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.
Day 1 of the Orlando Summer League could be summed up in one word: long. Turns out five 40-minute games, a seemingly endless number of fouls, and some shoddy, disorganized play can truly test your love and appreciation for basketball. Yet I persevered and somehow managed to cobble together some notes.
Cool it, Cooley
If there were a Vegas line on what player would emerge in my notes from the first game between Houston and Philadelphia, the odds on Jack Cooley would have been about 50,000 to 1. The Notre Dame alum didn’t put up a killer stat line (eight points, six rebounds in 14 minutes) but he did put in killer effort. To say Cooley played hard would actually be a major understatement. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward was a rather large man possessed. Cooley ran the floor, battled on the boards, communicated on defense, and generally hustled his way into my heart. And I’m sure I wasn’t alone.
Summer league is a perfect place for a fringe player like Cooley to endear himself to NBA teams with his rugged, energetic style of play. While the NBA is in an era in which stats and efficiency allow for cold, calculating evaluations of players, Cooley’s good ol’ fashioned efforts are enough to warm the hearts of coaches and executives. Guys that play hard every time they step on the floor may not be statistical darlings, but they are good to have around when coaches need to breath some life into the doldrums of the NBA season (also, Cooley must be doing something right in the stats columns if he’s on Houston’s summer league roster). Players like Mark Madsen survived for years purely on toughness, effort, and rebounding, and Cooley seems to be cut from a similar cloth.
Carping about the clothes at the NBA draft is a lot like complaining that onesies make your baby look fat. It's too soon! These guys have the rest of their careers to figure it all out. With the draft, what you're hoping for, at the very least, is that some of these players have been talked into putting on an interesting garment. At most, you're hoping for an indication that maybe just one guy knows what he's doing, that he's on to something.
It turns out that they're officially on to us. They all know we're looking. They might even know now what we want — excitement, cool, spectacle, a little glamour — and they're not taking any chances. The clothes are becoming conversation-stoppers.
Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose grill Naismith and Wooden award–winning NBA draft prospect Trey Burke about his lack of size, the chip on his shoulder, and dating celebrities. Check out a short clip below, followed by Brett Koremenos's scouting report and the full-length video. 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.
In case you were out busting people's chops and bringing them down a peg or two, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Masters has a new champion: Adam Scott defeated Angel Cabrera in a tense two-hole playoff to win his first major at Augusta National. But don't get too comfortable, Mr. Scott. You still have a generic moniker that you share with both an actor and (for the most part) a cartoonist. This means that many people will still picture another man's face when they hear your name, despite your mastery of hitting tiny balls into faraway holes. Hi-yo! Yes! Adam Scott's chops: busted.
The Atlanta Braves improved to an NL best 11-1, as they completed a sweep of the Washington Nationals with a 9-0 road win. But don't get too cocky, Atlanta Braves. Of the last three teams to start 11-1, only one made the playoffs. Therefore, your odds of making the playoffs, 1-3, are the same as they were when you started the season, 10-30. Small sample sized! Ka-pow! You thought you were on the top peg, Braves of Atlanta. Now what peg are you on? I bet it's the second or third one down!
Kobe Bryant suffered a devastating Achilles injury that will keep the future Hall of Famer out for the remainder of this season, as well as the beginning of the next campaign. But don't get too all up on your high horse, people who don't like the Los Angeles Lakers. Not only did the Lakers win both of their games this weekend to increase their odds of qualifying for the postseason, but also, Kobe Bryant has still won five championships, become a legend in the second-biggest city in America, and amassed a personal fortune from playing a child's game that will be used to purchase medical care that will ensure that, despite his Achilles tear, he will live a healthier, longer, and more comfortable life than yours. Buh-zing! Sing, oh muses, of the fortunes of Kobe's haters: "Not so great!" Homer'd!
