A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Trey Burke, Ty Lawson and D.J. Augustin – Of little PGs and red herrings

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Trey Burke is the star of this year’s March Madness. After a college season that will likely win him player of the year honors, he’s brought the Wolverines to the Final Four. Most noteably carrying them to a huge final minutes comeback and overtime win against Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen.

Doubters of his NBA career will point at his physical tools. Burke isn’t a blazing athlete and is about 6 foot flat.

The scariest player comparison for Burke is D.J. Augustin, a player resembling Burke in size and athleticism who had a similarly star sophmore season at Texas. This helped Augustin get picked 9th overall by Charlotte in 2008, ahead of Brook Lopez. The pick ended up a disaster for the Bobcats with throughly average production before letting him walk in free agency. On his 2nd team the Pacers, Augustin is barely producing at a useable backup level.

A more encouraging comparison for Burke is Ty Lawson, a small PG who had a dominant season and led UNC to the national title. Because of his size Lawson fell to the 18th pick in the 2009 and is now a star of an elite team in Denver, touching on dominance at times the 2nd half of this season.

Augustin and Lawson is an interesting comparison to me, because pound for pound they are similar players. Both have an above average feel for the game as instinctually sound and smooth players. Lawson’s feel is better, but not by a large margin. As perimeter shooters both are good, but not elite.

I see the difference as physical. Lawson is one of the league’s fastest point guards, exploding to the rim in the halfcourt or in transition. He adds to a wide body and great strength. With this combination of speed and strength, he can get to the rim and finish regularly. Augustin on the other hand, does not have impact speed, or a great frame. As a result he struggles both getting to the rim and if he gets there, with weak height and strength struggles to finish. Augustin struggles as much as any PG at “slashing” and physically impacting the game by attacking the rim, while Lawson is at the least, good in this area. Lawson is also a peskier defender than Augustin largely due to his speed and strength. Here are my talent grades for Lawson and Augustin:

D.J. Augustin

Physical impact talent grade – 1

Skill impact talent grade – 7

Feel for the Game talent grade – 7

Total talent grade – 15

Ty Lawson

Physical impact talent grade – 6

Skill impact talent grade – 7

Feel for the Game talent grade – 9

Total talent grade – 22

*In my grading system, 24-25 is the rough benchmark for perennial all-stars, 19-20 are “blue chip” players, 14-15 are average players, enough to get a bench role or spot starter role.

The advantages I listed for Lawson, that his speed and build allows him to slash and finish at a greater level than Augustin – is reflected in these talent grades. Lawson largely separates himself in the physical impact category.

That Augustin is short for his position, is largely a red herring for me in regards to the failure of that draft pick. There are tall PGs such as Steve Blake, Jose Calderon, Beno Udrih among others, who struggle to physically impact the game as much as Augustin does, because the speed and strength isn’t there. Making Augustin taller does no necessarily mean he scores in the paint any more than a Blake or Calderon does, nor does it make him a better defender.

So what to make of Trey Burke? Here are my present talent grades for Burke:

Physical impact talent grade – 2

Skill impact talent grade – 8

Feel for the Game talent grade – 9

Total talent grade: 19

This would indicate starting talent, bordering on blue chip – but not as standout as Lawson’s.

Physically Burke reminds me of Augustin and not Lawson. He’s largely not an explosive player attacking the basket, despite great ballhandling. Furthermore his small height in combination with a lack of great strength, makes it hard to envision him finishing well in the NBA. I have a hard time seeing Burke score points in the paint in the NBA or physically impacting the game. Burke is likely to struggle defensively at the next level

Burke’s standout trait is his feel for the game. Instinctually he is a natural, smoothly creating off the dribble or finding teammates. He makes the game look easy offensively. His smooth feel is what makes many compare him to a young Chris Paul.

Where Burke’s career is likely to hinge in my opinion, is his skill impact game. His 3 point shooting in college has been excellent, which when combined with an 80%+ FT clip is encouraging. Burke has great form and deep range. With his ballhandling he’s great at creating shots and space for himself to shoot. He’s also a respectable playmaker for teammates, showing skill as well as vision in passing. But barring a freakish shooter like Stephen Curry or JJ Redick, I’d argue every prospect’s shooting unpredictably translates to the next level. Burke should be favored to shoot 3s well in the NBA, but it’s no lock. I believe if he became one of the league’s best perimeter scorers and passers, with his feel for the game it’d make him a blue chip, standout PG if not on the level of a Ty Lawson. However, if I overstated his shooting talent and he simply stroked it at an average level, I have a difficult time seeing him stand out with a slashing game that’s unlikely to translate well.

With Trey Burke, I agree with many of the conclusions. That there’s a risk he becomes an irrelevant NBA player and the next D.J. Augustin. That if he pans out he has the chance to be a very good, if not blue chip player – but physical inabilities preventing real stardom. Yet I see the reason for this as much less related to height than others suggest. Height has some relevance in finishing and defending, but I see the bigger dangers a lack of elite speed and strength, unlike a player like Lawson. And along with that, Burke’s game at the next level relying so much on shooting which is unpredictable translating from the NCAA to the NBA, creates risk potential.

Written by jr.

March 31, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

2 Responses

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  1. Have you seen Shane Larkin from Miami play? If so, what do you think of him? He’s a shorter PG like those 3.

    He’s probably my favorite player in college right now.


    April 1, 2013 at 11:05 am

    • Yeah Larkin’s right there with Burke, though it really feels like he’s staying at Miami this year – if he does I expect him to have a POY caliber season and get a lot of buzz in the draft. Like Burke I think the risk with Larkin is how much he needs that 3pt bombing ability, but if that translates I see him as a starting PG and impact guy


      April 1, 2013 at 4:53 pm

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