Sixth Pick Tournament Round Two: CJ McCollum vs. Trey Burke

Published: June 11, 2013

Mason Ginsberg and Michael McNamara represent two of the top point guards in this year’s draft as Michigan’s Trey Burke and Lehigh’s CJ McCollum go head-to-head in round two of the Sixth Pick Tournament.

The Case for CJ McCollum (McNamara)


Better. Bigger. Quicker. Stronger.

No, this isn’t a sequel to a Kanye West song. This is my rationale for taking CJ McCollum over Trey Burke in this years’ draft. Now that we have the chorus, let’s get into the verses.


In a vacuum, is CJ McCollum a better player than Trey Burke? I will admit that this is debatable. But when it comes to deciding on which player is better for the type of team the Pelicans want to build going forward, I don’t think there is any doubt that CJ McCollum is the better prospect. Dell and Monty want to build a versatile offense that emphasises ball movement, players with the ability to play multiple positions, and exceptional shooting. Basically they want to recreate the Spurs, and who can argue with that plan?

If you watch the Spurs on offense, they employ multiple ball handlers with a lot of off the ball movement from their guards and wings. Tony Parker is off the ball as much as he is handling the ball, if not more. He is coming off of down screens, setting picks, running from wing to wing, and even spotting up in the corner from time to time. When he does get the ball on the wing, he is lethal in the pick and roll as a mid-range shooter or a guy who can take it into the paint and finish. If the Pelicans want a point guard more like Tony Parker (which you know they do), then McCollum fits that mold to a ‘T’. If they wanted a more ball dominant point guard who can shoot but not finish as effectively in the paint, then I think they would be all over Trey Burke, but they’re not.

I could insert my own thoughts here, but honestly Draft Express says it best:

One area which Burke may struggle at the NBA level is with his ability to finish plays inside the paint in traffic. He converts just 52% of his attempts around the basket in the half-court, a fairly average rate, as he’s hampered at times by his lack of size and strength against bigger, longer and more athletic frontcourt players. He tends to settle for tough runners and floaters in the lane, which he finds mixed success with, and needs to get much better at using his left hand around the rim, which he seemingly avoids at all costs.

Meanwhile, McCollum finished at a 56.8% clip and got to the line more than six times per game. He also was a much better scorer in transition and in the pick and roll. In fact, McCollum was the most efficient point guard prospect in this draft by quite a wide margin. His TS% was 63% (57% for Burke), McCollum averaged 1.10 points per play (1.01 for Burke), was a better 2-point shooter, 3-point shooter, and FT shooter, and scored 10 more points (Per 40 minutes Pace Adjusted) on just 4 more shots. That’s unreal!

Look, this isn’t a matchup where one guy is a stud and the other is a bum. These are two very good players, but McCollum is just better, especially when you consider how the Pelicans want to build their team moving forward.


Bigger does not equal better. But when you are deciding between two guys and one guy is better AND bigger, how can you not choose that guy? McCollum is two inches and ten pounds bigger with a longer wingspan, all important things for a point guard in this new era of bigger, faster, stronger point guards. McCollum’s added size and wingspan will help him out on both ends as it will help him get into the lane on offense and prevent big point guards from posting him up or shooting over him on defense. Also, don’t underestimate the impact that 82 games has on the body. Both guys play a physical brand of basketball, so every inch and pound helps, as does the additional strength that McCollum brings to the table.


An average lane agility time for a point guard is 11.15 seconds. CJ McCollum ran 11.02, Trey Burke came in at 11.20. McCollum was slightly above average, Burke slightly below. Again, we are not talking about a stud against a bum, we are dissecting the difference between a ‘B’ and a ‘B+’. Burke is not going to be a defensive liability on most nights on the defensive end like a certain Most Improved Player runner-up, but he won’t be as good as the bigger, stronger, quicker McCollum. And again, don’t underestimate the impact added size, length, and agility has on closing out on shooters. You look at the Spurs defense and they are all about helping and rotating. The Pelicans play the same way, but unfortunately they do not have the talent to execute the defense at the same level. The bigger and more agile your defenders are, the more space they can cover. So not only does McCollum’s physical attributes help him in his man-to-man defense, but it helps the Pelicans cover more space and contest better when they rotate.


13 to 3. Now, I know that people don’t really focus on the bench press at the NBA combine, but when you are comparing two prospects, how can you overlook the fact that one guy put that bar up 13 times and the other guy just got 3? Again, we are trying to find a point guard who can get into the paint and finish. We are trying to find a point guard who can set screens and fight through traffic off the ball. Of course strength comes into play when you are asking your point guard to perform those duties.

