Detroit Pistons #DraftDreams: Trey Burke

Welcome to the fourth annual Detroit Pistons #DraftDreams series (see years 1, 2 and 3 in the archives). Discuss Draft Dreams on Twitter using the #DraftDreams hashtag. I’m getting a bit of a late start, but thanks to some help this year (DraftDreams had previously been a solo effort) from Brady Fredericksen,  Jameson Draper and Dan Feldman, we should be able to get through a collection of first and second round prospects over the next few weeks while we try to figure out who is going to coach this soon-to-be future playoff team (seriously you guys … don’t you DARE make Joe Dumars fire another coach … he’ll totally do it). 

The annual disclaimer — I don’t fancy myself a college basketball expert. In fact, it’s kind of torture to watch referees call a charge whenever someone falls down (someone needs to get Stern to fix flopping in the college game), less talented players (cough * Aaron Craft * cough) become stars because they are great at clutching and grabbing more physically gifted players to slow them down and rules designed to encourage players to inefficiently shoot contested long twos. I’m off on a tangent again. Anyway, the college game is inherently frustrating to me, but I still love it, I still watch it and I’ve made a bit of a pattern of starting this series off each year with my favorite player in the draft (DeMarcus Cousins, Darius Morris and Draymond Green in the previous three years). This year, that player is unquestionably Trey Burke, and that’s coming from someone whose allegiances primarily are in East Lansing.


  • Measurables: 6-foot-0, 190 pounds, sophomore point GOD from Michigan
  • Key Stats: 18.6 points, 6.7 assists, 1.6 steals per game; shot 46 percent from the field and 38 percent from 3-point range; Naismith Player of the Year
  • Projected: Top 10
  • Hickory High similarity score

Random Fact

During his freshman season, Burke had just had back-to-back solid if unspectacular games against known basketball powerhouses Towson and Western Illinois. This caused baseball Hall of Fame voter, worst blog in America pontificator and local radio conch-haver Pat Caputo to suggest on the air that (paraphrasing slightly) Burke was the next Chris Paul.

It was typical Caputoperbole that I should’ve ignored, but it struck me as insanely irritating at the time. Paul is probably the best point guard since Magic Johnson and, if injuries/the curse of Donald Sterling don’t interrupt his career, he’s going to be one of the all-time greats. Comparing a relatively under-recruited college player to Paul after a couple of games against irrelevant competition is reckless, even for a guy who once called the Detroit Tigers’ best offensive player their biggest offensive problem. It was a disservice to Burke, a young player trying to carve out his own identity at a basketball program in desperate need of a ‘savior’ type of player, to saddle him with those types of expectations so early. Comparisons like that unfairly ratchet up pressure on young players, particularly at a high profile school like Michigan. It also did Paul a disservice. Because Paul toiled away in New Orleans much of his career, his brilliance is still a bit under-appreciated by the masses. Suggesting some unproven, relatively unknown player in college is capable of being at his level was an insult to Paul and all of his accomplishments. Media types do that sort of star-to-random player comparison all the time and it never ceases to be infuriating — it makes it seem like guys who have one in a million talent have skillsets that can easily be replicated.

It’s weird the memories that cloud judgments. I carried that dumb, throwaway segment on a radio station I only listen to for unintentional comedic purposes from a host whose opinions I loathe with me for a long time. As Burke continuously improved, but as he single-handedly, at times, dragged Michigan back to relevance, I was slow to embrace it simply because of that stupid soundbite I caught in passing years ago. I could spend this space extolling Burke’s many virtues, talking about how much fun he has been to watch the past two seasons and crediting him for not only making Michigan basketball important again but also re-igniting the Michigan-Michigan State basketball rivalry and making it the best in the country. But it’s easier to just simply say the greatest compliment I can pay to Burke is that he made Pat Caputo kind of right, or at the very least not completely nonsensical. I’m not sure anything he accomplished on the court is more remarkable than that.

Fits with the Pistons because …

The Pistons like Jose Calderon, and that’s fine. We know what Calderon is. Calderon is a good shooter, he takes good care of the ball and he’s a pass-first player who is perfect for a finishing machine like Andre Drummond. What we also know about Calderon is that he’s old. Even if the Pistons retain Calderon, they need to be thinking longer term at the point guard position than the guy who will play that spot for the next year or two. Burke is the best point guard option in this draft.

