I was looking at some stats for the team, and what stood out to me was the discrepancy between Trey Burke’s free-throw rate (.126) and Alec Burks’ (.449). Burks has a FTr1 better than 3.5x that of Burke’s. I don’t mean to harp on Burke entirely on this one, but I think noticing the discrepancy illustrates both what makes Alec Burks unique—and potentially elite in one area—and how improvement in this area could elevate a young-and-improving Trey Burke from a below-average starting point guard (according to Hollinger’s PER ratings, he’s 52 of 712) to what could be an average to above-average starting point guard.
So let’s look at some numbers and comparisons and see where each player stands.
One of the things that was so tantalizing about Alec Burks’ game his rookie season was his ability to get to the line—a skill very few rookies have to that degree. His FTr in his first season was .401, which was third on the team that year behind Enes Kanter (.445) and Derrick Favors (.436). 3
How did that FTr compare to other rookies in previous years? I was curious what superstars had as their FTr their rookie seasons: Burks’ .401 FTr was higher than Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James. Of the superstars I looked through, only Kevin Love had a higher FTr than Alec Burks in his rookie season.
Interestingly, Burks’ FTr dipped to a mere-mortal .332 in his sophomore season, possibly because opposing teams knew more what to expect, and also possibly because he was sometimes tasked at the PG position. But that doesn’t explain how he was able to increase his FTr in his third season to an incredible .449. Given the improvement he made in his game last season, I’m intrigued to see what his FTr will be in 2014. With a new-and-improved offensive system and better spacing, will Burks be given the green line to attack the rim with reckless abandon? Burks has an elite skill in his ability to get to the line; what if he became the best in league in that area?
So what about Trey Burke? He had a very solid season for a rookie point guard, especially considering he broke his index finger in the preseason. We saw how much better the team was with him running the show instead of JLIII or Tinsley. We saw how careful he was with the ball (very low turnover rate). We saw how clutch he could be. But looking at his stats, his FTr is incredibly low. If he were a poor free-throw shooter, that might be a more understandable statistic, but given that he shot 90.3% from the line last year, why not attack the basket a bit more and make the opposing team pay for it by sinking the free throws?
Admittedly, the numbers above compare Trey’s rookie season numbers to star point guard’s numbers. But I think it’s instructive to show how much an increase in FTr and TS% (which will be bumped up by an increased FTr assuming his FT% stays stellar) could go a long way in helping Trey become a much better point guard. Chris Paul, someone to whom Trey was (unfairly) compared before entering the league, has a similar build and speed to Trey, but has learned how to use his body, how to use angles, and how to use his craftiness in order to get to the line, at more than three times the rate as Burke. Steph Curry has a FTr exactly twice that of Burke, while shooting almost nearly as well from the line (88.5%). What’s impressive about that is Curry takes nearly eight three pointers a game; he spends a lot of his time outside the arc, yet still gets to the line a decent amount. Dragic also went to the line at a rate three times that of Burke, which also helped contribute to his excellent TS% (60.4%). Of the star point guards here, Tony Parker had the lowest FTr at .266, which is still more than twice that of Trey’s. Russell Westbrook, considered a top point guard by Hollinger’s PER, had a FTr nearly three times that of Burke.
This is one area in which Trey could improve pretty quickly and fairly easily. He has the handle, he has enough speed and a quick-enough first step; I’ll be interested if he can develop a craftiness and some hesitation moves, a la Chris Paul, that enable to him to throw defenders off just a split second, enough to get them to foul him. Even though it’s nitpicking one stat, I think it’s one stat which, if improved, can dramatically improve other areas of his game. And with a new coach and a new offensive system, I think it’s very possible.