To say Trey Burke has struggled during his first few games as a pro might be putting it mildly. Though it's obviously just a short stretch of games, all the aspects of Burke's game that have brought concern — specifically a shot-happy approach and inability to finish at the rim — were on full display during the past week. Against Indiana yesterday, Burke was just 3-of-15 from the field; that raised his shot total to 42 for the week, the most of any Utah player, despite the young guard sitting out one of the four games. For Burke, finding a better pass-shot balance must be priority no. 1. Against longer, taller defenders and more sophisticated schemes, Burke won't ever be the same dominant scorer he was in college. Having trouble finishing against a defense anchored by Miles Plumlee isn’t the most encouraging sign. Burke’s poor 3-point shooting both yesterday and this week is slightly fluky (it's highly unlikely he’ll continue shooting 6.7 percent), but he still must learn to pass up semi-decent looks in order to make simple passes out of isolations and pick-and-rolls. Getting the ball (and defense) moving has far more value than Burke pulling up from 19 feet for a jumper or barreling toward the rim and flinging up a wild shot.
Speaking of shots near the basket, Burke's problems finishing are going to be very tough to overcome. He hasn’t shown the burst necessary to get by defenders consistently and often ends up having to use tough angles to finish (think Brandon Jennings, though Jennings's struggles are caused by his build, not speed). Because of his length and some clever touch, Burke can occasionally make it work, but it’s hard to shoot a high percentage near the rim when finishing at such extreme angles. There are some things Burke can do to improve this, like playing with more changes of pace and using his body better to create space from big and small defenders alike, but they are far from quick fixes. After such a disappointing week, the Jazz are hoping that Burke proves capable of making them.
Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons ask Mason Plumlee about what his brother has told him about playing in the league, his fear of playing against Carmelo, and getting a suit that fits when you are 6-foot-11. Check out the full interview below, followed by Brett Koremenos’s scouting report. Watch all the NBA Job Interviews here. And watch this space for more NBA Job Interview videos, featuring Bill Simmons, Jalen Rose, and some of the best young talents from the 2013 NBA draft class.
Today we're playing Ben Howland ball. No stalls, go go go! Let's get right to the countdown …
10. No. 5 Louisville at Georgetown, Saturday, Noon, ESPN
One revelation for me this season is that teams that play very slow, physical styles with a focus on defense — and a less worthy offense — tend to be very unpredictable. KenPom has the Hoyas as a top-10 defense, but a distant 145th on offense, and their results have been all over the place. There's an OT loss to Indiana, a win over UCLA, a blowout loss against Pittsburgh, a blowout win against Notre Dame, and grinding losses to Marquette and South Florida. When you look at Virginia's profile — 9th on defense, 131st on offense — you see the same apparent randomness. Which means that this game is actually pretty tough to predict. You'd expect Louisville to bounce back in a big way after dropping two straight to Syracuse and Villanova, and you'd expect that the excellent Pitino defense would hold Georgetown to somewhere around 50 points, but there's the nagging possibility that the Hoyas could return the favor and steal one at home.
Wednesday, January 9, will go down in infamy as the Night of Two Dunks. It started with Illinois' Brandon Paul trying his luck against Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe:
On any other night, that would easily be the top jam. It was so good that if you had to nominate 10 dunks for some kind of Dunk of the Year award, it would be an automatic entry. There's no way there will be nine better in the entire season. The idea of topping it that same night was ludicrous; at most, you might have a dunk that looked exactly the same, but it wouldn't be quite as cool because it came second.
And then San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin did this:
I spent about five hours on the highway this weekend, and before we get to the college basketball–related epiphanies for this week, I have three driving-related epiphanies:
1. In my mind, the worst breach of highway etiquette is when a driver in the left lane travels at the exact same (slow) speed as the driver in the right lane, clogging the highway and making it impossible for anyone to pass. It's selfish, stupid, and beyond infuriating. I used to deal with this problem by stewing in anger and shouting a few obscenities inside the safety of my car. Not effective. Eventually, I began tailgating in an effort to show that I hated the driver and would like to pass. More effective, but sometimes they'd become obstinate and refuse to move. But now, my evolution is complete, because I've reached a point in life where I just drive up, wait a few seconds to make sure I'm not being an impatient douche, and then hit the horn at reasonable intervals until they move. And the crazy part? It works, and I'm a lot less angry. I just sail by while the offender glowers at me from the slowpoke lane where he belongs. I'm pretty sure this new Zen-like approach contains the seeds of a great motivational book.
2. Things can get really, really odd when you're alone in a car. I once had a roommate in New York who told me he was looking forward to visiting his family in Kansas City for a holiday so he could "get in the car and just get weird." I knew exactly what he meant. And I'm not talking weird in any kind of perverse way. I'm talking, like, singing freestyle blues songs about highway signs. I'm talking about giving fake interviews in foreign accents. I'm talking about carrying on one-sided conversations with other drivers. Just letting the brain roam where it will, which is always some place bizarre. If there was a TV show that was just footage of people who thought they were alone in a car, it would be a smash hit. And if aliens ever considered invading, but that show was the only thing they watched ahead of time, they'd immediately cancel their plans, since we are clearly a planet of psychopaths.
3. If someone is exhibiting "dickish" behavior on the road, there is a 95 percent chance that he will be driving a pickup truck. Pickup trucks are the new 18-wheelers, and 18-wheelers are the new sports cars. I know a lot of good people who own pickup trucks, including my father, so please don't think I'm stereotyping. This is just a scientific conclusion culled from years of observation; among the thriving group of respectable pickup truckers, there is a group of renegade road terrorists. And if you bike? God help you, because then it goes up to 100 percent. Pickup truck people hate bikers and love to buzz them or scream out the window as they pass. Someday, I'm going to bike past a pickup trucker stopped for speeding, and I'm going to get my revenge by mocking them on the fly. And on that day, the driver will probably be my father. Sorry, Dad.
On to the hoops! Here's what we learned from the past week:
The thing with objectivity, in sports journalism as in life, is that it's a myth made to sustain something that's already dead, and was never truly alive. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. Lying to you or lying to themselves, but lying either way. Everything is subjective, including your reaction to this opinion. Welcome to being human — the water's fine.
"Mason Plumlee is a man!" I shouted at my girlfriend. She rolled her eyes, but I felt like it was something that needed to be said.
A year, ago, I couldn't have conceived that I'd be complimenting the tow-headed giant. This was the second coming of the hated Miles, the middle of the Flying Plumblebee trio, the guy who was bound to let you down just when he'd fooled you into believing. It was normal to spend entire games thinking up derogatory nicknames for him. (“Plumblef*** the Younger” and “Mason Clumslee” are two that come to mind.)
But now? Now, Mason is having the best season of his life, a coming-out party of epic proportions. He's the best Duke player on the court game in and game out, and on Wednesday night, he refused to buckle in a hostile road contest against the hated Maryland Terrapins. The dark days are over. Mason Plumlee is a big manly son of a bitch, and shall henceforth be known only as "Plumdog Billionaire." Jai ho, you crazy Devil.
Don't get too high, don't get too low. A lot of famous folks have uttered those words, or some close approximation thereof. I remember Barack Obama uttered something like that during the campaign. Dollars to donuts ole Abe Lincoln uttered them too. In fact, I'd wager right here and right now -- I would throw bills on your doorstep, amigo -- that every single American president has uttered those words at some point. All of them except Taft. William Howard Taft didn't have time for philosophical utterings; the man was an eatin' fool.