Burke and Paul had fairly similar college stats, although Paul shot better from 3-point range. Their games offensively are not completely similar, but the comparison between the two comes from their passing ability. Burke is a bit more of a shoot-first player than Paul, but that was also out of necessity. He was Michigan’s best scorer as well as distributor. On a NBA team like the Pistons with (hopefully) more offensive options who can create their own shot, I suspect we’ll see even more of Burke’s passing ability shine as a pro.

Burke and Paul have similar statures. Both are insanely quick though not the super athletic new-breed type of point guard who will go dunk on people. And both have incredible vision. Like Paul, Burke has shown an ability to see a play before it develops and to find teammates with passes that few other players could even envision, let alone make. On a team with a big as active as Drummond, pairing him with a passer like Burke would pay immediate dividends, even if Burke starts out as an understudy to Calderon.

Realistically, he won’t be as good as Paul, but the comparisons are no longer completely ridiculous, and that’s amazing progress for Burke. If he looks more like Ty Lawson than Paul as a pro, that’s still worth a lottery pick.

Doesn’t fit with the Pistons because …

The Pistons have needs at every position, but if Calderon is retained, they are thinnest at the wing spots. Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko are all capable of playing on the wings, but all can most aptly be described as ‘best suited for a reserve role’ (I also might describe Stuckey as ‘better suited for any roster except this one,’ but I digress). Assuming Calderon is retained, assuming Stuckey might be traded and assuming Knight is still around, adding Burke to the guard rotation would give the Pistons a small three-guard rotation. On top of that, if the Pistons sign a shooting guard in free agency, Knight will presumably get some of his minutes at the point guard spot, so using a lottery pick on Burke only to relegate him to third on the depth chart at point guard to start his career wouldn’t be the best use of resources.

Burke will never be confused with an elite defensive guard. That’s the biggest difference between he and Paul, who is nearly as elite defensively as he is offensively. The Pistons have desperately been trying to remake themselves in their old defense-first image, and Burke would be another questionable defender added to their mix of long-term prospects.

I do, however, think Burke has the feistiness (his floor-slapping to mock Keith Appling at Crisler Arena was one of my favorite moments of the season), quickness and 6-foot-5 wingspan to improve at that end of the court .

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the one thing Burke consistently did that drove me crazy — I hope he eliminates the contested step-back three when the clock is winding down late from his arsenal completely. No one in college basketball could stay in front of Burke, but he tended to rely on that shot too much.

From the Experts:

Chad Ford:

Although Burke doesn’t have great size or the athleticism of some of the other elite point guards in the NBA, he has an incredible basketball IQ, can really shoot, rarely turns the ball over and makes those around him better. He should go somewhere in the top seven and will be the first or second point guard off the board.


The engine behind the #1 offense in college basketball, Burke was arguably the best pick and roll point guard in the NCAA this season, able to put incredible pressure on the defense thanks to the tremendous balance he brings between scoring and facilitating for others. The fact that he can make shots from anywhere on the floor, find the open man instantaneously, or get to the rim makes him extremely difficult to game-plan against.

What is the best thing Trey Burke does for his team?

Zach Travis (follow him on Twitter @zach_travis and @maizenbrew) covers the University of Michigan for Maize N Brew, SB Nation’s Michigan blog. Be sure to check out his great profile on Burke for SB Nation too.

“The one thing that Trey Burke did for Michigan that was the most important was take control of the game when it was desperately needed. The Wolverines had talent both years, but there was never a consistent number two scorer or post presence through which to run the offense, and the team traded athleticism concerns Burke’s freshman year for experience concerns the next. Burke was the genesis of Michigan’s offensive output, but even then there would be stretches where the rest of the team would go cold leaving it up to Burke. He was very good at shifting from facilitator to scorer to try and carry the scoring burden for the rest of the team for minutes at a time, and his offensive game and penchant for pushing the ball was often enough to open up passes to get other players easy shots and back into a rhythm. He found ways to come up with important defensive stops and used tempo to throw the other team off and give Michigan an advantage. That isn’t to say that things always worked out or that Burke did not fall prey to forcing his shot or pulling up from deep early in the shot clock before trying to work through the offense, but sometimes John Beilein simply had to let Trey be Trey, for better or worse. The way that Trey Burke took over games was plainly obvious to everyone in the building.  He could be quiet for long stretches, but when Trey Burke decided to take over there wasn’t a person watching that didn’t know it almost immediately.”

On Film:


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