Yashinsky: Trey Burke Could Have Sent Pistons In New Direction

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Trey Burke drives to the basket in 61-56 win over Syracuse last season.

It is a simple game.  Five players a side, a goal on each end, and of course, one basketball for all to share. 

It is a unique game. Members of the team each come with their own set of skills.

The lanky fellow is good at swatting the ball. The burly one collects the ball.  The athlete with the limitless vertical dunks the ball. The curly haired gentleman with the 1986 goggles does not go near the ball.

But while all of these attributes and qualities are essential to a working unit, virtually nothing can be accomplished unless you have first decided on the most important factor.  Who is it that will actually be handling the ball?

The franchise archives of the Detroit Pistons reveal two distinct periods of prosperity: the Bad Boys of the late 80s-early 90s, and the more recent version that went to six straight conference finals. It comes as no surprise that these groups were led into battle each night with a point guard fully able to grasp the intricacies of the position. 

Isiah Thomas and Chauncey Billups thirsted for the game’s most hair-raising moments, unafraid to have the ball in their hands with time melting away. They straddled that fine line of point guard play, knowing when to be unselfish and when to simply handle things à la carte.  While contributions by the likes of Laimbeer, Dumars, Hamilton, and Wallace x 2 are duly noted, it is without question that were it not for #11 and #1 calmly maneuvering the ship throughout the journey, we would likely be making that left turn off of Lapeer Road onto Zero Championship Drive. 

Pistons Roster Resembled Muenster Cheese    

The Pistons entered this year’s NBA Draft with a roster resembling a slice of muenster well past its prime; holes, blemishes, and only scant surfaces untarnished by their poisonous surroundings. The front court was inexperienced and offensively-challenged. The back court was unexciting and without an identity.  The bench was barren, and the coaching staff was in the process of bringing in a new head man for the 11th consecutive season.  It had been 1,858 days since the Pistons last won a single playoff game.

If ever there was a time for a new leader to emerge, to take the reins of this team and not let go, it was now. As fate would have it, such a player could be found just a car ride away.

Trey Burke finished his two year run in Ann Arbor with a flourish. On a wild ride through March and into April, Burke and Mitch McGary alternated playing the role of superhero in taking the Wolverines all the way to the doorstep of college hoops’ most coveted prize. Burke cemented his legacy along the way with an unforgettable performance against Kansas, dropping in an impossible three in the waning seconds to send the game into overtime. 

Burke could do it all: create easy buckets for others, finish with either hand around the rim, and show remarkable toughness for a guy many viewed as not strong enough to stand up to NBA guards. In the tournament opener, Burke fell hard on his tailbone, injuring his elbow and head. He would miss all of 90 seconds. 

Even the greenest Spartan loyalists couldn’t help but acknowledge the brilliance of Burke. Just one problem; the Pistons were given the eighth selection in the upcoming draft. Surely he'd be gone by then.

But then draft night arrived and funny things began happening. The Cavs picked first and grabbed an overweight freshman from UNLV.  Michael Jordan made his annual draft-night blunder.  The Suns nabbed a 7-footer from Ukraine that averaged less than 10 points per game in his career at Maryland.

 Nerlens Noel was tabbed in the sixth slot despite his left knee being composed of 70% cole slaw. Somehow, some way, it had happened. The Pistons were on the clock.  And Trey Burke was still available.

 

Joe Dumars, after being haunted for years by his ill-advised (putting it lightly) Billups-for-Iverson swap, could finally breathe again.  He could finally forget the overhyped Brandon Knight, the underwhelming Rodney Stuckey, and the schizophrenic Will Bynum.  His new point guard had fallen right into his lap.

Dumars Blew It

But then one more (un)funny thing happened. Dumars picked someone else. 

The moment came and went. A general manager waving his hand, “no thanks,” to a potentially seat-filling, franchise-altering, homegrown ballplayer.  To rub a little salt in the wound, Burke was snapped up with the very next pick.

Basketball can be a simple game when played correctly. Space the floor, set picks for others, find the open man, put the ball in the hoop. Four of the five players act as a support system; it’s he who has the ball in his hands that matters most. 

The Pistons had the opportunity to change the direction of this woebegone franchise and make the game easy again. They looked far and wide to make their selection. It’s too bad; they only needed to look down the street.   

Joey Yashinsky is a local freelance sportswriter.

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