Thursday, March 22, 2012

Good Times, Bad Times

Michigan basketball circa 2008-2012: intermittent hope and despair

For the second year in a row, Michigan faces the possibility of losing its floor general. Morris and Burke have been the Lewis and Clark of the hardwood, blazing new trails of achievement heretofore unknown in my lifetime. On their backs, the Michigan basketball program was able to crawl out of the chaotic primordial soup of untapped evolutionary potential in which it laid mired for so long. Although it seems "unfair," as if this is happening to us at a seemingly disproportionate rate, there's an obvious explanation for this perception: Michigan just hasn't been good enough to be in this sort of a position until now. The world of modern college basketball is a double-edge sword at its soul; a certain level of success ends up being a sort of punishment, not unlike a professional team existing in the no man's land between "teams that totally tanked" and "legitimate contenders."

The situation is a little more dire this time around. In its attempts to replace Morris this past season, Michigan at the very least had the option of playing a freshman Burke (in addition to Douglass, who was an unspectacular but obviously capable ball handler). The options for a Burke-less 2012-13 season are seemingly non-existent at the moment. Stu is gone and the little-used Brundidge is transferring, leaving a true freshman Stauskas as a potential ball handler (a guy who isn't a point like Stu wasn't one), a walk-on Eso Akunne, and Amedeo Della Valle, who is listed as a PG on Rivals and a SG on Scout, and, you know, hasn't committed to Michigan yet. Needless to say, a Burke departure would foment a RUN TO THE HILLS scenario.

With all of that said, this moment was inevitable. As the season wound down, it was difficult not to acknowledge the possibility of a Morris Redux situation; Trey wasn't going to not take a look. Burke is in the awkward but tantalizing place known as "being good enough to consider leaving but perhaps not good enough to be a first rounder." With the April 10th deadline fast approaching, this may be a pointless exercise, but here are the reasons why Burke might and/or should return for an encore:
  • Burke's father claims that he's received reports of Trey going anywhere from 18-24 in the draft. Of course, this does not jibe with most mock drafts, which leads one to fill in the blanks and assume that said reports are coming from the typically nefarious Wormtongue-ish sorts that are ruining college basketball (i.e. agents and other assorted shady dudes). Looking at the standings as they are, the 18-24 spots would be occupied by, as of Tuesday
    • Denver--With Ty Lawson entrenched there, Trey's definitely not looking at competing for a starting spot here. Darius Morris's supposed YMRMFRSPA, Andre Miller, is going to be an UFA next season, so Trey could be a solid backup here, but do they want another short point guard on their roster? 
    • Golden State--This could actually be an option, as GS only seems to have 3 pure guards, period: Stephen Curry, little-used rookie Charles Jenkins, and Klay Thompson, who is 6'7''. With the way that the Warriors like to run, I'm not sure this is a good fit for Trey, though. 
    • Philadelphia--Jrue Holliday is a very solid young player, who also happens to be 6'4''...another backup at best situation here. 
    • Houston--Kyle Lowry has come into his own the last couple of his seasons; he's averaging 16 ppg, 5 rpg, and 7 apg. He's also signed through the 2013-14 season. Goran Dragic is a solid young player off the bench who seems to have gotten better and better as this season has gone on, although I'm admittedly not familiar enough with his game to know if he's actually a 1 or if he's the standard NBA combo guard. 
    • Indiana--Darren Collison is a similarly small PG so I'm not sure that the Pacers want a second guy like that. Plus, Collison has shot better from three this year (39%) than Burke did this season in Ann Arbor (35%), while also being a better defender. 
    • Memphis--Mike Conley's contract was somewhat inexplicably at the time extended by 5 years in 2010, but he has since definitely earned that extension. Backup situation. 
    • Boston--Despite some rumors that Rondo might be dealt, he's still there...Trey's probably not unseating him.  
With a little less than 20 games to go, the standings will probably be shaken up to some degree, but probably not in any significant way. Either way, the board as it stands is not too inviting if Trey wants a good shot at starting/going in the first round. 
  • Of course, Darius Morris's NBA career thus far could end up serving as a cautionary tale that Burke seriously considers when making his decision. While Trey is a better college player than Morris was, being 5'11'' and not being truly exceptional in some other aspects of his game do not help his NBA resume. 
  • Re: the height factor, players have made it in the league while not being tall...it's just that they all do other things really well to make up for it. For instance, a guy like Darren Collison is: lightning quick, a very good defender, and a very solid 3-point shooter. Burke is not a transcendent athlete or 3-point shooter, and it's been proven that he can be pushed around on the pick and roll (also known as basically the only "offense" NBA teams deign to run). Odds are he isn't getting any taller, but if he can get a little stronger via another year of collegiate S&C and up his 3-point percentage, he becomes a desirable pick in next year's first round. 
  • This is specious at best, but perhaps Brundidge's departure came on the heels of some good information that Trey would be coming back? Again, this one is a reach, but who knows. With Beilein seemingly having such little confidence in Brundidge to the point that Trey was playing outrageous minutes every game, there's probably little reason for Brundidge to believe that a similar scenario wouldn't play out next year. 
As for the cons, i.e. reasons why he might bounce? Well: 
  • It's no secret that Trey and Jared Sullinger are friends...it's also no secret that Sullinger's return to Columbus for a second season has seen his draft stock dip to some extent. Sullinger is still a surefire first-rounder, and so his hypothetical drop in the draft is entirely different from what Trey would potentially go through, but there's no doubt that Sullinger's decision to return will be on Trey's mind. 
  • Does Trey really want to go through another college season in which he is depended upon as heavily as he was this past season? That is, does he really want to subject himself to the physical burden of playing at minimum 35 minutes, often more, in basically every single game? While it's not like we're talking about a running back deciding to forego an additional year of pounding, the minutes do add up. 
  • The general logic of NBA prospects vis-a-vis the draft and playing in college may compel Trey to leave. It seems that the majority of players who consider the draft end up, you know, leaving, whether it is the right decision or not. Like the 5-star recruit that comes into college envisioning no scenario in which he does not start over other highly touted guys, these draft fringe sorts inevitably feel the same way. Of course, there's The Money; even the NBA minimum seems like an infinite amount of money to a college kid, and, as we all know, college kids don't usually have long-term outcomes at the forefront of their worldview. 
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If you told me to make an amateur prediction, Id tell you that I'm leaning toward Trey returning. However, I would be lying to you if I said that I believed that with any sort of confidence. Thankfully, we don't have to wait too long to find out. 

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