When Trey Burke came to Utah, he brought with him a lot of expectations. Any former NCAA National Player of the Year is bound to make some kind of impact on his new NBA home before even stepping onto the practice court, and Burke did just that. Burke entered an NBA town that hadn’t seen good point guard play since Deron Williams was traded for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, and draft picks. For a fanbase that’s been desperate for an answer in the backcourt, Burke seemed like just the player Jazz fans had been waiting for.
Even though Burke is on the short end of the point guard spectrum, 6’1″, he’s still been able to work his way right to the top of rookie of the year talks, beating out Michael Carter-Williams at this point in time as the favorite to win the award. Obviously, as with any rookie, certain aspects of Burke’s game need work. Defensively, he’s going to have to learn how to cut off defenders and work harder to stay in front of them. His defense (which is great at this point, he’s much better defensively now than I thought he would be) is the only part of Burke’s game that you can honestly say isn’t up to par with where a rookie of his caliber should be.
Offensively, Burke has been the solution to the Jazz’s problems. After a few years of backcourts with Harris, Mo Williams, Randy Foye, Earl Watson, and Jamaal Tinsley, Burke has taken Salt Lake City by storm. He’s breathed new life into an offense that went entirely through Al Jefferson and the left block before major lineup changes were made this off-season.
In a recent post, I touched on a few of Burke’s assist numbers. Burke sports a 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, a dip in this stat due to an uncharacteristic 13 turnovers in 2 games last week, but has been sitting at 3.75 for most of the season. At 5.1 assists per game, and only 1.8 turnovers, Burke is doing excellent for a rookie. However, thanks to the new data available from SportVU, we can look even deeper into Burke’s passing game, and really get a feel for just how well he’s doing.
One of the best things about these new SportVU stats is that they do what traditional measurements sometimes don’t – they help support the eyeball test. Sometimes, a player can just step onto the court and his presence alone makes his teammates better. LeBron James is a phenomenal example of this – the Miami Heat just look better when James is playing. Fans and analysts alike can see this effect, but traditional statistics don’t always support certain claims that are made.
The new “secondary assist” stat illustrates this point perfectly. A secondary assist is when a player makes a pass to another player who then gets an assist on a made bucket. It’s basically a “hockey assist.” How many times do we see James, Kevin Durant or Paul George set up teammates in this way? Analysts and fans will always laud them for helping create spacing and open the floor up for more opportunities, but now we have actual data to prove that what we’re seeing – the eyeball test – is actually happening, and that it can be measured.
This applies directly to Burke because Utah looks leaps and bounds better when he’s running the offense. Burke averages 5.1 assists on 10.8 assist opportunities per game, which means that Burke is able to get an assist 47.2% of the times when he has an opportunity to rack up the dimes. With the Jazz making 35.4 field goals per game, Burke assists on exactly 16.7% of every made field goal.
While being directly responsible for less than 1/5th of his team’s total made buckets may not seem too impressive, look at some of the other stellar floor generals in the NBA before passing judgment on Burke.
Chris Paul, largely regarded as the premier point guard in the league, averages 11.3 assists per game on 21.1 assist opportunities. Paul gets an assist on 53.5% of his opportunities, and with the Clippers making 38 shots a night, Paul is directly responsible for 20.3% of his team’s made field goals.
Tony Parker, a player to whom Burke has drawn comparisons, notches an assist on 45.8% of his opportunities. The Spurs are one of the best shooting teams in the NBA, making 40.8 field goals every night. That makes Parker responsible for 18.6% of every made field goal that San Antonio puts through the nylon.
Parker is an international star and has played alongside a future hall of fame forward in Tim Duncan. Paul, before joining the Clippers, was able to rack up very respectable assist numbers as mostly a one-man show in New Orleans for years. These two guards are very good at what they do, and have set themselves apart in the NBA as really the gold standard for point guards.
Burke, at 21 years old and not even playing every game in his rookie season, is doing some things that are just absolutely incredible. It’s no secret that the Jazz aren’t a great field goal shooting team. Utah is tied for 28th worst in the league with the Milwaukee Bucks. However, Burke gets an assist on 47.2% of his chances as compared to Parker, who gets 45.8%. This is especially interesting because the Spurs shoot 48.5% from the field, as compared to Utah’s 43.1%. So even with teammates who shoot better as a collective group, Parker is taking less advantage of his opportunities to set his teammates up than Burke.
The job of a point guard is to set up his teammates in a way so that they have the best opportunity to score. While the Jazz are still shooting a poor percentage, it’s very obvious that Burke is doing his job well. Not only is his performance easy to see on the court, it’s now backed up by some new and interesting data.
Burke still has a long way to go if he wants to reach elite levels in the league, but as of right now, his performance is solid and leaps and bounds ahead of most rookie point guards.