Trey Burke, Michigan and the pick-and-roll

Dylan Burkhardt

Wisconsin 68, Michigan 59-6
Dustin Johnston

Trey Burke will walk across the stage on Thursday and hold up an NBA jersey, officially beginning the next phase of his career. He’ll be remembered as one of very best point guards players to don a Michigan jersey.

There’s plenty to remember about Burke – the steal, the block that wasn’t, the shot – but above all else, he was arguably the most effective ball screen player in the last five years of college basketball. Burke’s combination efficiency and high usage in ball screen situations was off the charts in the Synergy Sports era. We pulled the the Synergy Sports statistics for every player to use at least 300 possessions of ball screens in a season and tried to figure out where Burke ranked.

The following graphs show the number of ball screen possessions (passes and shots) used in a season on the horizontal axis and the points per possession (combined passes and shots) on the vertical axis. The first graph compares Burke to all Division I players that used at least 300 ball screen possessions, the second refines the sample to major conference players only.


Just three players (Matthew Dellavedova (’13), Shane Larkin (’13) and Jason Brickman (’13)) used more ball screen possessions in a season than Burke – none were as efficient. Just three players (Nate Wolters (’13), Pierre Jackson (’12) and Terrell Holloway (’13)) were more efficient – all three used at least 100 fewer possessions.

Narrowing the sample size to major-conference players makes Burke’s domination all the more impressive. It also illuminates his freshman to sophomore improvement, both of his seasons are marked in blue below.


The numbers don’t lie. Of the 22 high usage ball screen players in the last five years, only Burke and Larkin surpassed a point per possession despite all using fewer possessions.

Thursday marks the day when it’s officially time to stop admiring Burke’s dominance of the college game and start wondering what Michigan’s offense will look like without him. One thing is clear, the pick and roll will continue to be an integral part of Michigan’s offense.

When John Beilein took over in Ann Arbor, the ball screen was barely an afterthought. John Beilein’s (sometimes maligned) offense was heavy on three point shooting, spacing, back cuts, passing and slashing from the wings – not the high pick and roll. The Wolverines ran ball screens on just 6.8% of their offensive possessions in John Beilein’s first season in charge. During his second year, that number fell to just 4.4%. Last year, almost one in every four Michigan possessions hinged on the ball screen.


The Wolverine roster was very different back then but the transition has been dramatic. Michigan’s transformation into a ball screen offense has been particularly remarkable because the Wolverines continue to become more efficient as they use more ball screens. Conventional wisdom would hint that efficiency would decrease as usage increases. In each of the last three seasons, Michigan has been one of the top-25 ball screen offenses in the country.

Michigan National P&R Offensive Efficiency Rankings

Year 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13
National Rank 23 12 1
Major Conf Rank 7 3 1

One of the largest questions facing next season’s Michigan team is how the pick and roll will be involved in the Wolverine offense. Will a quarter of Michigan’s possessions still be used by the pick and roll? If so, who will be running them?

2012-13 Michigan Individual Ball Screen Usage/Efficiency

Player % Indiv Poss. Poss Points PPP %Score
Trey Burke 48.9% 487 509 1.045 45.6%
Tim Hardaway Jr 20.1% 126 101 0.802 38.1%
Nik Stauskas 21.5% 90 106 1.178 52.2%
Spike Albrecht 30.6% 33 36 1.091 45.5%
Caris LeVert 15.1% 18 14 0.778 33.3%
Glenn Robinson III 1.9% 7 8 1.143 57.1%
Mitch McGary 1.0% 3 8 2.667 100%

Michigan loses Burke and Hardaway, who provided Michigan with roughly 16 points per game of ball screen offense last year. However, there are two intriguing returning options plus a blue chip point guard to add to the mix.

Nik Stauskas was able to produce off of the ball screen efficiently all season, mostly because of his devastating three point stroke. Spike Albrecht played limited minutes last year but he was also a productive ball screen player. It doesn’t take much to figure out that Albrecht’s approach to the ball screen is radically different than Stauskas and Burke. Albrecht is strictly a setup man in the pick and roll as over 60% of his ball screen possessions were passes.