Brian Phillips: At some point during the White Hyperspace portion of the proceedings — between, say, Spike Albrecht's 19th consecutive falling-away 30-footer and the moment when Luke Hancock actually turned into a flock of doves — it hit me that life would be easier if this game weren't so much fun. If you hate the NCAA (and you do), then March Madness is always a time of intense cognitive dissonance. You love the product and despise the factory. You want to smash the whole corrupt system, but first maybe you'll just spend 90 straight couch-hours mainlining the event that makes the system possible. You're like an anti-cockfighting advocate who happened to walk past a cockfight one day and felt your brain go, "Yyyyeessssssss!"
So it's always kind of validating when the NCAA tournament ends with a clunker, or at least a game that's exciting but badly played. You get to cheer for some bumbly-heroic mid-major, and then after their floppy-haired 5-foot-11 shooting guard spends 40 minutes getting slaughtered by a basic zone defense, you get to think, "Well, it's just the NCAA." Last night, though? Last night doesn't leave you any outs. Last night was amazing, full stop, end of paragraph, fade to Northwestern Mutual commercial. Last night, watching the comebacks and the refusals to die, watching Trey Burke hurl himself around with the entire Upper Peninsula on his shoulders, watching about 900 high-pressure makes, you couldn't not wind up all-in. Which means the NCAA won again. At least the officiating sucked.
With only three games left in the season, by now you should know that betting on college basketball is borderline insane. But, on the off chance you’re still throwing money at an unpredictable sport that’s in the midst of one of its most unpredictable seasons, here are five things I guarantee will happen during the Final Four games. All you have to do now is find a casino that offers any of these as prop bets, then sit back and count your money.
1. CBS will spend a few minutes discussing fired Rutgers coach Mike Rice
I don’t necessarily think CBS shouldn’t talk about Rice, but at this point, what is there to be said that hasn’t already been said a million times? Who in their right mind has an opinion that isn’t “Mike Rice is a scumbag, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti is a coward, and I still don’t understand why Rutgers is joining the Big Ten”? It’s the one topic in sports that literally everybody agrees on. I guess I could see Charles Barkley making a joke about how players are soft these days, but it’s much more likely that he would go with something along the lines of “If Rice had tried that on me, I would’ve punched that knucklehead.” Whatever the case, I’m predicting Greg Gumbel will bring the topic up, and each guy in the studio will try to explain in his own way how Rice’s actions were abhorrent.
What better way to celebrate the upcoming Final Four than to bust out another mailbag? I again got a ton of great e-mails, and after sifting through all the ones that were some variation of “I’m a Kansas/Ohio State fan, and I need you to help talk me off the ledge,” I was left with these. Let’s talk a little college basketball, shall we?
While watching The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels cut a promo to hype the Brock/HHH match, I couldn't help but wonder about his self-proclaimed nickname of "Mr. WrestleMania.” Even in professional wrestling, you would think one would have to have an outstanding record to warrant such a lofty nickname. But his record is 6-11, and this includes his matches while he served as the captain of the Rockers.
Is he only Mr. WrestleMania because he has competed at 17 of them? Surely it isn't because of his win-loss record.
At this time of year, the fervor of the college-versus-the-NBA debate typically reaches its peak. The professional game may lack a certain emotional draw, but there is no denying that the quality of strategy at basketball’s highest level is substantially better. In a very basic sense, Division I basketball boils down to the search for space. The NBA has typically held a monopoly on the art of spacing the floor, thanks to not only the influence of advanced stats but also the influx of spread pick-and-roll concepts from Europe. In the college game, methods for finding and exploiting this space are not nearly as widespread.
For a number of reasons — younger, less-skilled players; a more compact area inside the arc; fewer rules benefiting offensive players such as defensive three seconds — college basketball has a lot of trouble reproducing the refined play of the NBA. The teams that can pull this off are difficult to beat, especially if their style of play is carried out by players with NBA-level talent. Since inserting Mitch McGary into the starting lineup at the beginning of the NCAA tournament, the Michigan Wolverines have become one of those teams.
