St. John's basketball in review: 2008-09 Justin Burrell

#24 - Justin Burrell

St John's logo2008-2009 Class: Sophomore

Position: Forward

Height: 6'8"

Weight: 240

Age/ DOB: 21/ April 18, 1988

Home: Bronx, NY

stats taken from Statsheet, kenpom.com, and my own calculations

2008-2009 Highs

High Points
18
(Notre Dame (I))
High Assists
3
(Cincinnati, LIU)
High Rebounds
11
(Cornell, SHU)
High TO
6
(Syracuse)
High FT Att
10
(South Florida)
High FG Att
17
(Louisville)
Low FG Att (20 mins)
2
(DePaul)

A funny thing about a weak pre-conference schedule: it's not really obvious when a player has been struggling. During the high-level portion of St. John's season, Justin Burrell was wearing a protective face mask to guard his fractured face. Some players are ok with a sight-obstructing, warm piece of plastic on their face. Others are not.

At times, Burrell confessed to being a little lost on the court, about becoming a finesse player. When challenged by Coach Roberts to never take only 5 shots in a game again before the Notre Dame win, he responded with a couple of games where he looked for his shot.

Then it was hard to see him in the field goal attempted or free throw attempted columns. His counting stats (points, rebounds, etc) seem to indicate that something has changed. And he seemed to show more energy on defense against Georgetown, once he was free to take off the mask.

But was it the mask?

Maybe, but maybe not. Justin's minutes dropped from 31 to 27.9, owing partly to other options in the post of Sean Evans and Rob Thomas, but owing also to what looked at times to be a lack of concentration and Justin Burrell pensivestruggles with aggressiveness and confidence. Burrell also struggles with turnovers - though he's not a dribbler - and often gets the ball in unfavorable positions, which speaks to the offensive flow around him. Still, he seems to pass up opportunities to create his shot or to shoot his jumper. Last year was a disappointing performance for those (like me) who thought he might break out.

The 2008-2009 performance was a near-copy of his 2007-2008 season - with fewer minutes, fewer attempts, a higher free throw rate (and more free throw attempts) and expanded range. Once again, his effective field goal percentage was around 41% in conference, though he added 5 of 15 shooting on 3-pointers, which were wide-open, feet-set shots. Which also means that his 2-point shooting dipped slightly (from 41% to 40%), which is a little alarming for a power forward... especially considering that at his height and with his athleticism, those are very low percentages to begin with.

He took 20.8% of the team's shots while on the floor, as opposed to 25% in the previous year's Big East play. Perhaps Burrell was a little lost out there. Adding to that idea are his rebounding percentages. They remained about the same, and are lower than his rebounding rates in the beginning of his freshman year. Combined with little change in his turnover rate (hovering around 24% of possessions), his numbers didn't improve.

But when he lets the frustration out, and cocks back a one-handed hammer dunk like the one on Rutgers... whoo, man, the potential is there. Burrell also used his body better to get to the free throw line, which should be an important part of his game now that he can take more contact. His free throw shooting plummeted to 62.5%; but he has range, and I would expect that number to come back up. Burrell's defense is probably better than the team's interior defense looks; he seems to both stay with his assignments and can block some shots from the weak side.

Impact on the 2009-2010 Season

Burrell is an integral part of the Red Storm - he is athletic, filled with ability, Justin Burrell dunks on Georgetownquickness and strength. But he needs to put his skills together, and his confidence has to be high. But his teammates need to find him instead of driving for their own shot; there are times when Justin is open, and the ballhandler passes up on throwing the ball in to #24 with his arm outstretched and waiting. Feed the post!

Burrell always seems like a cerebral forward; perhaps too cerebral. His defense and initial positioning in the post can get better, but I will focus on the offensive end here. Here are some things Burrell can work on during the offseason:

Aggressiveness. The games where Justin Burrell is persistent in taking shots aren't his best games percentage-wise, which has to make being aggressive very difficult. But aggressiveness isn't just taking shots; Burrell needs to get into position, and he needs look to make plays when he gets touches. He can use his skills to draw in the defense and kick the ball back out, provided his teammates are moving to areas to receive a pass. Still, his taking 2 or 3 shots in any game should not happen. He has to attempt jump shots with a hand in his face; he has moves in the post; Burrell has to use these skills.

Additionally, Burrell needs to rip some rebounds out of the hands of opponents, point blank. He should be a better rebounder than he is currently showing.

Ball Control. Burrell's problems with turnovers has less to do with errant dribbling and more to do with controlling the ball on the catch, and with getting caught when he turns into the defense. He has to work on recognizing and countering double-teams.

Develop the Skills. Burrell's post moves look decent, if a little mechanical; but many times he gets his shot off and misses. His jump shot is coming along. And if he can work on a quick two-dribble drive, he would be just nasty going to the basket; he would spend his afternoons at the free throw line and demoralizing opponents. And if he gets above 70% from the free throw line again, he'll be putting up big games.

All of these issues with his game might be lessened if the team plays faster, more instinctively; Burrell has looked better in space, reacting to loose balls and driving at the hoop. Burrell expects more of himself than he showed last year; here's hoping he comes back with a vengeance.

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