For all the dazzling college performances, a weak showing at the 2013 combine sticks with Michigan's Trey Burke. He thinks such concerns about his athleticism are misguided, as Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press writes, but it's hard not to sit from a distance and wonder, is the national player of the year in for a rude awakening?
After leading the Wolverines to a national title game appearance as a sophomore, Burke started flying up draft boards. However, he's defending his status as an elite prospect in this year's draft amidst worries he lacks the necessary explosiveness to keep up with point guards in the NBA.
Burke seems to shrug off those poor combine numbers, as he said in a video posted online by the Sacramento Kings following a workout:
"That’s testing. On the court, in my opinion, is totally different. Change of speed with the ball and things like that. That’s a natural strength of mine ... I feel like I am just as athletic as the guys my size. I’m not a super athlete like Derrick Rose and things like that. That’s their opinion and I’ll try to prove them wrong."
Of the six tests administered during the league's premier pre-draft scouting event, Burke finished top 20 in the class just twice -- eighth in the three-quarters court sprint and 20th in the lane agility drill. He seems confident those results don't reflect what he brings to the basketball court, but scouts' concerns aren't unfounded.
Among the league's best point guards, few would be considered anything but world-class athletes. Some manage to combine all of the best physical traits of a great guard, like a healthy Rose or Russell Westbrook, but nearly every quality point guard boasts some special advantage over his peers.
Tony Parker may not have the hops or strength of a Westbrook, but his agility and balance are undoubtedly special. Deron Williams lacks that kind of agility, but makes up for it with a compact frame and the strength of a forward. Rajon Rondo has arms for days. The question is, where does Burke separate himself from the pack?
If he's not bigger, faster or stronger than the best opponents he'll face, just how good can he really be? In a league that's increasingly about moving around the floor, changing angles and pressuring opponents, how much can Burke really do if his best asset is craftiness?
When you're projected to go in the top 10 picks, like Burke is, it's supposed to be easier to project greatness. With Burke, you're talking about someone who not only needs to adjust to the complexity and intensity of basketball at its highest level -- he needs to do it all while often being slower, weaker or smaller than his opponent.
Players have overcome similar disadvantages. Burke isn't the first top prospect to leave scouts wondering from a physical perspective, nor is he the first elite college basketball who needed the earn the faith of NBA executives despite a lengthy resume of success. However, these are clear obstacles, the likes of which Burke shouldn't underestimate.
As Burke said, he's not a "super athlete" like Rose. He's simply a talented basketball player, one who hopefully has enough of that explosiveness to avoid being left in the dust.
Credit the man for acknowledging his flaws, taking them head on. He joined a college basketball program still trying to part from its cloudy past, developed into arguably the best player in the nation, and turned that team into a title contender. He's done things in the past when the odds were stacked against him, people looking the other way.
And yet, success hasn't turned away the doubters. Maybe they've quieted down just enough to make Burke a lottery pick, even a possible No. 1 overall choice at times. But even in a relatively weak draft, teams don't take sneaky-good athletes with top picks, they take dream-inducing, gifts of biology.
That Burke is so highly regarded despite his shortcomings is a testament to the impression he made as a Wolverine. But those shortcomings ... let's just say being an NBA-caliber athlete is easier said than done. If he proves us wrong once again, becoming a quality starter in the league, it'll be easily his greatest accomplishment of all.