Sixth Pick Tournament Semi-Finals: Trey Burke vs. Alex Len (Part II)

By:
Published: June 20, 2013

Part One featured opening arguments (in incredible rap battle style) for each prospect. Part two features a more comprehensive, detailed analysis and gives you the chance to vote for who you think should make it to the finals of the sixth pick tournament. 

The Case for Trey Burke (Mason)

The big guns came out last week as Trey Burke took down C.J. McCollum in the second round of this tournament. Almost everything that anyone would need to know in regards to why there is no better pick for the Pelicans than Mr. Burke can be found by simply following that link. I’ll rehash the most essential points in a bit, but what’s most important first is to explain why drafting Len could be a franchise crippling mistake.

  • Injury Risk. This concern should by far be the most off-putting one for NBA teams. Len recently had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his ankle, sidelining him for up to six months. Though never quite this serious, ankle injuries have been a common theme for Len according to NBADraft.net. As has been seen plenty of times in the past, ankle and foot injuries are very scary problems, especially for seven footers. It’s difficult to look at his injury woes and not think about someone like Yao, whose career was drastically shortened as a result.

  • Inability to create for himself. While Len is a strong offensive rebounder, he isn’t someone who you can just give the ball to in the post and expect him to score routinely. He doesn’t have a strong post game, and he’s no better facing the rim, either. According to Synergy Sports, he was a pretty average scorer in the post against single coverage, which is far from ideal for a guy who people hope will become an all-star caliber center.

  • Limited range. If Len and Davis were to make up the Pelicans’ starting front court, you can expect Davis to be the screener in a large majority of these plays, because Len is limited to only finishing at the rim. He doesn’t have much range on his jumper, so he’ll really struggle to stretch the defense even as much as Robin Lopez did for the Hornets last season.

  • Weak lower body. Though he has strong shot blocking skills, Len doesn’t have a very strong base, which will allow bigger opponents to back him down in the paint fairly easily. This weakness could also explain why he was a much better offensive rebounder than defensive rebounder, as match-ups were often able to achieve better position with their core strength advantage.

  • Laziness in the paint. All too often, Len appears to think that his sheer size edge will be all he needs to succeed around the rim, especially from a rebounding perspective. Even if his strength weren’t a concern, he would still have to be physical in order to pull down as many boards and be as dominant on defense as he should. Playing in this way is often a motor issue and not something that can be taught; Len may be an exception, but it’s not a gamble worth taking.

  • Struggles to draw fouls. This past season, Len averaged just 4 free throws per game, a pretty disappointing number given his size and agility. For comparison’s sake, Cody Zeller averaged nearly twice as many free throws per game (7.2) despite just three more minutes played. Most dominant offensive big men are good at getting to the free throw line, which is a skill that Len simply does not possess.

Len certainly has his positives, and the upside is there, but there are just too many inherent risks associated with drafting him to be comfortable doing so with the sixth overall pick.

None of the previously mentioned risks about Len are present in his semi-finals opponent. Trey Burke is one of the safest picks in the draft, almost certain to be no worse than a solid starting PG for years to come. So why does he make the most sense for the Pelicans?

  • Care for the basketball. One of the most incredible things about Burke was the amount of ways in which he could positively impact a game (frequently against stellar competition) while keeping his turnover rate so amazingly low. Most guys like that take a lot of chances, so even the best get burned sometimes. Not Trey. His control of the ball and the whole game is unbelievable, and he’s a guy that can be completely trusted as a team’s floor general. He had an assist/turnover ratio of over 3!
  • Measurables. If Tuesday’s rap battle was any indication, Michael will likely harp heavily on Burke’s lack of size. Listen, the guy measured in at 6 foot 1 ½ inches at the combine and he has a 6’5” wingspan. Those measurements are totally fine for a point guard in the NBA. In fact,  the heights of the starting point guards of the other Southwest Division teams last year are 6’0” (Collison – DAL), 6’1” (Conley – MEM), 6’2” (Parker – SA), and 6’3” (Jeremy Lin – HOU). Would Burke’s height really be a detriment against any of those guys?

  • Pick & Roll with Anthony Davis. Absolute devastation for opponents for years to come, since neither one of those guys can even legally drink alcohol yet. Putting the best pick and roll point guard in the NCAA last season with one of the most athletic big men in the NBA will be really dangerous, sure to go places Greivis and AD never could.

  • Low risk meets great need. As noted above, Burke is quite possibly the only pick in this draft that will guarantee a team a starting caliber player for an extended period of time. While a couple others may have more upside, every single other guy has bigger question marks than Burke. As it so happens, the Pelicans are still looking for their point guard of the future (even if Rivers keeps improving, it is unlikely that he will ever fill that role), and Burke is the guy for the job. Trey puts up big numbers, his team wins games, and he doesn’t get hurt. In its simplest form, what else is really necessary?