Putting it All Together

Maybe you agree with the Pelicans philosophy of building a team like the Spurs. Maybe you don’t. But regardless of what you and I think, this is the direction they are heading and when I look around the league and see what wins nowadays, I see teams with multiple facilitators and guards adept at playing off the ball and spotting up from deep. Size, length, strength, and quickness also helps out on the defensive end. It is not the sole reason you take one guy over another, but as I have emphasized in this piece, if a guy does all the things your team wants better AND he has those measurables, how can you say no?

I am asking YOU, how can you say no? Vote CJ McCollum.



The Case for Trey Burke (Ginsberg)

Before diving into a breakdown of what makes Trey Burke such an intriguing prospect, let’s start with a quote from Conrad Kaczmarek, editor of SB Nation’s Fear the Sword and contributor to HP Basketball:

Burke is really the only guy other than Noel that I could see going first overall. He was clearly the best player in college basketball this past season and had better than expected measurements at the combine. Some people thought he wouldn’t even be 6-foot. He measured at about 6’1.5″ and had a wingspan of over 6’5″. That’s big enough for him to be considered first overall. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Orlando Magic take him if they get the first pick.

There is a ton of analysis available throughout the internet on Burke, but the quote above sums most of it up pretty perfectly. When the worst thing that people are saying about a player is that “he measured better than expected at the combine”, it’s a pretty clear indication of just how few negatives there are to his game. In fact, if you want to see just how strongly his sophomore season trumps C.J. McCollum’s, simply scroll down to the end of this post. Those two stat lines may be all the convincing that is needed.



One thing that needs to be clear before moving on: Trey Burke is NOT a poor defensive player, and the seemingly widespread assumption that he would hurt the Pelicans on that end of the court is nothing short of silly. Umair Khan of Bullets Forever gives a much more realistic breakdown of Burke’s defensive potential:

Burke should continue to add strength to an already solid frame in order to fight over screens and prevent bigger guards from posting him up. He’s improved markedly since coming to Michigan as a defender, understanding angles better and funneling his man into help. He’s also a plus rebounder due to his tough nature and tireless motor.

Given the information above as well as his impressive 6’5” wingspan and 1.6 steals per game, it is close to impossible to let Burke’s perceived defensive limitations be a reason to refrain from drafting him, especially given his tremendous potential on the offensive end of the court. It’s important to note just how much he can bring to an NBA team with the ball in his hands, as he is the most talented offensive player in this draft (yes, more talented than the one-dimensional CJ McCollum).


Statistical Dominance

Burke averaged nearly 7 assists per 36 minutes last season while maintaining an assist/turnover ratio of over 3. He sustained an unbelievably low turnover percentage (11.9%) given how much the ball was in his hands. Over the past six years, no freshman or sophomore point guard from a major conference with more than five win shares and over five assists per game turned the ball over less frequently than Burke. The closest player to him in that respect is Ty Lawson – pretty solid company. He boasted the best PER in the entire nation (including all mid-major programs) among guards who averaged at least one assist per game. He posted an effective field goal percentage of 53% and a true shooting percentage of 57% while taking over 14 shots per game; the only other freshman or sophomore guard to score with that kind of efficiency despite such a high volume since 2006 is Stephen Curry, who Burke trumps from a ball distribution perspective.


How Burke Measures Up

As I said in Burke’s first round demolition of Steven Adams, his ability to both score and distribute at an elite level while keeping his turnovers to a minimum is pretty unique. In fact, last week, Rohan over on At the Hive fantastically displayed just how spectacular Burke’s numbers were this past season in comparison to the final collegiate seasons of some of the NBA’s current elite point guards:

Burke chart*Chart courtesy of Rohan Cruyff of At the Hive (data courtesy of Draft Express; PPR = Pure Point Rating)*


How Burke Fits with the Pelicans

First, it’s important to squash the notion that Dell Demps and Monty Williams don’t think that Burke’s style of play would fit this Pelicans team. As of this past weekend, the team only had one individual player workout scheduled – Trey Burke. If the Pelicans’ brass didn’t believe in his ability to help the team, they wouldn’t have made him priority number one as far as workouts go.

 So specifically, how does he fit?

  • Pick & Roll machine. The same thing holds true for Burke as for Lillard during last year’s tenth pick tournament – utter excitement over the thought of a Burke/Davis pick & roll combo. Draft Express called Burke “arguably the best pick and roll point guard in the NCAA this season.” They went on to say “the fact that he can make shots from anywhere on the floor, find the open man instantaneously, or get to the rim makes him extremely difficult to game-plan against.” Both he and Davis are above average at their respective positions at shooting, passing, and dribbling, which provide all the tools for a devastating tandem. Better yet, the two will both enter the 2013-14 season at just 20 years of age, all of which gives plenty of reason to think that the two could dominate together in this aspect of the game for the next 10-15 years.

