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.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.