When it was time for John Wall to catch a breath last season and the second unit rolled into the game, Ramon Sessions was the man called upon to initiate the offense.
Sessions provided the Wizards with a steady and consistent presence, appearing in all 82 games and often giving Washington exactly what it expected from him. Sessions was a penetrating guard, who got to the free throw line often. In fact, Dennis Schroder was the only guard with more games of 20 or fewer minutes and 4+ free throw attempts. Sessions wasn’t a great shooter but knew his limitations and didn’t attempt a lot of long shots. If he couldn’t get to hole, he got the Wizards into their offense, which usually meant dumping the ball into the inside.
Sessions is now in Charlotte, and Washington acquired Trey Burke to assume the duties of Wall’s backup. Burke, the former Michigan Wolverine, has a smaller frame than Sessions and plays a different game. His numbers declined almost across the board in each of his first three seasons in Utah, and now he’s looking to get his career back on track.
One immediate upgrade Burke provides over Sessions is his ability, and more importantly willingness, to score from the outside. Burke shot a career-high 34% on threes last season, which isn’t great, but in 18 fewer games he attempted over twice as many as Sessions (32%). Burke is also 7 years younger and should be able to push the tempo more for the second unit, not that Sessions wasn’t shy about getting into transition.
Burke doesn’t get to the free-throw line nearly as much as his predecessor, but if he’s able to improve on a career 1.6 attempts per game, he knocks them down over 80% of the time. The biggest downgrade going from Sessions to Burke will likely be on the defensive end of the floor where Burke’s defensive real plus-minus was 75th out of 79 qualified point guards, 27 spots behind Sessions.
The change at guard plays into the NBA’s change in offensive philosophy – that guards who play on the perimeter are more efficient than their mid-range counterparts. If Burke can improve defensively, Scott Brooks should be able to put him in positions to succeed on offense. And with Burke’s game still in the development stage, there’s a good chance his best days are ahead of him. The Wizards are hoping those days are more immediate. If not, Burke will have to look over his shoulder for Czech rookie Tomas Satoransky, who will be competing for minutes at both guard spots and small forward. Satoransky’s ability to finish at the rim adds a drive-and-kick dynamic to the second unit that Burke does not. Whether the move to Burke will be an upgrade this season remains to be seen, but the ceiling for what he can become is way higher than Sessions and that’s a good thing.