The 20-year-old freshman’s presence has allowed head coach John Beilein to (somewhat slowly) identify that his team can be an unstoppable force when it spreads the floor with dead-eye shooters like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas and runs pick-and-rolls featuring McGary and another NBA-caliber talent, guard Trey Burke. Even though freshman forward Glenn Robinson III isn’t nearly as menacing a threat from beyond the arc as Hardaway or Stauskas — he’s shooting just 33.3 percent on the season — the Wolverines still have the perfect personnel to maximize space on the offensive end of the floor.
The NCAA tournament is finally here! Who’s ready to lose money gambling, find out that the person in your office who knows the least about sports still knows more than you do, and complain that your school’s coach can’t “win the big one” after your team loses a heartbreaker? Well, ready or not, the most unpredictable sporting event in the world is about to begin!
But even though March Madness by its nature defies prediction, I’m here to offer five things that are certain to happen during the first day of action.
Nobody knew for sure whether Ryan Kelly would play against no. 5 Miami on Saturday. After Duke's loss to Virginia in Charlottesville, the incentive was certainly there. The Blue Devils were reeling; the team's perimeter defense was almost nonexistent, and Mason Plumlee had almost fully devolved into a state of Plumbledum after masquerading as a Player of the Year candidate in December. If there was any way Kelly's right foot had recovered, maybe it would mean a return to the success of the early part of the season, when Duke went 15-0 and reigned as the no. 1 team in the country. Without him, their record was 9-4, including an embarrassing 27-point loss to Miami.
When Kelly came on the court as part of Duke's starting five, there was a sense of relief and hope among Duke fans. Still, they had no idea this would happen:
There have been two really great moments for Duke since winning the title in 2010. The first was Austin Rivers's shot to beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill last season, and this was the second. The fact that Kelly put the team on his shoulders, scored a career-high 36 points on 10-14 shooting (7-9 from 3), and led Duke to a revenge win over Miami is almost too hard to believe. I watched the game in a state of anxious ecstasy, thrilled and worried at the same time. But mostly thrilled, because watching the Crazies flap their arms as the White Raven hit shot after shot, I knew that this was turning into a special moment. Kelly was so good that a loss felt impossible.
I first met Keaton Gillogly, the radio voice of the Michigan State women's basketball team and a below-average pool player, at an East Lansing sports bar called Reno's. He had offered to be my tour guide, and proceeded to do an excellent job. He introduced me to several morally dubious university ambassadors, coordinated an emotional face-to-face with a life-size Mateen Cleaves bobblehead at the Hall of Fame Sports Cafe, and even indulged me in a traditional exchange of gifts (he got a travel-size bottle of Gilchrist & Soames dental rinse that purported to be from London, England, but which had come into my possession in Columbus, Ohio, and I got a Spartans Nerf basketball). But the most profound moment of our new friendship might have been the first, when he greeted me at the bar and pointed to a crowded banquet hall just past the entrance. I walked into the din, followed everyone's eyes to the small stage at the front of the room, and saw ... the man:
Tom Izzo. At the weekly Tom Izzo radio show, starring the great Tom Izzo.
I was going to make a video of Illinois's comeback against Indiana, but then my editor Sarah Larimer sent me some of the coolest guerrilla footage of the year, from someone standing on the baseline. It starts with Brandon Paul heading to the line for two and hitting the first on a bank shot that Spike Friedman rightly called the most underrated part of the game, and continues through the end: Oladipo's turnover, Oladipo's block, and the incredible inbounds play to end it. Credit goes to Rob McColley for the greatest non-TV footage of the season. It's six minutes long, but the good stuff happens in the first three:
1. First and foremost, there's no avoiding the question surrounding Aaron Craft's last two shots. It began with nine seconds remaining and Ohio State trailing 75-74, when Craft drove by Trey Burke, pulled up for a jumper, and had his attempt blocked. After intentionally fouling Glenn Robinson III and watching him make one of two free throws, Craft again had the ball in his hands. He drove the lane, was blocked by Tim Hardaway Jr., and stared at the ceiling in disbelief as time expired. Game over, Michigan wins.
Was either block actually a foul? Let's go right to the video: