Trey Burke's Historic Sophomore Slump: What Happened?

Trey Burke has been terrible in his sophomore year. Can he rebound?

To say Trey Burke is having a sophomore slump may be an insult to the great players who have had bad second seasons. Burke is not only shooting the ball worse in his second year, but he's on pace to have the worst sophomore true shooting percentage (TS%) of any player drafted inside the top 10 (minimum of 50 games played each season) since Jonny Flynn and Adam Morrison.

Burke’s TS% this season is only 46.5%. As noted, only Flynn (44.4%) and Morrison (44.8%) have had worse percentages in their second seasons among players drafted inside the top 10 in the last 10 years. Only Morrison, Austin Rivers and Anthony Bennett have had worse combined TS% in their first two seasons in the NBA with a minimum of 100 games played.

Burke’s TS% at Michigan was nearly 56%. However, during his award-winning second season in college, Burke attempted 166 free throws in 39 games. In 122 NBA games in his career, Burke has only shot 203 free throws. His free throw attempt rate (FTr) is .113 this season -- only 12 players who have played in at least 50 games this season have a worse FTr. This is a shame, too, because he's a career 85.7% free throw shooter.

However that's just one factor as to why Burke’s shooting numbers have been so bad. He's also shooting only 31.6% from three-point land this season, and although he's shooting the ball more inside of 10 feet this year, he's also shooting more threes as well.

Burke’s Bad Defense and Move to the Bench

Burke’s bad shooting is just the tip of the iceberg. Not only has he been potentially shooting himself out of the league, but he may be defending his way out as well. Coach Quin Snyder made the move at the end of January to start Dante Exum and move Burke to the bench, and it hasn’t done anything for Burke’s numbers. Since moving to the bench, Burke has a TS% of only 44.5% in 11 games. However, the move to the bench has also further exposed another one of his bigger weaknesses: his defense.

With Exum on the floor this season, Utah’s opponents have an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 47.9%, compared to 52.6% when Exum is on the bench. The numbers are almost mirrored with Burke on and off the court, as opponents have an eFG% of nearly 52% with Burke on the floor, opposed to 48.1% when he is off the court. Utah's Offensive Rating (ORtg) only drops 2.9 points from 107.1 to 104.2 when Burke goes to the bench, however Jazz opponents’ ORtg goes from 111.6 with Burke on the court to 104.5 when he is resting.

What makes matters even worse for Burke is that the Jazz have virtually the same ORtg when Exum is on the court as when he is off it. Also, even though Burke has improved his Defensive Rating (DRtg) this year (112) from his rookie season (115), it’s far from the level needed from a starting point guard in the Western Conference.

This isn’t to say Burke is going to be out of the league when his rookie deal expires -- it would be surprising if the Jazz did not pick up his team option at the end of the season for only $2.6 million. At that cheap of a price, the Jazz can hope Burke finds his shooting touch much like Brandon Jennings did later in his NBA career.

Jennings’ TS% in his first two years in the NBA was only 48.4%, while his TS% this season before his injury was 52.2%. Even Ricky Rubio, who had a TS% of 47.9% in his first two seasons, could break his TS% above 50% this year. But Burke won't get many opportunities to be a starting point guard in the NBA if he continues at the pace he is on offensively and defensively.