the Finals, that same fate befell them as well whereby they came up short and learned their lessons but never got over the hump. Malone’s Jazz, Ewing’s Knicks and C-Webb’s Kings likely feel the same way.
The end result is that not all elite teams follow a path whereby they take their knocks and then emerge victorious, yet Suns fans should still cherish the greatness of the ’93 Suns even if like everyone else in the ’90s they came up short against Michael Jordan. [Read more →]