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Tyler Burton: Spider-Man
A look at how one of the best Richmond Spiders of all-time could translate to the NBA.
Watch Out, Here Comes the Spider-Man!
“Not everyone is meant to make a difference. But for me, the choice to lead an ordinary life is no longer an option.”
- Peter Parker, Spider-Man 
With great power comes great responsibility. Alright, I’m done. If you are a fan of college hoops (of course you are; why wouldn’t you be?), then you are familiar with the focus prospect for my piece this week: Tyler Burton. You may be finding yourself saying: “Stephen. It’s September. You’re supposed to be filling our heads with candy canes and lollipops on the incoming group of freshmen.” Well, if you missed The Weekend Warrior last week, you would have missed how I highlighted the infatuation we as a draft scouting community can have with the “Shiny New Toys”—or the incoming freshmen—at this point of the cycle. Out of the 25-ish young players that are either projected to go, or possibly could go, in the opening round, the last few drafts tell us that about 13 freshmen will be selected within the Top 30 picks.
The rest? Well, they fall to your sophomores, juniors, and *gulps* seniors. I highlighted the 2017-2022 NBA Drafts in my last piece and gave you the number of freshmen that have gone 1 through 30; what about seniors? Well, in 2017, only two were chosen. The same number went in 2018. Three were picked up in 2019. Three again in 2020. Two were drafted in the opening round in 2021, and Ochai Agbaji was the lone senior taken in last year’s NBA First Round. The odds aren’t too great of being selected with one of those 30 picks if you are a collegiate senior.
Being that you are the No Ceilings audience, you’re intelligent. You’re studious. Brilliant. Alright, I’ll stop sucking up to you, but my point is that you’ve likely pieced it together; I’ve mentioned Tyler Burton and first round picks in the same prelude, so obviously I’m saying Burton is a first round level talent, right? I didn’t say that, but I am certainly not ruling that out, either. What is it about this 22-year-old senior out of Richmond University that has me so high on him? I’m glad you’ve asked!
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Behind the Mask
Tyler Burton doesn’t have the recruitment resume that you’d initially think about when you envision an NBA talent. You can do a quick Google search and find out that he was not listed on many major recruiting services throughout most of his time in high school. He did eventually get a handful of schools to be interested in offering him a basketball scholarship, but those schools weren’t necessarily the world-beaters of NCAA hoops.
The finalist of schools that Burton was to choose from were Rhode Island, Siena, Quinnipiac, Northeastern, St. Bonaventure, and the school he ultimately would play for, Richmond. Burton would come to play for a team that had one of the best pilferers in NCAA history, Jacob Gilyard, and a talented offensive big man, Grant Golden.
As a freshman, Burton was able to get some playing time—and it was a year that you might expect from a player that was not heavily recruited by the bluebloods in college basketball. He posted 4.6 points per game (PPG), 3.9 rebounds per game (RPG), and only shot 26.3% from deep on 1.3 attempts per game (3PA/G). He averaged 14.1 minutes per game (MPG) and played in 30 games with only one start. As a sophomore, he jumped into the starting rotation as he started in every game he played: 23 total. His minutes more than doubled, and he posted 12.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.1 steals per game (SPG), and shot 36.3% from deep on 4.0 3PA/G. Then we get into last season, his junior campaign.
He played in more games, 37 (he started them all), and saw a slight bump in his minutes. His scoring output jumped up to 16 PPG, and his Shooting Percentage increased from 44.9% from the floor to 45.7%. His Free Throw and Three Point Percentages stayed roughly the same, as did his rebounding on a per-game basis. He finished top in the Atlantic 10 Conference in total points scored, was seventh in PPG, sixth in RPG, 12th in total steals, 17th in blocks, 10th in Field Goal Percentage, and made the 18th most three pointers all while being outside the Top 10 in Usage (finished 11th). To say that he had a successful season last year would be an understatement, but, compared to other players that put up similar numbers, it went criminally under-discussed.
If you go to Barttorvik and do a query on some of the fields that made Burton a highly valuable player last season (and what could make him highly valuable in the NBA), you may be surprised to find what other names populate the results. Of players with a Usage Percentage of greater than or equal to 23%, logged a True Shooting Percentage or greater than or equal to 58%, grabbed Defensive Rebounds at a rate of (or greater than) 20%, blocked shots and nabbed steals at rates of 1.5% or better, made 50% or more of their two-pointers, and made 35% or more from distance, Burton ends up in the company of players such as Keegan Murray, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Bobby Portis, Wendell Carter Jr., Robert Covington, Markieff Morris, and Richaun Holmes. If you narrow down the field by “role”—of which Burton is listed as “Wing F[orward]”—you’ll see a precipitous dip in the number of players. Some of the names that NBA teams have taken a chance on are Evan Turner, Obi Toppin, and David Roddy. Toss in a filter of “Dunks Made” set to 25 or more, and you’ll get a list of seven players—with all but one getting at least an opportunity in the NBA.
