Sixth Pick Tournament Round One: Trey Burke vs. Steven Adams

Published: June 5, 2013

Mason Ginsberg and Nick Lewellen represent Michigan point guard Trey Burke and Pittsburgh center Steven Adams in round one of the Sixth Pick Tournament.

The Case for Steven Adamas (Lewellen)

STOP! Well, I may have caught some of you, but the reality is that probably more than half of you clicked on this article, immediately scrolled to the bottom, and voted Burke. You can do whatever you want and going with Burke isn’t a bad choice. My only problem with that is I don’t think most of you know Steven Adams as well as you should to make that choice. A month or two ago there would have been no point in me writing this article, but Steven is starting to shoot up draft boards after having a strong combine and exceeding expectations on team visits. While that may not be enough to change your vote, let me try to change it by telling you why Steven Adams should be the first draft pick ever made by the New Orleans Pelicans.

Size and Athleticism

Adams measured at 7 feet, 250 pounds with a 7 feet 4.5 inch wingspan at the combine. That is legit NBA size, but his most impressive attribute may be his all around athleticism. He showed tremendous ability to run the floor at Pittsburgh, and he seems to be that rare big man who looks confortable in open space on the fast break. He is quick for his size and has the ability to play well above the rim. I could go in to more detail about his soft hands or high motor, but let’s just all agree he has elite size and athleticism for an NBA center.

Skill Set

First off, Adams is raw and don’t believe anyone who tells you anything different. He could go to a free throw clinic hosted by Shaq and learn something. This really dragged down his offensive efficiency. He shot a great 57 percent from the filed, but he only managed 44 percent from the line. His post game, or offensive game in general, is not as developed as you would typically like from a lottery level prospect. At this point in a guy’s career there can only be a couple of reasons for his skill set being less developed than it should. In my opinion, Adams falls in the “didn’t play against a high level of competition for most of his life” category, not the “he doesn’t work hard” category. He has a high motor and is often praised for his “blue collar” style (I mean he is Scalabrine approved). That means with the right coaching he will improve, and we don’t have to worry about an “I’m country strong” situation.

It isn’t all bad news, though. Adams is already a great shot blocker (averaged 2.0 BPG in only 23.4 MPG) and rebounder, especially on the offensive end (2.8 ORB per game, 6.3 Total, and a total rebound percentage of 19.2%). Really most of his touches on offense were a result of his solid offensive rebounding. Honestly, Adams’ numbers may have been better had he played more. Pitt saw him as a project player they’d have for a couple of years. Adams fully expected to return for his sophomore season, until he took a trip home to New Zealand. He came back saying that he needed to help his family and declared for the draft.

Interestingly, reports from the combine and his visit to the Celtics have said he may have a larger offensive skill set than he showed at Pitt. claims that he is a “humble kid”, who needs to learn to take control on offense more. Considering the AAU culture most of these prospects developed in, the idea of a humble workhorse on an NBA team is very appealing to me.  Also, the idea he doesn’t have an offensive game is a bit exaggerated to me. He already runs the floor well and is a solid scorer in transition. He shot a solid 83% in transition, according to Again, his scoring numbers would have certainly been stronger if he played or was feature more. He was responsible for only 11% of his team’s overall possessions.

Really, everything Adams gives you on offense is just icing on the cake. His real value is on the defensive end. He is quick and mobile, and he plays the pick and roll well. Even when he is beat by his man, he is athletic enough to recover and make a play on the ball. This lessens the responsibility of the help defender on the other side.

The reality is that Adams has a way to go, but has all of the skills and work ethic to become a solid NBA player with the right coaching and sufficient time to develop.

Fit with the Pelicans

In my opinion, every move the Pelicans consider making from now on should first begin by answering two questions, how does this effect things with 1) Anthony Davis and 2) our young core overall?

1)    We have time for him to develop – If we were making a championship run in the next 2 to 3 years, there is no way Adams should be on our radar. But we aren’t even close. We have time to let him develop, before we need him to become a major contributor.

2)    Takes defensive workload off of Davis – If you agree with me, you think that Anthony Davis has a great deal of potential on the offensive end of the floor. A lot of people seem him as just a defensive stopper, but I think he could develop into a premier scoring big. Having another defensive minded big like Adams will allow Davis to focus more on the offensive end and not be the sole defensive post player on our team.

3)    He’s a Monty type player – Monty Williams has a type, and we all know it. He likes defense first players, hard workers, and guys who play hard. I’d say that Steven Adams qualifies for all three, which means he will actually see the floor and improve.  

