Trey Burke, 6-foot-1 point guard, Michigan: The consensus national player of the year in college basketball, Burke had a banner season in leading Michigan to the national-championship game, where the Wolverines suffered a narrow loss to Louisville in a thriller. While the floor general doesn't have the size or explosive athleticism that typify many of the elite players at his position on the next level, his winning mentality, ability to perform in the clutch and heady play earned him rave reviews and initially sent his draft stock soaring. However, as Thursday's NBA Draft grows closer, questions about how well those traits will transfer to the pro game linger.
Career highlights: A lightly-regarded high school teammate of Boston Celtics rookie Jared Sullinger, the Columbus native wasn't recruited by hometown Ohio State and matriculated to its biggest rival, immediately stepping into a starting role and sharing Big Ten freshman of the year honors with Indiana's Cody Zeller by virtue of averaging 14.8 points and 4.8 assists per game, with notable outings including a 19-point, seven-assist game against Duke, a 27-point effort against Minnesota and a 20-point performance against in-state foe Michigan State before losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
After flirting with turning pro, Burke returned to Michigan and helped the program to its best season since the "Fab Five" era, with games like a 18-point, 11-assist showing against North Carolina State and 25 points and eight assists against Indiana, which led to him averaging 18.6 points and 6.7 assists on the season. The conference player of the year was even better in the postseason, going for 23 points and 10 assists in a clutch performance to beat Kansas and then scoring 24 points in the season finale.
Strengths: While Burke doesn't possess elite quickness, he changes speeds well, has the ball on the string when it's in his hands and is extremely effective in the pick-and-roll game, as he can turn the corner to make plays or knock down long-distance jumpers if his defender goes under the screen. His stature doesn't help him as a finisher in the paint, but he's clever and has an array of floaters, as well as being a creative and willing passer who can function well in both transition or against a set defense. Burke's advanced understanding of the game, toughness and refusal to shrink from the moment, regardless of situations will also aid his development, as his fearlessness will go a long way in combating his perceived physical limitations.
Weaknesses: There's nothing Burke can do about his size, but in the NBA, where he's unlikely to be his team's primary scoring option, as he was in college, he'll have to be more consistently dialed in on the defensive end of the floor with less of an offensive burden on his shoulders. Additionally, continued work on finishing over bigger defenders and adding more strength to what's already a solid frame will be crucial for him. Improving on what's considered to be average athleticism is relative in a league full of explosive players, so if he can learn the tricks of the trade and prove to be a mature leader from the outset of his professional career, it will help make up for his deficiencies.
Draft projection: Burke was previously rumored to be a candidate to be selected as early as the second overall pick and is generally viewed as a potential choice for teams in the top half of the lottery, although recent scuttlebutt around the league has him sliding past that range. Regardless of whether or not he's the best point-guard prospect in this draft, Burke should have a very productive career and depending on where he lands, there's no reason to believe that he won't be a long-term starter immediately. What he lacks in physical tools, which is perhaps a bit overblown, he makes up for in savvy, skill and heart, all key elements to success and characteristics that might not make him a superstar, but should ensure success.