Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A tale of two Burkes

Author's note: You're not allowed to read this post until you've read this. I don't want to deal with your freakouts.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
If 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
Points/game 17.8 18.9
Shots/game 12.92 15.33
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%
Available minutes 82.00% 88.00%

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.

Monday, February 4, 2013


I majored in English at Michigan during undergrad. I didn't take many creative writing classes because that wasn't really my focus--frankly, I didn't have a focus but I knew it wasn't creative writing. My poetry and short stories were dreck and it's carried over to some of the flashier things I try to do here: I've done my best to write game columns without any sort of narrative because a) I'm bad at that kind of writing and b) I think narrative is tedious, but I digress.

I did, however, take a few creative writing class, and in one in particular--which I unknowingly took with Steve Lorenz of Michigan Tremendous/24x7 fame--we were tasked with writing personal essays and critiquing the writing of others. In order for people to feel comfortable sharing their experiences and opening up with their writing, we began every peer-critiquing class/session with 45 minutes of complements and discussions of what the author did particularly well, followed by 45 minutes of what seemed amis and needed to be changed in subsequent drafts. If you're reading this blog, you probably know what's coming next. I didn't participate much during the first half of the class exercises, opting instead to discuss where the author stumbled.

At the same time, I was writing music reviews for websites like Stylus Magazine and PopMatters, and working at the Michigan Daily in the Arts section. What I found out, albeit slowly, was that I wasn't a very good music critic. There's a certain level of connection and empathy that comes with critiquing music, a fluid, personal expression. I envied some of my contemporaries like Mike Powell and Derek Miller, the likes of whose prose poetically discovered aspects of the music I had never contemplated. My mind was stuck on the chord progressions, cadence, flows, and the complexity of the beats, which is not to say that this isn't a valuable way of addressing music, but to do it well--see: Ian Cohen, Jeff Weiss--you have to be on some next level shit that I wasn't close to. I've since moved on to video games, which are far more calculating, and in this space, sports.

I'm telling you all of this to try and give some context for this blog which has recently become the Self-Hating Jew of Michigan sports sites, culminating in the MGoEeyore designation on MGoBlog that inspired the title.

In that creative writing class, I didn't put my efforts toward critiquing other peoples' writing because I wanted to be the class prick. In my opinion, most people know what they do well. The few times I wrote something that still holds up, it was fairly obvious why. However, my mistakes are far less apparent but more valuable in the long run; you learn more by finding out what you did wrong than being told what you did right. I assume other people find the same value in criticism, which brings us to Michigan sports and this blog.

I like Michigan football. I also like this basketball team, and despite popular belief, think they're quite good. But I'm of the belief that most of my readers know what Michigan sports teams do well. MGoBlog exists and does a fantastic job of detailing how and why, for example, this basketball team has become one of the best in the country. I don't write about those things for the same reasons that I don't write posts about recruiting or random news bits: the mission of this blog has always been to supply content that you can't get elsewhere. During the football season, that means extensive film breakdowns, the likes of which MGoBlog could do but doesn't have the time (or page space) for. But it also means asking questions about why Michigan teams lose close games or individual players' limitations, which exist but often go brushed aside--we're all fans and it sucks admitting our teams are flawed.

I think the frustration from readers arises because regardless of what I write here, it won't improve the team. Michigan teams won't learn from their mistakes because of posts on this site. So when I watch Michigan teams play, I know that Nik Stauskas is a great shooter but I want to see where his limitations lie. The same goes for a player like Trey Burke, who I'll be writing about tomorrow. So I don't pull my punches or hedge my bets: when I see a flaw, I write about it without qualifying, "But yeah, he's a really good guy and does all of these other things well." You know that already.