As basketball gets more complicated, it also gets simpler.
Today's NBA is about efficiency. It's about numbers. It's about shot quality. The days of the isolation point guard are gone, probably never to be heard from again.
Stephon Marbury likely would never exist in the NBA in 2014. Or at least his career would've had quite the different trajectory had he been born 15 years later. You could say the same thing about Allen Iverson, who might still be a gunner if he played a decade later, but would definitely be somewhat different in some sense of the word. The gunners are gone, and the league is starting to condense to form different roles that players, depending on talent and mental capacity, can fit into well.
In some ways, the league is so simplistic now. You don't have nearly as much isolation. You don't have as much complication. You don't have offenses running around like five chickens with five heads cut off, not knowing where to go. Each team has a few, simplified bread-and-butter plays and that's where they tend to live. And now, in today's NBA, so much of offense is based on the pick-and-roll.
That's where Utah Jazz rookie point guard Trey Burke enters the picture.
After missing the first few weeks of his first NBA season, Burke has hit his stride of late. Over his last eight games, the rookie is averaging 16.0 points and 5.3 assists in 32.4 minutes a night. He's doing all that on 43-percent shooting and 39-percent three-point shooting. And when it comes to Burke, it's all about his shot. Not necessarily about his accuracy. Not necessarily about his range. But more about the speed of his release.
One of the reasons a talented point guard like Ricky Rubio sometimes struggles as much as he does isn't only because of the accuracy on his shot but also because of the speed of his load. When he brings the ball up to his head to shoot, it's a slow, thought-about process. It takes a while – and it doesn't usually go in, and because of that, Rubio's shot affects his passing lanes.
Rubio can find anyone at any moment. He should be one of the best pick-and-roll point guards in the world because of that. But he's not. And that's because defenders won't go over a screen against him. Every time, it's under, under, under. He's not the worst three-point shooter in the league (though he is truly awful from mid-range), but defenses are fine going under the screen knowing Rubio's slow release will give the defender enough time to show some semblance of a closeout by the time the ball leaves the point guard's hands.
Burke is on the opposite end of the spectrum.
His release is quick, concise and deliberate. He's got some Damian Lillard in him in that sense. If you go under a screen against Lillard, he's going to shoot, and he's going to shoot every single time. He'll make you pay, and because of that, defenses never try to go under screens against him anymore. Maybe there are times when they have to do it, but there aren't any times when they want to do it. Now, Burke is starting to garner that sort of respect.
Mainly, that's because of plays like this one late in the fourth quarter of a tie game against the Charlotte Bobcats. Kemba Walker goes under a Derrick Favors screen, Al Jefferson commits his usual I-have-no-idea-how-to-defend-this mistake, and Burke gets left open for a three:
Those sorts of plays are going to happen – and that wasn't even a particularly great screen from Favors (granted, Jefferson's faux defense was…um…not preferable). At this point, it's not about makes and misses for Burke. It's about process. Though the makes are always nice, as long as Burke can be quick with smart shots, he's going to build up a comfort level shooting as a pick-and-roll ball handler. That's his future. That will be one of his main strengths. So the Jazz can't be upset with misses, as long as they're good misses, like on this end-of-the-shot-clock play against the Milwaukee Bucks from Thursday night:
That attempt just didn't go in the hoop. But that's fine. It was a good look from Burke, one that will start to go in as he continues to improve. He read the floor, let the screen come, didn't panic with only a few ticks left on the red clock, and fired an eventual good look. Down the line, he's going to be able to create that shot almost whenever he wants. That's when he'll be able to live off his release, which, as quick as it can be, still isn't all the way there. For example, at the end of the first quarter in a December game against the Houston Rockets, Aaron Brooks goes under a screen, and Burke pulls up for a three. Over a solid closeout from Omri Casspi, Burke hits the shot. But in shooting after a slow gather, that's not the quickest release we should see from him.
The confidence is there. The decision making is there. The skills are there. Now, they all just need to become a little more consistent from night to night. All Burke needs is to hone those traits a little more. But that's fine. He's a rookie – and he's allowed to play like a rookie.
We're not yet at the point when Burke is fully effective shooting out of the pick-and-roll. But so far, he's been solid enough. Rating by points per play, he currently sits as the 43rd-most effective scorer as a pick-and-roll ball handler, according to MySynergySports.com. Soon though, he'll be doing what Lillard does. Every time someone goes under a screen against him, he's going to jack up and make those shots. Every single time.