Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.comIf you look at his stats, Trey Burke is having one of those seasons that you tell your kids about, as ESPN and BTN announcers have been all-too-happy to point out--Did you know that only Magic Johnson and Trey Burke have averaged 18 PPG and 7 APG during the Big Ten season? But in the last few games, Burke's play has seen a noticeable dip, punctuated by games like Saturday's against IU where he shot just 9 for 24 from the field and had 3 TOs (How lucky are Michigan fans to have a guy where that's a complaint? Have you seen Keith Appling play... ever?).
I was particularly incredulous about his shot selection on Saturday, which was mentioned in the most recent MGoPodcast, motivating me to see whether or not there was anything to my complaints. Burke has fallen in love with his mid-range stepback in recent games and it's significantly affected his efficiency. Against IU, for instance, the average length of Burke's shots was 15.375 feet. He took 12 three pointers; for reference, he's taken only 7 three pointers in a game two other times this season. Burke is trying to stretch his game out a little too far and has ended up settling for a a lot of mid-range jumpers and contested/step-back threes. This is not a recipe for Michigan victories, even if he's scoring 25 points.
But this post is the result of a clear downtick in his performance the last few weeks. So in order to quantify it a bit, I took a look at Burke's numbers from the the non-conference schedule compared to his conference stats and...
|Non-conference play||Big Ten Conference play|
|FGM/FGA||90-168 (53.57%)||59-138 (42.75%)|
|3PM/3PA||23-60 (38.33%)||17-44 (38.63%)|
|Assits/game (total)||7.38 (96)||6.88 (62)|
|Turnovers/game (total)||1.92 (25)||1.77 (16)|
|% of team's shots used||22.07%||27.30%|
So the obvious caveat: the Big Ten is the best conference in college basketball and you would expect a noticeable drop off in his performance playing against stiffer competition. Improving aspects like points per game and reducing his turnovers per game are no small feats. However, there are also some disturbing trends during conference play.
Burke is averaging about 2.5 more shots per game during the conference schedule than the non-conference and only scoring 1.1 more points per game. That's an important dip in efficiency that lends credence to his shot selection troubles. To my eyes, Burke has become somewhat isolation heavy in recent games relatively early in the shot clock (10-12 seconds left), and that has resulted in what isos always do: semi-contested mid-range jumpers.
The other disturbing trend is Burke's significant drop in field goal percentage despite holding steady at 38% from the three point line. During the non-conference season, Burke averaged 4.61 three-point attempts per game and is averaging 4.88 in the conference schedule, a negligible gain. You can surmise then, that the 11% decline in his overall shooting percentage comes on his two-point attempts. In non-conference games, Burke was shooting a blazing 62% on two-pointers but is only averaging 44% on twos in conference play.
So what's the culprit? Aaron Craft and Victor Oladipo for one. You'd expect Burke to struggle against two of the nation's elite perimeter defenders and his numbers concur (4-13, 4 assists/4 TOs against OSU; 9-24, 8 assists/3 TOs against IU). But Burke's numbers have also seen noticeable drops against Nebraska, Minnesota, Purdue, and Illinois: all games that were close after the first half. In the non-conference, Burke also struggled a bit against Kansas State and Pitt, games that were separated by no more than 5 points at the half. Are the games close because of Burke's struggles or does he press harder against better opponents, leading to worse outcomes? His increased usage rate in those games (28.73%) implies a tendency to overextend against more difficult opponents.
Burke definitely has national player of the year talent but his performances against elite competition this season--even games against average+ competition in which the opponent holds serve with Michigan for a while--have been distressing. With games against IU, OSU, Illinois, and MSU upcoming still, to say nothing of the NCAA tournament, Burke will need to reverse this trend if Michigan wants to make serious waves this season.