 

Again, for more on Burke, my piece on the second round victory over C.J. McCollum will tell you everything you need to know. That being said, here’s the bottom line – when the core of an argument for not drafting a player is solely connected to his size while ignoring everything he has already accomplished on the basketball court, it’s really shouldn’t even be taken seriously. Burke is a stud, and he’s proved it with his all around game consistently. Passing on him for a raw seven footer with lingering ankle problems wouldn’t just be a mistake; it would be asinine.

The Case for Alex Len (Pellissier)

The easiest trap to fall into as a Pelicans fan is comparing Trey Burke to Chris Paul, because their descriptions are so similar: quick, undersized guards with a penchant for balancing scoring and facilitating. Competitors. Winners. But are these comparisons a product of talent similarities, or our experience with Paul in New Orleans?

Here is a screenshot of a list of strengths from DraftExpress. Read them and try to figure out whether the player being described is Chris Paul or Trey Burke. Don’t cheat!

Burke

 

Answer: Neither! That was a list of strengths for DJ Augustin, and they are eerily similar to the descriptions of Paul and Burke coming out of college. In fact, let’s take a look at a table comparing some guards and their athletic scores/sizes at the combine.

Player Burke Augustin Paul TJ Ford
Height w/o Shoes 5′ 11.75″ 5′ 10″ 5′ 11.75″ 5′ 11″
Height w/shoes 6′ 1.25″ 5′ 11.5″ 6′ 1″ 6′ 0.25″
Weight 187 172 178 162
Wingspan 6′ 5.5″ 6′ 3.5″ 6′ 4.25″ 5′ 11.5″
Standing Reach 8′ 1.5″ 7′ 10.5″ 7′ 9″ 7′ 9.5″
Body Fat 6.9 8.1 N/A 6.7
No Step Vert 29.5 28.5 32.0 32.5
Max Vert 36.5 35.0 38.0 39.5
Bench Press 3 2 10 N/A
Lane Agility 11.20 11.27 11.09 11.45
3/4 Court Sprint 3.16 3.07 3.22 3.20

 

All of these players were fantastic in college, but the NBA is a different animal, and size concerns are, well, concerning. Augustin still hasn’t panned out and Ford is out of the league. “But Burke was player of the year! That won’t happen to him.” Well, here is a list of the 10 players who preceded Burke as Naismith winners.

Year Player School Position Class
2003 T. J. Ford Texas Guard Sophomore
2004 Jameer Nelson Saint Joseph’s Guard Senior
2005 Andrew Bogut Utah Center Sophomore
2006 J. J. Redick Duke Guard Senior
2007 Kevin Durant Texas Forward Freshman
2008 Tyler Hansbrough North Carolina Forward Junior
2009 Blake Griffin Oklahoma Forward Sophomore
2010 Evan Turner Ohio State Guard Junior
2011 Jimmer Fredette Brigham Young Guard Senior
2012 Anthony Davis Kentucky Center Freshman
2013 Trey Burke Michigan Guard Sophomore

 

There is a trend from this table. Besides Evan Turner, all of the athletically gifted/properly sized players (in green) have made excellent transitions to the NBA. But take a closer look at the guards, and you’ll notice another trend: the ones whose athleticism or size were underwhelming haven’t been stars in the NBA. This kind of data must not be used as a damning and final criticism of Burke, but rather, it should be used to illustrate that amazing college production doesn’t always translate. I would be a fool to say Burke won’t be good in the NBA because Ford busted, Augustin hasn’t panned out, etc. Each player is a unique case, and there is value in grabbing a player like Redick, who is an excellent role player. But Chris Paul was a super-special talent, and you shouldn’t assume that Burke will be the same kind of player just because they have similarities.

Know who else had an amazing will to win? Tyler Hansbrough. Hansbrough averaged 20 points and 9 rebounds in college, was a consensus All-American three times, won AP Player of the Year, Naismith College Player of the Year, and also won a national title. Now? He’s coming off the bench for the Indiana Pacers. He brings value to their team, sure, but he isn’t a star player, and it’s not because he’s not a “winner” or because “he doesn’t want it more than the other guy.” Hansbrough seemingly has a bloody nose every game. He hustles and sacrifices his body every minute he’s on the floor. He’s not a star because the competition he’s facing is so talented. 

The NBA is absolutely stacked at point guard right now. In no particular order, here are some of the players Burke will be facing if he’s a starter: Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Tony Parker, Mike Conley, John Wall, Ty Lawson, and Kyle Lowry. These guys can all flat-out play, and there are plenty of other solid point guards out there as well. Most of these guys are also still very young. Next year’s draft crop will likely bring Marcus Smart and Andrew Harrison into the fold as well. NBA Draft analysts aren’t even sure that, in what many consider a weak draft, Trey Burke is the best point guard.. and you expect him to blow away the NBA against the aforementioned players?

