Efficiency, not scoring milestone, makes Trey Burke special

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan 94, Northwestern 66 - #5
Dustin Johnston

Trey Burke surpassed the 1,000 point milestone on Sunday in Michigan’s win over Illinois – just his 61st game at Michigan. The list of former Michigan players to reach 1,000 points in two years is an impressive who’s who of Michigan basketball of yesteryear.

Phil Hubbard, Mike McGee, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Louis Bullock and Manny Harris reached the mark during their sophomore seasons while Cazzie Russell, Rudy Tomjanovich, Bill Buntin and Henry Wilmore managed the feat in their junior season, but played in an era where freshmen were ineligible.

That group includes four of Michigan’s five retired players, perhaps its two most (in)famous former players along with its most productive player of the 2000s. The company is superb at the top but the 1,000 point club alone doesn’t do Burke’s performance in a maize and blue uniform justice.

There are plenty of players that score 1,000 points in two years in modern college basketball but very few managed the feat with Burke’s efficiency. In an era of me-first scoring guards, Burke is a refreshing reminder of how the point guard position is meant to be played.

While Burke hasn’t quite played a whole season yet, his offensive rating (estimated individual points produced per 100 possessions) of 129.3 is currently the best of the Ken Pomeroy era (2003+) among players that used at least 28 percent of their team’s possessions.

Player Team ORtg Year
Trey Burke Michigan 129.3 (28.2) 2012-13
Spencer Nelson Utah St. 127.1 (29.8) 2004-05
Kelly Olynyk Gonzaga 126.8 (29.8) 2012-13
Travis Diener Marquette 126.6 (30.5) 2004-05
George Hill IUPUI 125.4 (28.8) 2007-08
Nick Fazekas Nevada 125.4 (28.5) 2006-07
Nate Wolters South Dakota St. 125.0 (30.2) 2012-13
Damian Lillard Weber St. 124.4 (32.2) 2011-12
Doug McDermott Creighton 123.5 (28.7) 2011-12
Charles Jenkins Hofstra 123.5 (28.4) 2010-11

Burke isn’t just at the top of the list, the other nine players in the top ten all did it at the mid-major level. Derrick Williams (Arizona 2011, 122.7/28.7%, 12th), Ryan Anderson (California 2008, 121.1/28.4% 18th) and Erick Green (2013 Virginia Tech, 121.0/31.8%, 19th) are the only other top 20 qualifiers on the list. Burke leads the pack while playing the toughest Division I conference.

Burke’s performance has seen only minimal regression in league play with an offensive rating of 125.8 and an even higher usage rate of 29.2%. Only DJ Newbill has used more Big Ten possessions than Burke, while Victor Oladipo and Glenn Robinson III are the only more efficient players. Given Oladipo (22.8%) and Robinson’s (14.3%) low usage rates, and Newbill’s subpar offensive rating (87.7), Burke is far and away the league’s best combination of volume and efficiency.

There are few, if any, weaknesses on Burke’s statistical resume. Burke isn’t just a passer, isn’t just a scorer, isn’t just a shooter. He’s a complete point guard.

His 55 percent two point shooting is unheard of for a 6-foot guard while his 40% three point shooting is well above average for a point guard. His assist rate of 39.6% is the best in the Big Ten and he’s just 49 assists shy of Michigan’s single season record. For a player that controls the ball for the majority of Michigan’s offensive possessions, his 11.4% turnover rate is unworldly.

A true testament of Burke’s balanced approach is that the sophomore guard has either assisted or made 374 field goals this year – 49% of Michigan’s total. His distribution of makes to assists is 50-50 on the nose; 187 made field goals, 187 assists.

Admire the production but do it justice by providing the context of efficiency. Burke’s season has been one for the ages, even if it very well might be his last in Ann Arbor. One thing is clear, Michigan will go as far as its 6-foot guard can take it over the next month.

There have been complaints throughout the season that Burke plays hero ball, takes too many shots or settles for long jumpers late in the shot clock. But John Beilein would be foolish not to have the ball in Burke’s – the most efficient high usage player in the country – hands as often as possible. The supporting cast is great, but Beilein trusts Burke to carry the load – creating his own offense and improving his teammates – through 27 games he’s doing that as well as anyone.

“He’s not hogging shots. There were some games where he’ll talk to me and say, ‘coach, I should have shot less than that’,” Beilein explained on Sunday. “He’s playing the game the right way and he has this confidence about when it’s time for him to go in and get buckets or shoot a three.”

I won’t go as far as saying that Burke proves returning to college is always right decision – for many players it’s not – but at the very least he’s a living demonstration of the best case scenario. Burke was shockingly good as a freshmen but the stakes have changed as a sophomore.

Last year for a majority of the year the applicable debate was whether Burke was the best player on Michigan’s roster. The answer was yes. This year the question has evolved to whether Burke is the best player in the country. Right now, the answer is yes.

  • AC1997

    Excellent summary! I have two questions:
    1 – The 28% usage level used for the comparison felt somewhat arbitrary. Was there logic behind it? Does the list change dramatically if you lower that to something like 25%?
    2 – How does Burke’s statistical profile compare to recent NBA star point-guards in their last year in college? I think there is still a belief that Burke will be a marginal NBA player (based seemingly only on his 6’0″ height) but I’m curious how he compares to other guys and whether there’s a chance he will be a bigger NBA contributor.