4)    Let’s go big – Professional sports are an evolutionary game in many ways. This means that when one team has success with a strategy, like playing a smaller and faster lineup, some teams will follow. It is worth taking the time to explain in detail, but the NBA is monkey see monkey do league. The best way to exploit those changes in strategy is to go opposite of the heard and take the approach that will dominate. Look how much success Indiana is having these playoffs with their dominant frontcourt. Why not try to replicate the same thing here?

Final Word

It would be crazy for me to argue Adams is better player than Burke. What wouldn’t be so crazy would be for me to suggest that Adams is a better fit than Burke and might have more potential. Burke is an undersized scoring point guard, who struggles a bit on defense. He also doesn’t have the absolute elite speed you’d want from a guy with his size on an NBA team. Burke has a lot of heart, tenacity, and the offensive skills, but his defense and athleticism should be a concern for the Pelicans or for any team that has Monty Williams, one of the most defensive mind coaches in the NBA, leading the way. For those who actually read this before voting, I’m proud of you.  I’m sure I couldn’t convince all of you to go against the status quo, but hopefully I convinced enough you to at least considering thinking about this matchup.

The Case for Trey Burke (Ginsberg)

Poor Steven Adams. After seeing his name in this tournament, only one word comes to mind – why? The Pelicans are picking 6th, not 15th. Not a single mock draft from any of the most prominent NBA Draft analysis sites has Adams getting drafted any higher than 12th to the Thunder. On the flip side, none of those mock drafts have Trey Burke falling out of the top 10. There are a myriad of reasons to opt for Burke over Adams than that one, but it’s pretty clear given that data that none of the NBA draft analysts would have much to think about if given a choice between the two. If the Pelicans acquire a pick in the mid-teens, then Adams can be introduced into the conversation, but not a second before.

Since it’s really not worth breaking out the big guns for this early round match-up, let’s just briefly review why Burke is pretty much a lock to be drafted in the top 10.

  • Versatility. One of the reasons that Burke is such a special player is that he doesn’t bring just one elite skill to the table. Since the 1997-98 season, there have only been two NCAA guards to average at least 6.5 assists per game and less than 2.5 turnovers per game while making at least 80% of his free throws and at least 38% of his 3-pointers. Those two players are Ty Lawson and Trey Burke. This versatility is also displayed in a broader perspective via his excellent standing in the win shares department. In that same time span, only three guards have posted higher win share totals – Stephen Curry (twice), Jon Scheyer, and Kemba Walker.

  • “Chris Paul-esque” drive. There are so many different things that can be said to compliment Burke’s attitude and competitiveness, so in order to avoid being too long-winded, comparing him to CP3 in this regard should suffice. The guy is a natural born leader who never backs down from a challenge, as the past NCAA tournament showed everyone who was paying even the slightest bit of attention. There are many players at both the college and professional level who give varying degrees of effort in each game; with Burke, that effort and motor are never a question.

  • Measurements. There have been very few knocks to Burke’s game, but one potential concern was his size. At 6’1½”, he is considered slightly undersized by some for even the point guard position. For perimeter defense, however, wingspan is typically the more essential asset than vertical length, and Burke does not disappoint in that respect. His most recent wingspan measurement came in at 6 feet 5½ inches; to compare, Michigan teammate Tim Hardaway Jr. is a full 5 inches taller than him, but possesses only a 1½ inch edge in wingspan. In a nutshell, this isn’t a feature that will blow anyone away, but an area in which Burke is much better equipped for the next level than people give him credit for. If one of his few “negatives” isn’t even really a negative, then what’s not to like?

So why not Adams with the 6th pick? It’s pretty simple, really. Fran Fraschilla broke it down pretty well in one of ESPN’s 5-on-5 discussion columns last week. When asked which player is the biggest project, he replied with Adams, explaining “his overall game is going to be a work in progress for a while” and “his inexperience and lack of feel for the game will take a while for him to overcome.” A player who is drafted sixth overall is not someone who should have a “lack of feel for the game” or be “a work in progress for a while.”

This is not to say that the player who the Pelicans draft must be able to contribute immediately, but someone who is clearly this far off from being a relevant NBA player does not provide the type of value that rookie contracts can typically give a team. Some of the best bargains in the NBA (Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, etc.) are the product of the rookie contract pay scale. If Adams doesn’t really start coming along until the back end of that first contract, then he loses a great deal of his value. As the first round progresses, the scale begins to tip more in his favor, but sixth would be far too high to take a gamble like that with far surer bets (such as Burke) available.

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For previous matchups in the Sixth Pick Tournament, click here.


  1. Pingback: Sixth Pick Tournament Round Two: CJ McCollum vs. Trey Burke | New Orleans Pelicans |

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