Two quick fouls and he was out. It made no sense, but Michigan coach John Beilein decided his best strategy in last night's National Championship game was to sit his best player, the best player in the country according to almost any award, for the final 12 minutes of the first half against Louisville. Even after a 14-3 Cardinals' run ripped away Michigan's double-digit lead at the end of the first half, we saw no sign of Trey Burke becoming unglued from his seat. And that was where Michigan started to give the game away.
Monday night was hardly a coaching clinic put on by Beilein, but we did see some good things from Burke once he actually got the chance to play.
For some reason, Burke is slotted in that 5-10 range on most sites that project the upcoming NBA Draft. NBADraft.net has the Michigan point guard going seventh overall to the Kings. So does Draftexpress.com. So why is Burke not a consensus top-five pick?
It doesn't make loads of sense considering plenty of the teams drafting near the top could use a point guard. Even if you eliminate the Bobcats (Kemba Walker), the Suns (Goran Dragic), and the Cavs (Kyrie Irving) from the conversation, you're still left with potential top-five pickers Orlando, Detroit, and New Orleans. And really, Phoenix should be in the conversation to take a point guard if he is the best player on the board. If the Suns pass on Burke and he turns into a stud, I'm sure they won't have much fun watching Dragic and Kendall Marshall in the immediate future.
That's three (and maybe four) teams that should be actively looking for a point guard. Marcus Smart will go before Burke. That makes sense. The guy is at worst a top-three pick. He's athletic, strong, explosive, and he can defend. Throw in the fact that he's a 19-year-old freshman and teams will be - and should be - excited about him. But why Burke isn't projected to go ahead of guys like Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, and Anthony Bennett is something I don't understand.
We know Burke can run an offense. He's smart and a good decision-maker. Sure, he's small, but he has a bunch of Damian Lillard-like qualities about him. And it all comes from his shot. Defenders absolutely can't go under screens against him. It's not just about his range and his accuracy, but it's also about his quickness. Burke has one of the quickest releases on his jumper in the college game. It forces defenders to fight through screens and makes him that much more dangerous in the pick-and-roll game. See what he started to do (and what Mitch McGary started to do) once McGary got more playing time? Burke found him rolling to the hoop at will. That's no coincidence. Great pick-and-roll point guards can win in the NBA at an elite rate with that play as their bread and butter. Need proof of that? Look no further than Steve Nash or Chris Paul. Lillard is cementing that idea even more in Portland as he continues to progress throughout his rookie season.
The small point guards that don't necessarily pan out at the pro level are the ones that struggle to shoot, fully rely at finishing around the rim, and don't play particularly great defense. Look at what happened to the undersized Jonny Flynn. Flynn got plenty of points in the restricted area in his collegiate days and played in a zone that hid his defensive liabilities. Once he got to the NBA, that all changed. He couldn't finish around the rim anymore and couldn't compensate with his jumper. Meanwhile, every point guard got by him on the other end. After all that, Flynn finds himself playing in Australia only three years after he was drafted sixth overall.
But Burke isn't Flynn. Those guys don't play the same game. The quick release, the range, the defense, the intelligence; it can all project to the next level. This is a draft with flawed players. Nerlens Noel is coming off an injury. Smart still struggles to shoot. Oladipo may not be able to create his own offense. Ben McLemore disappears from games like he's the Great Houdini. Burke may be the most NBA-ready of all those guys. And in a weak class, a team that needs a point guard would be lucky to get him.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in 5th grade, but he maintains that his per 36 minutes numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at ProBasketballDraft.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com and KnickerBlogger.net. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.