A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The case for Trey Burke over Dante Exum

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The Utah Jazz are building a powerhouse. The Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert frontcourt is drool worthy with a scoring wing player and a frontcourt who plays great defense and finishes efficiently.

The development of the backcourt will determine Utah’s upside. Utah has no guarantees at PG or SG, but they have many scratch tickets to increase their odds of hitting on Hayward, Favors or Gobert future all-star caliber piece.

At shooting guard Alec Burks provides size and athleticism and an improving perimeter game. Rodney Hood is a smooth perimeter scorer. Point guard is the position to watch however. With a #5 pick in 2014 in Dante Exum and #9 pick in 2013 in Trey Burke invested in the position the Jazz are hoping one of them solidifies the spot.

To say many more are on the Exum bandwagon as the Jazz’s future at PG than Burke’s is an understatement. At this point Trey Burke island is down to me and Wilson the volleyball.

Exum is nearly 2 and a half years younger than Burke. He is also far bigger and is more athletic than Burke. However size and athleticsm are not the only determiners of upside. Of arguably the 3 best point guards in the NBA last season in Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, one in Westbrook did it with superior size and athleticism. Curry and Paul used elite shooting, dribbling or passing skills in place of dynamic physical tools. Even in Westbrook’s case it should not be ignored he is one of the best ball handlers in the NBA. John Wall is one of the next best PGs in the NBA, but his peers for that spot include Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard for whom the heart of their games is dribbling and shooting. Trey Burke’s game is an uncertain fraction of Chris Paul’s game just as Exum’s is an uncertain fraction of a player like Westbrook. The question isn’t whether shooting and dribbling can make a PG an all-star in light of the average athleticism and size Burke has. It’s asking whether Burke has enough of that skill talent and upside.

At Michigan he used his ball handling skills to drive to the basket, keep turnovers low and create jumpers off the dribble. In the NBA for his efforts getting to the basket Burke has struggled to finish or draw fouls at the basket. Despite Exum’s athleticism it doesn’t mean he has more slashing potential than Burke. Some of the best slashers in the NBA due it with ball handling at the heart of that skill such as the before mentioned Paul, Tony Parker, James Harden and so forth. Some of the least successfully slashing wing players such as Terrence Ross or Gerald Green have elite athleticism. Using ball handling to drive past the initial defender does as much for you as using an explosive first step to do it. Exum averaged a very low 0.6 FTA per 36 minutes as a rookie. Trey Burke’s 2.3 FTA per 36 minutes is not much better for the amount of perimeter jumpers he took, but nonetheless unlike defense where on/off indicates a chasm in favor of Exum’s ability last year, the numbers so far are not behind Exum as the greater slashing talent yet. Such a low free throw rate for a great athlete could root from raw ball handling skills. Exum could blow up driving to the basket this year or he could go down the same route as Terrence Ross. It’s hard to say.

The biggest part of Burke’s game that’s fallen off from college is his 3pt shooting. A career mark of 32.4% from 3 isn’t good enough for a player who shot over 38% from 3 and over 80% from the FT line as a sophomore at Michigan. Dante Exum as a rookie shot nearly the same percentage as from 3 last year as Burke despite shooting being rated his biggest weaknesses coming into the draft. Burke’s 3pt shooting and FT% were more mediocre as a freshman at Michigan than a sophomore which is concerning as his improvement his 2nd year was over a small sample size. Could his freshman number have been the true shooting mark for Burke? On the whole however Burke still has the track record and time to develop into a quality outside shooter.

There’s little doubt Exum will have the better defensive career than Burke between his tools and the chasm in on/off results we already saw last year. Where I’m betting Burke’s career could beat him is on offense. He could use his more natural ball handling skills to slash to the basket more successful than Exum and improve his percentages finishing at the rim and shooting from 3. For his finishing at the rim concerns Burke’s size is no less than average for an NBA PG. He measured 6’1.25 in shoes, 187 pounds and with a 6’5.5 wingspan and 8’1.5 standing reach which are average numbers for a PG. By the numbers Trey Burke is no more undersized than Paul who measured 6’1 in shoes, 178 pounds, 6’4.25 wingspan and 7’9 standing reach, or Mike Conley, Jr. who measured 6’0.75 in shoes, 175 pounds, 6’5.75 wingspan and 7’10.5 standing reach. All of Paul, Conley and Burke have significant measurements advantages over a real undersized PG like Isaiah Thomas who measured at 5’10.25 in shoes, 186 pounds, 6’1.75 wingspan and 7’7.5 standing reach. Burke’s finishing ability so far in his career has been mediocre, but it’s not because of size alone judging from the success of some other points his size. Like this 3 point shooting it’s a skill he needs to improve.

If truly panning out Burke could use his dribbling to drive to the basket, with the threat of the outside shot or midrange shot off the dribble to keep defenses honest. Add in ability to keep turnovers low and passing skills and this could stand out at PG. His play his first two seasons is disheartening for his age, but the time is still there to turn it around. I cannot guarantee Burke will end up the better PG than Exum as his poor production his first 2 seasons are hard to ignore. There’s a scenario where both flame out, a scenario where both become starters or better and a scenario where Exum learns to drive to match his defense, while Trey Burke embarks down a defense-less chucker path like the PG Evan Turner who had an even better college performance. But based on his talent and track record I would narrowly place my chips on Burke of the two right now to figure it out starting next year.

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Written by jr.

August 1, 2015 at 7:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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