    • It’s what Pomeroy uses to distinguish high usage players. He groups by 28/24/20/all I believe.

      This year, even at the 20% cutoff, Burke ranks 2nd behind Tyrus McGee (Iowa State)

      • AC1997

        Thanks Dylan. I took a stab at answering my second question on my own and found a nice site for player comparisons. The obvious Burke comparisn is Chris Paul since they are equal sizes.


        Here is a quick summary:

        – Burke has the edge in assists and 2pt%. He also uses far more possessions (28% to 23%)

        – Paul shot nearly 50% from 3pt his sophomore year and had a lot more steals.

        – Perhaps the most depressing stat is the massive difference in free throw rate. Burke has taken a lot more threes this season than Paul did, but the FT-rate disparity (59 to 27) is alarming. I wonder how much of that is style of play and how much of it is the way games are called in the Big Ten.

    • Mattski

      Yeah, maybe some of you savvy types can speak to why it is that Trey is projected as the 15th pick in one recent analysis? I get that he’s not tall, but is that the only thing holding him back? I guess that scouts try to look for “ceiling”. . .

  • Dj

    Great column. A very special season from a rare player. He will be less memorable than some other of UM’s greatest players, because he is so efficient and so calm, and that is a shame. Certainly, Trey’s quality of play stacks up with anyone to wear the maize and blue. What a privilege to enjoy, but hard not to have some ambivalence, knowing the party will not continue.

  • Kevin

    Do we have ORtg numbers for the old greats of Michigan basketball? I’m just wondering how Trey’s performance compares to them. Are we watching the very best two-year stretch of anybody in UM history? And for that matter, is this one of the best two-year careers in college basketball history?

  • rlcBlue

    Nice piece, Dylan – but the press release is not accurately worded. Rickey Green most definitely scored more than 1000 points in his first two years at Michigan, yet his name is not included on the list. I assume he is left out (either intentionally or not) because he was gasp a junior college transfer, and we don’t like to talk about such sordid types at the U of M.

    Green’s name is pertinent when we try to assess Burke’s status among Michigan point guards. I put together a comparison of the great and the good, taking their two best consecutive seasons and totaling the traditional point guard stats:

    Name Years P A S Poss
    Burke 11-12 1013 343 70 63
    Morris 09-10 666 319 56 63
    Horton 03-04 872 256 101 67
    Rose 93-94 1191 266 81 74
    Robinson 89-90 1125 417 111 77
    Grant 87-88 1433 406 166 77
    Green 76-77 1184 252 ? 84

    As we move back in time, the stats recorded become sparser and sparser; there are no assists numbers from the 60’s, so I can’t even guess who the PG was on the Russell/Buntin Final Four teams.

    So in raw counting stats, Burke is certainly in the conversation; with 6 (oh no) to 13 (please, please, please) games remaining in his career, he could wind up first in assists and second in scoring on this list.

    This is even more impressive when you consider the final column in the list, an estimate of possessions per game. The pace of college basketball has changed, and Beilein’s offense is played at a very deliberate tempo. For Burke to rack up as many points and assists as he has is really amazing.

    Defensively, though, the numbers aren’t there. That’s not his game (and it definitely was Gary Grant’s).

    So I have no problems with saying Trey is one of the two best PGs in Michigan history. All that remains is for him to link his name to those of Green, Rose, and (especially) Robinson in terms of postseason success.

    Some of you youngsters may be wondering if these guys you never saw play were any good. Using minutes played in the NBA as a proxy for actual talent:

    Name NBAMin
    Green 23271
    Grant 12602
    Robinson 6098
    Rose 27925
    Horton –
    Morris 806*

    And some other NBA point guards for context:

    Stockton 47764
    Nash 37249*
    B.Lee 1834
    P.Ford 13503
    Nelson 16393*
    T.J. Ford 11882*
    Williams 1961
    Fredette 1853*

    The last six were included because they are (according to Rothstein) the only PGs to win Player of the Year. Lee and Williams both suffered injuries early in their careers.

  • mikey_mac

    The four-game stretch of tough matchups was pretty clear evidence to me that Burke has the offensive game to play in the NBA. He consistently played incredibly well, in tough atmospheres, against top college defenses, and while dealing with quite a few spotlight-repellant performances from his teammates while he was at it. He’s the only player on the team that doesn’t seem to blink in any environment. Well, except maybe @ Valu City Arena, but there’s no NBA team in Columbus ;)

  • gobluemd16

    Awesome write-up. You or someone has to forward this to the POY voters. In my mind, he is the clear best player in college basketball. When fans here and elsewhere criticized him for playing hero ball, I laughed. Trey is amazing not only as an individual, but in helping the TEAM win. Let’s enjoy this last month with him at the helm because he is truly special.

  • Chazer

    This young man is truly special and what a fine Michigan Man he turned out to be! A quiet leader to join and promote UM’s best. I wish him the best wherever he lands…..maybe with the celtics to join up with Sully.

    Ironically, I believe Chris Paul played his last collegiate game against UWV in Cleveland coached by JB. #7 defeated #2 ranked wake forest in double OT…what a game!

    This young man will be missed and will leave big shoes to fill…..but UM is gaining a reputation for SOPH point gaurds going to the next level.

    Good luck Trey!