University of Michigan fans got some terrific news last week when star point guard Trey Burke announced that he would return to campus for his sophomore season. After putting up impressive averages of 14.8 points and 4.6 assists per game (both team highs) as a freshman, Burke could easily have jumped to the NBA. But staying in school was the right move.
Even though Burke passed up the chance to join a relatively thin crop of point guards in the 2012 NBA Draft, he’ll be in much better position to earn a favorable spot in the 2013 class. Another year of college ball will let him shore up some of the weaknesses in his game while showing scouts that he’ll be ready to overcome his lack of height at just 5-foot-11.
Read on for a closer look at eight factors that show why Burke made the smart call by coming back for his sophomore season as a Wolverine.
The collapses of No. 2 seeds Duke and Missouri kept it further out of the spotlight than it might have been, but Michigan’s upset by lowly Ohio was still a wretched way to finish an impressive season.
Leaving Ann Arbor as the leader of a No. 4 seed that lost to a No. 13 is hardly the impression (or the memory) Burke wants.
The ignominious exit has to be even harder on Burke than on many Wolverines, considering that his opposite number, D.J. Cooper, carried the Bobcats with 21 points and five assists in the win.
By coming back to school, Burke can prove that last year’s finish was a fluke and that he’s ready to be a clutch postseason performer.
After an intense season that saw Michigan tie with two other teams for the regular-season crown in the Big Ten, Burke could certainly be forgiven for wondering if he would be in for another tooth-and-nail battle next year.
Instead, most of the other teams that finished the year in the top 25 are suffering serious losses that should allow Burke to really shine in his second season in maize and blue.
Co-champions Ohio State (Jared Sullinger) and Michigan State (Draymond Green) and second-place Wisconsin (Jordan Taylor) are all losing their most vital individual players this offseason.
In all probability, the Big Ten race next year will come down to Michigan’s outstanding backcourt against the towering frontcourt of the Indiana Hoosiers (with 6-foot-11 Cody Zeller and 6-foot-9 Christian Watford returning)—hardly a cinch for the Wolverines but not nearly the uphill battle that this season’s Big Ten turned out to be.
The graduations of steady veterans Zack Novak and Stu Douglass will cut down on Burke’s margin for error at the point guard spot next season.
However, he got one of the best possible incentives to stay when backcourt mate Tim Hardaway, Jr. declared (moments after the season-ending loss to Ohio) that he’d be back in Ann Arbor in 2012-2013.
The sophomore, Hardaway, was the only Wolverine besides Burke to score in double figures last season, pouring in 14.6 points a contest, and his imposing 6-foot-6, 200-pound frame helps balance Burke’s lack of size.
Having his running mate back alongside him will provide a welcome comfort zone for Burke’s sophomore season.
Unlike many undersized college guards, Burke doesn’t have to worry about proving he’s a genuine point guard after dishing out 4.6 assists a game last season.
However, he does have to prove that he can take care of the ball well enough to survive against elite NBA defenders.
Burke turned the ball over 2.8 times per contest, for a shaky assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.6. If he can trim his giveaways and get that ratio closer to the gold standard of 2.0, Burke will be in a much more favorable position with NBA scouts.
Undersized as he is at 5-foot-11, Burke is going to be at a disadvantage if NBA point guards can feel comfortable attacking him to create their own shots.
One way most successful small guards have battled that strategy is to use their superior quickness to pressure the ball, but that’s not a skill that Burke has really honed as yet.
As impressive as most of his numbers were last year, Burke recorded just 0.9 steals per game, hardly an intimidating figure.
Another year of college ball will give him a chance to focus on his defensive performance, with concomitant benefits to his draft stock.
The most obvious concern for NBA scouts looking at Trey Burke is, well, looking at him.
In today's NBA, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound point guard is automatically at a disadvantage matching up against bigger, more physical opponents such as 6-foot-3 All-Stars Derrick Rose and Deron Williams.
Burke isn’t going to be able to do anything about his height, but he can hit the weight room hard to improve his strength.
That, in turn, will let him absorb more contact when he penetrates and stand up to bigger opponents more easily—both skills that he can demonstrate in the always rough-and-tumble Big Ten.
After slogging through a season in which no full-time forward scored more than 7.7 points a game, Michigan’s roster is going to have a very different look next year.
The 6-foot-10 Jon Horford’s return from a stress fracture will help, but the biggest additions are coming in a recruiting class that ranks as high as seventh in the nation (according to Rivals.com).
The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Mitch McGary will give the Wolverines their best post presence in years, while Glenn Robinson III will provide copious scoring from the wing (while combining with Tim Hardaway, Jr. to make sure Michigan leads the nation in sons of former NBA All-Stars).
Both first-year standouts will make Burke’s job a lot more fun next season, while also giving him the chance to prove he can serve as a steadying influence on what will be a much younger roster.
There’s no credential more valuable to a point guard than a reputation as a winner. By returning to Ann Arbor, Burke gets a chance to prove he can lead a top-drawer team in high-pressure situations.
With Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and a raft of talented freshmen, Michigan will be a leading candidate for the Big Ten title and a potential No. 1 seed.
If Burke’s playmaking puts Michigan in the 2013 Final Four, he’ll get the biggest spike he can ask for in his stock for the ensuing draft.