PBT Draft preview: Is Trey Burke the next Lillard? He’ll be an impact rookie.

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For the next five weeks PBT will be profiling likely first-round draft picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. We start with one of the more household names in this draft.

If you are looking for the next Damian Lillard — not in terms of style of play, but in terms of a rookie who could have a big impact right out of the gate — Trey Burke may be your guy. He’s not going to be an NBA superstar, but he could be a very good point guard for your team for years.

The 6’0” point guard out of Michigan became as much of a household name as there is in this draft with his play during the NCAA tournament, leading Michigan all the way to the championship game. But he wasn’t a tournament flash — he was the best player in college ball last season. He was everybody’s college player of the year, averaging 18.1 points and 6.6 assists per game, shooting a high percentage (38 percent from three) and not turning the ball over much.

He’s got an all-around skill set that will have him going in the Top 5 according to DraftExpress (where exactly could depend on the lottery and who drafts in what slot). Usually it’s big men who move up the draft board as we get closer, but Burke seems to be doing the same now.

STRENGTHS

The NBA is a pick-and-roll league and Burke is a good pick-and-roll point guard, the best in college last season. According to DraftExpress 35.5 percent of his offense came off that play and he scored a good 0.98 points per possession that way — with defenses keyed on him. It’s because he uses good quickness and hesitation moves to get in the paint or he can shoot with range if you go under the pick.

Remember the NCAA finals game — Russ Smith from Louisville is a good defender and Burke did as he pleased against him.

Burke can score a variety of ways, but he can also pass the rock well, he has good court vision and sense. He can get in the paint off the pick and make plays. He’s also good in transition, both getting to the rim and kicking out to shooter.

Finally, if you’re looking for an on the court leader…. Did you see Burke in the NCAA Tournament?

WEAKNESSES

The questions about him are simple — is he big enough at six foot to both keep scoring in the lane against the NBA trees, and will that height hurt him defensively.

Against bigger players in college Burke tended to go to a floater rather than attack at the rim. As DraftExpress noted, he shot just 52 percent in the restricted area when running a half court offense. He’s going to have to do better at the next level.

And he’s going to have to learn to defend (something Lillard still needs to do as well).

WHAT DOES DAUSTER THINK?

With each college player we profile at PBT, we’ll talk to Rob Dauster of CollegeBasketballTalk at NBC to get his thoughts — he sees these guys more than we do.

I think that even if Marcus Smart had entered the draft this year that I would have taken Burke as the first point guard, and it’s because there really isn’t all that much that he can’t do on the offensive end of the floor. He’s terrific in the pick-and-roll because he’s not only a threat to score, but he’s a perfectly competent and willing creator as well. The biggest improvement that Burke made this season was in his decision-making, as his efficiency numbers were through the roof. He didn’t turn the ball over much and he rarely took bad shots despite the fact that he was the engine on the nation’s most potent offensive attack this season.

Burke also proved to have a penchant for making big shots in big moments. Who can forgot the 30-footer that he hit to force overtime against Kansas in the Sweet 16? Those of us that watched him all season long weren’t surprised that he a) took that shot or b) made that shot.

He has his weaknesses. He’s on the shorter side (6’0”, although he does have a 6’5” wingspan) and he’s not on the same level as a Derrick Rose or John Wall when it comes to athleticism. There are questions about just how good he is going to be on the defensive end of the floor. He’s not an elite point guard prospect in the sense that he’s the kind of guy that can turn around a franchise. But that doesn’t mean that he won’t be a good player in the league for a number of years.

WHERE DOES HE GET DRAFTED?

Top five for sure, and if the right team lands at No. 1, who knows? Wherever he lands he’ll make an impact and the fans will love him.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.