Look, I like Burke. He’s a smart, skilled, and quick guard, and there is absolutely value in his skill sets. He will have a place in this league. But if you are expecting a perennial All-Star, I suggest you adjust your expectations, because I don’t see it happening. The level of competition at point guard is just too stiff, and with the #6 pick, I want a difference-maker.

The Solution

Enter Alex Len, whom the Cleveland Cavaliers are rumored to be considering at the number 1 spot. I already pointed out last article that Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress has Len at #1 in his rankings. He might not even be there if we draft, but if he is (and that’s the point of this tournament!!!!!!!), I think it’s imperative that we take him. Here’s why.

1. Monty loves him. You don’t have to watch his interview from the workout that closely to notice that Monty Williams is infatuated with the idea of drafting Alex Len. I have said this time and time again: Len needs polish, but he is ahead of the curve. Williams reinforces this by saying:

“I like him on film, though. That’s what I tend to- I know more about him as a player just watching him on film- he can do a lot of stuff on the floor that a lot of young bigs can’t at this point in their career. ”

2. Size

I’ve said it in previous articles: if you are 7’1 and have long arms, you can impact the game around the rim on defense. Some of the best shot-blockers in the NBA are average or poor athletes (Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert), but they have considerable size, and that allows them to alter shots at the rim.

3. Ability to defend the perimeter

This is the quality Len possesses that makes him so rare. Small-ball is effective because behemoth centers are very rarely capable of defending away from the basket. Len slides well laterally, can hedge on pick and rolls, and can still recover to the basket quickly.

4. Here’s a video that showcases a lot of things Len is able to do, and I have a few remarks right under the video that you should consider while viewing it. I marked the times, and barring some strange inconsistency in the video, you should be able to find the occurrences.

0:33- dribbles right, defender overplays right hand, so Len spins/dunks.
1:05- puts ball on the floor versus James McAdoo, a 6’8 tweener forward known for his quickness. McAdoo is an NBA-quality athlete.
1:56- immediately recognizes double-team, hits open shooter on the opposite side of the court.
2:05- again gets doubled, passes out of post to open shooter
2:18- catches ball over Nerlens Noel, one dribble to spin, finishes with soft touch. Notice how quickly he executes the spin. Few 7 footers can move like that. It requires a level of coordination, fluidity, and quickness that most guys his size don’t have.

2:35- signature Tim Duncan bank shot.
2:39- again, a signature Tim Duncan move.

It is very clear that he has taken things from Duncan’s game and tried to emulate them. I’m not saying Len is Duncan 2.0, but the fact that Len is already working on those facets of his game excites me. When asked who he’d compare himself to, he responded: “I actually don’t like to compare myself to anyone. But I really like watching what Tim Duncan is doing right now.” Expectations must be realistic, and Len has work to do in order to polish his game, but he’s got an excellent skill level for someone his size and age.

5. “..but Len can’t contribute right away!”
This is a misconception. Athletic bigs who can finish at the rim can fit on offense. Andre Drummond made 29% of his free throws in college and can’t hit a jumper to save his life, yet he just averaged 14 points per 36 minutes in his rookie season in the NBA. Len is not as athletic as Drummond, but he has a far superior touch and is big enough to do the same sort of offensive duties. The Pelicans use the pick and roll frequently, and Len has the size, mobility, and athleticism to step in right away and contribute in that area.

Here are Drummond’s stats in his year at UConn versus Alex Len’s from last season at the University of Maryland via Hoop-Math.

Player FGA TS% %Shots at Rim FG% at Rim %Asst’d at Rim    FTA/FGA FT%
Andre Drummond 280 0.507              68%          67%               64%        0.31 30%
Alex Len 272 0.562              54%          73%               63%        0.46 69%

 

6. “He’s not aggressive enough!”

Len’s Maryland teammates didn’t feed him the ball, but from the games I saw, he was working hard to get good position in the post, and when he didn’t get the ball, he didn’t mope, he went to go set a screen. Len is not a diva and he works hard. If his guards don’t feed him the ball, it’s not his fault. It’s not like he can take the ball up the floor himself. I’m more concerned with whether he’s working hard, and he was.

Conclusion

I don’t think Burke will be a bad NBA player by any means, but the CP3 comparisons have to stop. College basketball is a much different game, and Burke is more like Cliff Paul than Chris Paul. I think that Alex Len is a perfect fit next to Anthony Davis: he can protect the rim, rebound, run the floor, and finish at the rim. He also shows promise in his mid-range jumper and should be able to stretch the floor with a little polish.

..and finally, here is a GIF I made from Dell Demps’ interview during the workout. The transition from smile to frown comes when a reporter asks him about Burke. Okay, so actually, it just happens because he knows he can’t talk about what he thinks of Burke during the interview. I just thought it was funny how quickly his face changed.

output_NMNKv7

 

[polldaddy poll=7191926]

47 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.