The following charts show the shoot vs. pass breakdown of Albrecht, Stauskas and Burke’s ball screen tendencies and efficiency.


Stauskas, like Burke, is most comfortable creating his own offense but competent in distributing the ball. Albrecht shows a dramatic difference. He’s the best setup man of the bunch but struggles to finish in the lane. Both Albrecht and Stauskas show less balance than Burke in terms of shot vs. pass distribution.


Nik Stauskas (along with Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert) are likely to run their fair share of ball screens from the wing. Glenn Robinson III could get in on the action as well, but these numbers show how absent that element was in his game last year. Mitch McGary generated as many ball screen points as Robinson (and not as the roll man) last season.

However, no team is labeled as a ball screen offense without a point guard that thrives in that element. The pick and roll has become engrained in Michigan’s offensive culture and the onus will fall on Derrick Walton to continue that trend. John Beilein continues to tell reporters “not to count out Albrecht” but it’s obvious that Walton will play a major role.

Walton isn’t Trey Burke, he isn’t Darius Morris or Spike Albrecht. He’s Derrick Walton. Walton is a smaller guard and more of a true point guard in the sense that he looks to pass first but can score.

From a pick-and-roll standpoint, the three questions Walton has to answer are: Can he pass over the hedge? Can he finish at the rim? Can he knock down the open three? I’m most worried about No. 2. He’s been putting in work on his shot and has the quickness to make up for his size, finishing in the paint will be a learning process.

The offense will be different next year. The ball screen offense will be handled by committee rather than squarely on the back of one man. Michigan will also look to get Glenn Robinson III more involved in the offense and it’s no guarantee (or even likely?) that he’ll be most effective in that situation. But after three successful years one thing is clear: the ball screen is here to stay. It’s a thriving part of the modern day NBA and it has suddenly become the most appealing element of Michigan’s offense on the recruiting circuit.

  • Sood

    Manny probably could have done with a few more ball screens back in the day.

    Anyway, it’s interesting that at the beginning of the season there were doubts about whether Trey would ever get the ball screen right (“he’s too short to pass out of it,” “he’ll never master it like Morris”) but by the end he was the best. Pick and rolls are as much about compsure and remaining aware as anything else – things Burke always had in spades.

    • Trey was a pretty good (very good) PNR player as a freshman as well. I’d have to check the numbers but I think UM probably scored more efficiently on his passes this year – biggest reason for the improvement. Robinson, McGary and Stauskas were a huge part of that.

      • Sood

        Oh, I believe it. I just remember that for a while there the “knock” – accurate or not – was that he was getting hung up in the hedge and that, basically, “he’s not Morris.”

        The point you made about Beilein adjusting his offense over the years was also interesting. The “knock” on him when he arrived was that he was a system/gimmicky guy, but his willigness – and ability – to adjust have been a revelation.

        • serious

          Yep – I definitely remember thinking that there was no way Burke could the pick and roll game that Morris had. Woops. Any chance that we could see his numbers from his sophomore year?

          • serious

            …that Burke could *match the pick and roll game that Morris had…

          • hello

            Sophomore Darius Morris was probably the best Pick n Roll passer I’ve ever seen in college, just a flat-out amazing playmaker, and a great handle. I truly believe as a Junior or Senior he would’ve been the best PG in college bball, better than Burke.

      • serious

        Don’t you have a chart in the post above that does show UM scored more efficiently when he passed the ball?

        • Yeah… my point was that I suspect his combined PNR efficiency in the first charts improved so much because of that fact — Michigan scored more effectively this year when he scored compared to his freshman year.

          I’ll look it up.

          • Eh… not quite :-) The biggest improvement was in his shot making on the ball screen.

            As a freshman:
            .814 points per shot, 1.18 points per pass

            As a sophomore:
            .98 points per shot, 1.12 points per pass

            The one difference is that Burke passed more often: 47.4% as a sophomore, 44.9% as a freshman.