Last spring Trey Burke was spending his days collecting high school accolades and working out in the gym. He didn’t know what Darius Morris was going to do but it didn’t matter. Burke wanted to be the starting point guard in Ann Arbor. By the time Burke arrived at Michigan, Morris was a Los Angeles Laker and Burke was the only point guard on the Wolverine roster. Just a freshman, Burke is arguably Michigan’s most important player.
The situation that Burke has found himself in season is strikingly similar to the one that Morris struggled through as a freshman. Through eight games Burke has surpassed expectations and thinking about this year’s Michigan team without Burke on the roster is frightening.
His tempo free statistics to date aren’t half bad either, especially for a freshman:
Burke uses roughly a quarter of Michigan’s offensive possessions and has clearly established himself as the number two Wolverine scoring option. He’s averaging 11 points and four assists per game while playing the third most minutes of any Michigan player and he’s playing more minutes than any other freshman in the Big Ten. He naturally can’t match the assist rate of a player like Darius Morris (who ranked 3rd in assist rate nationally last season) but he’s creating 25% of Michigan’s made baskets while he’s on the floor – an impressive mark.
Burke’s finishing around the basket and from mid-range might be even more remarkable, especially given his smaller stature. His two point shooting percentage is at 52% after Saturday’s game and that’s a solid mark for a guard, just a shade under Darius Morris’s 53% a season ago. That number could regress as Michigan heads toward Big Ten play but he’s shown the ability to consistently knock down shots all over the floor.
While he’s had his fair share of turnovers, Burke turns the ball over on roughly 1 out of 5 possessions that he uses, there seems to be a team-wide comfort level when the ball is in Burke’s hands. Michigan has put him in the difficult situation of having to make something out of nothing in late shot clock situations and he’s performed admirably.
That’s not to say Burke has been perfect. His offensive rating of 98.2 is just average, undoubtedly bogged down by his inconsistent three point shooting (29%) to start the season. Burke’s struggles from three point range are an oddity considering shooting was one of his primary strengths coming out of high school. Perhaps affected by taller perimeter defenders and stronger defense, Burke is still searching for that stroke that allowed him to make almost half his threes during his senior year of high school.
Burke’s shot will come along but the majority of his focus needs to be continuing to improve on the defensive end. The level of mental discipline and intensity required on the defensive end of the floor is probably the greatest difference between high school and college basketball and any freshman has a steep learning curve on that end of the floor. Burke’s defense has run into a few snafus early this season. He’s shown the tendency to foul jumpshooters, a killer at this level, and also go under screens rather than fighting over the top. The physical tools and effort are there – Burke’s probably Michigan’s quickest on ball defender – but as he becomes more consistent mentally on defense his game will surge.
Burke is the Michigan point guard of the present and the future and he’s performed better than most expected at this point. His two point scoring, quickness and steadiness with the ball in his hands under pressure are strong points but he has plenty of room to improve going forward. If he starts making threes during the final two thirds of the season he could very well compete with Cody Zeller for Big Ten Freshman of the Year.