  • Excellence in both transition and in half court sets. Burke likes to push the tempo when he has the defense on their heels, but knows when to pull up and wait for his offense to get set (which his minuscule turnover rate suggests). His dribbling skills are incredible, as he possesses plenty of different moves (centered around his unbelievable ability to change speeds) to help him both score in transition as well as get by his man when the game slows down.

  • Not afraid to put the team on his back. So often down the stretch last season, the Hornets struggled to find that player who would step up in late game situations. With a player like Burke, a lot of those worries are alleviated. That’s not to say that he will dominate the ball and take the last shot no matter what; merely that Burke is not afraid to assume responsibility and take charge of the offense when the pressure is at its highest, as he is confident in his ability to either score or put his teammates in position to do the same.

  • Low risk. The Pelicans have built a very solid core, but to take that next step, they cannot afford any more mistakes. Though Austin Rivers did improve as last season progressed, there is no question that he has underwhelmed to this point, and the team cannot afford another disappointing draft pick. Fortunately for them, Trey Burke may be the safest pick in this entire draft. When discussing him, most draft analysts’ only wonder is whether he can become an all-star caliber point guard, not whether or not he can succeed in the NBA (most take for granted that the answer to the latter question is yes). As Jonathan Tjarks of SB Nation expressed it, “regardless of how high his ceiling is, the team that drafts Burke should have a stable presence at the point guard position for the next decade.” At this point, apart from a game-changing small forward that simply does not exist in this draft, there is no greater need for the Pelicans than that Tjarks’ description of Burke.

Why not McCollum?

This argument cannot end without explaining why drafting CJ McCollum would be a tremendous misstep by the Pelicans’ front office. Listed below are some of the main reasons why (the best of which may have been saved for last).

  • Defense. The ultimate hypocritical statement would be to select McCollum over Burke while citing Burke’s defense as the reason why, because the two are VERY similar defensively. Like Burke, they both give solid effort defensively, but don’t have that “next level” athleticism. Both players have wingspan within an inch of each other but are not super quick laterally. They both also struggle to fight through screens. The only major difference between the two is that Burke has been defending future first round picks like Michael Carter-Williams (who he held to just 2 points on 1-6 shooting and 5 turnovers in Michigan’s Final Four victory over Syracuse). McCollum has been defending guards from powerhouse programs like Fairleigh Dickinson and Quinnipac. Are those even real schools?

  • Pick & Roll difficulty. While Trey Burke thrives in pick and roll situations, McCollum tends to struggle. He struggles to make the right decision, coughing the ball up on a whopping 21.7% of possessions as the pick and roll ball-handler last season according to Draft Express despite playing against far weaker competition than Burke in the Patriot League.

  • SG skills in PG body. While he has a strong basketball IQ, McCollum fails to display many of the typical point guard attributes in his game. Unfortunately, as indicates, “at 6’3”, his primary position will need to be at the point.” This statement may need to be modified further; he could be an effective combo guard off the bench, but with his size and skill set, there is simply no place for him in any starting lineup. He doesn’t have the instincts to start at PG (2.7 assists & 2.4 turnovers per game last season) and he doesn’t have the size or defensive ability to start at SG. Jonathan Tjarks elaborates on this notion, saying “he will need to become a pass-first player to start at the next level” (something he has never shown the capacity to do), “he has much less experience running a team than either Damian Lillard or Stephen Curry” and “he has a hard time impacting the game with the ball in his hands.”

  • Finishing at the rim. McCollum has done a great job of getting to the free throw line, but with his strength of schedule, so could a lot of players. The truth lies in his field goal percentage at the rim; when defenders stay disciplined (like most will in the NBA), how did he perform? The numbers say not well. He converted just 56% of his shots near the rim this past season and only 49% the year before that (and due to his injury in his senior season, the 49% rate represents a much larger sample size). At the next level, McCollum is going to have to be able to finish at the rim consistently since he won’t earn nearly as many trips to the line, and he hasn’t shown the ability to do that.

  • Age. When push comes to shove, age is just an important of a factor as anything when evaluating a player’s draft status. McCollum has played two more college seasons than Burke, giving him what amounts to a two year head start on his development. To level the playing field, let’s compare the two players’ sophomore seasons:

    Burke: 53.0% eFG%, 37.3% AST%, 11.9% TOR, 3.02 AST/TO ratio

    McCollum: 44.7% eFG%, 15.7% AST%, 12.0% TOR, 0.75 AST/TO ratio

    The difference between those two stat lines is ENORMOUS, despite the immense difference in strength of schedule. McCollum turned the ball over more times than he assisted in his sophomore season, not to mention the ocean-sized gap in effective field goal percentage (FG% weighted for 3-point accuracy) between the two.


If this is still a debate, then there’s nothing else that can be done. Trey Burke isn’t just a better option than C.J. McCollum (and pretty obviously so); he’ll almost certainly be the best option available with that 6th pick.



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