It seemed like a foregone conclusion after Trey Burke’s impressive freshman season at Michigan that he was going to pack his bags and head toward the greener pastures of the NBA.
However, the Columbus-native surprised a number of people when he elected to stay in Ann Arbor for another season and spearhead a team that was deep and talented enough to make a Final Four type of run.
The Wolverines, who thought they were losing their star point guard on the heels of a shocking loss to No. 14 seed Ohio in the NCAA tournament, could not be more grateful that he decided to stick it out in college for another year.
John Beilein’s squad is a perfect 14-0 and has only been challenged in a handful of those games. Victories over the likes of Pittsburgh, Kansas State, North Carolina State, Arkansas and West Virginia already litter Michigan’s resume, and conference play in the nation’s best league is just beginning.
Make no doubt about it, Burke has been the primary catalyst in the Wolverines’ impressive start. He leads the team in scoring and assists at better than 18 points and seven dimes a night, and the efficiency in which he is putting the ball in the basket is sure to draw attention if he continues to shoot better than 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from downtown.
The fact that Burke’s assist numbers are significantly up from last season will sit well with NBA scouts since he is an average to below-average sized point guard by their standards. He is not always looking to score, even though he is clearly capable of doing so at any time.
Despite that apparent lack of size, a lengthy wingspan and incredible athleticism, combined with his stellar on-court production, has helped Burke become a first-round draft pick in projections ranging from Sports Illustrated to DraftExpress.com.
That athletic ability allows Burke to show off his speed, burst and ball-handling skills in the open floor, which results in easy baskets for himself or opportunities to kick to open teammates if the defense collapses.
He is also finishing in traffic at a much better clip early this year than he did a season ago. Considering that the defenders clogging the lane will only be longer and stronger at the NBA level, Burke needs to continue to show improvement in his strength and ability in this area.
However, Burke is also comfortable controlling the game at a slower pace, something that undoubtedly helps in the occasional grinding Big Ten.
One thing that Burke has at his disposal that many other point guards that are asked to dictate the tempo do not (such as rival Aaron Craft) is a consistent and steady jump shot. His mechanics are solid and he can spot up off the pass or his own dribble. Most enticing of all for scouts is that fact that his field-goal and three-point percentages are both much improved from last season.
While the jumper is certainly an asset, Burke generates much of his team’s offense from pick-and-roll situations, which is as fundamental of an NBA play as there is. A number of point guards who cannot execute this set have trouble sticking in the professional ranks, which is one less thing teams will have to worry about when scouting Burke.
One thing that professional squads may have to worry about is Burke’s turnover propensity from a season ago. He averaged nearly three per game last year, although he has cut that down in the early going of his sophomore campaign to fewer than two a night. Keep an eye out for this as the Big Ten season heats up.
However, according to DraftExpress.com, the area where Burke may be the most heavily scrutinized by NBA evaluators is his defense.
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.
Is Trey Burke a first-round caliber talent?
Despite this criticism, it is important to note that this scouting report is based primarily on Burke’s freshman season. He has looked much more competent playing defense this year, as evidenced by his steal numbers.
At the end of last season, Burke was thought to be a second-round pick by most draft services, but he is now a consensus mid-to-late first-round prospect. If his team continues to thrive behind his leadership and production, his NBA stock will maintain its upward climb.
Burke will clearly have another difficult decision to make this spring.