Burton was bitten by the NBA bug (or spider, if you will) and ended up declaring for the NBA Draft following his junior year, but opted to maintain his eligibility. This is a strategy many players have taken advantage of since the NBA allowed potential draftees to receive feedback and better prepare themselves before taking the leap of faith (that’s all it is, folks; a leap of faith). He was able to get into some preseason workouts for teams like the Sacramento Kings and the Atlanta Hawks while also participating in the NBA G-League Elite Camp. Burton ultimately made the decision to return to Richmond for his Senior season and will now look to make the leap to the pros within the 2023 Draft Class.
On the Offensive
We’ll start here because this is where Burton is going to separate himself from the majority of the field. He is a tremendous offensive talent due to the fact that he profiles as a shooter, but there is significantly more to his game than that. On possessions on which players scored off of cutting, Burton was in the 82nd Percentile. Playing off of such an advanced creator at the Center position (as he did playing alongside Grant Golden), Burton consistently displayed how well he could play within an NBA system in which playmaking could come from a variety of areas on the court. He has an incredible knack for maintaining spacing between himself and whoever initiates the action.
As the defender is caught in the confines of observing where the ball is while keeping tabs on Burton, they oftentimes will be baited by the subtle body movements—duped into thinking he is sliding alongside the arc for a three while, in actuality, Burton slashes to the rim for the finish.
While he will likely get labeled as just a shooter, he also has shown some nice creation ability off of the bounce. He won’t be asked to be a lead playmaker, but Burton has the ancillary instincts that can help him be relied upon as a connector of sorts. What makes Burton interesting as a professional prospect is that he has no preference in which direction he’ll attack the defense when operating out of Isolation-type plays. As a matter of fact, per Synergy, Burton is 50/50 on whether or not he will attack the left or right side of a defender. Burton does often prefer to attack off of the catch, which is ideal as it gives the help less time to adjust and recover to attempt to wall him off from the basket. According to InStat, Burton worked out of “Catch and Drive” situations at the second-highest rate within his own game at 14.8%, producing 1.5 points scored after a shot in that play type.
His finishing on isolations graded out in the 77th percentile and was, surprisingly, in the 90th percentile as a P&R Ball Handler (he was in the 94th percentile in the same set while including passes). His passing may have been a bit of an aberration, as he registered less than an assist-per-game—with his season-high being three in a contest (which he accomplished only twice). That being said, it is encouraging that there are indicators that suggest that he could serve as a connector for his team.
The thing that you can’t help but notice about Burton’s passing is that it seems utterly reliant upon how he is cooking during the game. The threat of him attacking off of the bounce, or being set up for a catch-and-release, creates sufficient gravity that allows him to take advantage of a collapsing defense from time to time. Albeit simple, those reads are effective and force a defense to either be honest or pay for their errors. With Golden and Gilyard now gone, Coach Mooney could look for Burton to be more involved on the creation front in his farewell season.
Of course, we have to cover the shooting. To sling some numbers at you that highlight Burton as a deep-ball threat, he graded out in the 81st percentile according to Synergy in Spot Up situations. In those opportunities, he was in the 87th percentile in “No Dribble Jumpers” (Excellent) and was in the 47th percentile in “Dribble Jumpers” (Average). Per InStat, Burton found himself in “Catch-and-Shoot” play types 19.2% of his time on the floor. He shot just north of 36% from distance on just over 4 3PA/G. For those that believe that Free Throw Percentages are indicative of how efficient a prospect will be from downtown, he was 79.1% from the charity stripe at 5.6 FTA/G.
Needless to say, Burton profiles very well as a gunner from deep. But how does the shot look? What is it about his form that suggests he will be a steady hand for an NBA team? Take a look.
The first thing that stands out is his shot preparation. In ways that are very similar to how we looked at his cutting, Burton has a natural understanding of spacing. As the ball handler moves around the court, Burton rotates as if there is a string attached to his teammate initiating the offense. He’ll bait his defender into thinking that they’ll have enough time to recover back to him should the ball get kicked out, only to make a minor movement that gives him the space he needs to let it fly.
