A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Causation and correlation and Trey Burke

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1381782208000-usatsi-7489666This was the make or break year for Trey Burke. A 3rd season is an important one for prospects finding their footing anyways, but after Dante Exum’s injury left Utah with the most PG-less situation in the league a good version of Burke would have played 30 minutes a game. After getting beat out by Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto, even on this team Burke is a DNP-CD by March.

If his career trajectory continues Burke’s legacy may as a cautionary tale for undersized PGs. Coming out of Michigan for his skill level, feel and production scouts were worried he wasn’t big enough. While there are small PGs who continue to succeed like Isaiah Thomas and Kemba Walker, as long as Trey Burke and D.J. Augustin and the next versions exist, it gives teams a reason to be fearsome of PGs they don’t love the size of, along with any small but productive player at other positions.

But there may be a logic flaw in this judgment. First off for the philosophical purposes of post we’ll pretend Burke is more undersized than he is, when his measurements of 6’1.25 in shoes, 187 pounds and 6’5.5 wingspan is as close as it gets to the average of top 30 PGs in Draftexpress.com’s combine database of 6’1.14 in shoes, 186 pounds and 6’5.3 wingspan. With Burke it’s more of the absence of plus size, rather than negative size, but nonetheless.

What we know is Burke had mediocre size and he has so far failed. But we don’t know how he failed. Prospects fail for a multitude of reasons of not being athletic enough, not being skilled enough, not being a smart enough player, not being tough enough, not working hard enough, not being confident enough. Virtually every draft pick who struggles, can blame more than one of the things on that list. Therefore it’s hard to determine which one felled them. Burke’s size may play a part in his struggles, but he was also rated no more than an average athlete in college. After shooting 38.4% from 3 his sophomore season at Michigan, his jumpshot has disappointed with a career mark of 32.4% from distance. After his highly intelligent game manager role in college, Burke has been more of a shoot-first player in the NBA, perhaps out of necessity with other holes in his game. This is before considering other plausible reasons he could be struggling such as toughness or confidence that I’m not in position to judge.

With these combined weaknesses in size, athleticism or shooting just at the top at the list, it’s hard to just pin it on size as the problem without the chance of mixing up correlation for causation. Burke’s former teammate Nik Stauskas is a 6’6 player who struggles to drive to the basket, defend and has come in under college expectations as a 3pt shooter. So effectively, he is a tall Trey Burke and the extra height hasn’t helped him much. The real reasons Burke is struggling could just be the same as Stauskas for all we know, or many, many other prospects who didn’t lack size for their position but failed for reasons like athleticism or disappointing shooting. Some players that are current stars like Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry have no size advantage on Burke, but it’s the other factors like athleticism, skill, IQ, toughness that is carrying them to games that are light years ahead of his. Regardless of how much his size hurts him, Burke clearly is lacking a variety of non-size attributes, the traits that make stars out of Pauls and Lowrys, that would make him a far better player than he’s been.

All other things equal, it’s obviously better to have more size than not, but it’s hard to be confident that it’s the only dagger that fells a prospect like Burke. It’s not the only weakness in his game.

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Written by jr.

March 24, 2016 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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