One of the key ingredients to successful shooting is repeatability. When taking a look at clips of Burton shooting, you’ll notice some striking repetition in almost every one of his shots—certainly on the makes. As he gathers his shot, he’ll set up his base with his strong-side foot about a half-step ahead of his left. The knees bend inward slightly. He does have a slight dip with the ball before he brings it upward. The slight dip with the ball can be looked at as a “tell”—an indication that can alert his defender that the shot is on its way. That may not sound like a positive, and I wouldn’t suggest the mechanics for every player, but Burton does have a quick rise with the shot. The release is fluid as he brings the ball above his brow and lets it go.
Again, the one knock you can use as a wet blanket against Burton’s mechanics is the dip. I spoke to Burton’s intelligence in how he manipulates the defense with his cutting and even in how he sets himself up to get separation from the defense by picking his spots to get a shot off. It’s just as impressive to me in the level of awareness Burton has within the mechanics of his shot. He’ll trick a defender on a closeout by setting up his pump-fake to look identical to his normal shooting motion. The fact that Burton can use his “tell” to cause the defense to over-commit on the closeout means that he can use that to either drive past that poor guy, or he can throw a quick pump to get a chance at a four-point play.
Burton is such a threat on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense isn’t exactly on par with it. Let’s just get the bad out of the way with this side of the ball. The Isolation defense isn’t great. I know, I know, the Synergy and InStat numbers will throw out some solid stats in this particular defensive play type. As many know, defensive numbers are largely an indication of the team’s construct and scheme as opposed to a player’s actual effect on possessions. A look at the film, and you can see that when Burton is asked to be on an island, he has some ground to make up for on that front. For what it’s worth, he does try when lined up across from a ball handler. He isn’t always consistent in trying to force his matchup to one side or the other, which means three things (maybe more—calm down, coaches): 1) His base isn’t advantageous for a recovery. 2) He is at the mercy of the ball-handler, and he will have to be reactionary vice being proactive. 3) The help is less likely to be prepared for what is coming.
When his matchup drives, Burton occasionally falls victim to playing “matador” defense. He won’t necessarily abandon the play, as you’ll notice he tries to put a hip on the driver, keep a hand or two up, and won’t recklessly leap to contest the shot in such a way where he gets called for a foul. However, this is coming from a reactionary place, and he can set himself up to allow the driver to simply stop and rise up for a floater or runner.
Sometimes they convert, sometimes they don’t, but he’ll have to correct this error to earn the trust of his coaches at the next level.
When he is established in a “deny” or “help” stance, Burton is much more comfortable and more likely to be a difference maker on that end. Being about 6’7” with close to a 6’10” wingspan, he is adept at playing passing lanes and prodding at a big man trying to establish himself in the post while dribbling.
He uses his reach to intercept the ball and push the break, but I wouldn’t say he is a gambler. He carefully selects when he inserts himself on the pass, and he is capable of hitting the guy ahead with the pass.
The one area on the defensive end where he is more than capable of standing out is crashing the glass. Looking at defensive rebounding as a defensive skill is kind of an “eye-of-the-beholder” line of thinking. Eliminating second chances is clearly something that will help coaches sleep at night, and this is an area of the game that Burton does consistently, climbing the wall on almost every rebound opportunity.
He finished second in the Atlantic 10 conference in total defensive rebounds, as he averaged 6.2 per game. Sometimes, players will have the team box out heavily to allow one player to gather the board and push the break. This is not the case for Burton. He seems to have a burst of explosion that he doesn’t always show in most other areas of the floor, while his 215-pound frame and wingspan help to keep the opposition at bay.
The Awesome Might
Coming off of the back of my piece from August 29th, I have made it a priority to not fall victim to falling in love with the newbies coming into the next draft. Players take leaps ahead from one season to the next, but the inverse of that could happen too. Seeing as how Burton was looked at as a possible draft candidate last season, he is going to be one that I monitor closely as this coming season unfolds before our eyes. It is worth noting that he did undergo surgery this offseason. On July 10th, he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. The procedure took place on July 20th, with an expected return in the middle of this month given to the public.
Despite the injury, Burton’s playstyle seems well suited to be able to come back and play his game. There is a long list of players that have gone through the same surgery that have come back and played well. The fact that Burton is young suggests that the recovery should be very positive. If that is the case, I am looking forward to seeing him make noise and rise among the ranks of players that look to get drafted in 2023.
“Anyone can win a fight when the odds are easy! It’s when the going gets tough—when there seems like no chance—that’s when it counts!”
Peter Parker, “The Amazing Spider-Man”, Volume 1, Issue #536