Trahson Burrell is using his year in the D-League to become a true pro

Being a professional basketball player encompasses many aspects of a person. Not only must you be able to perform on the court when your number is called, but attitude, character, drive and coachability all come into play. While there are numerous players in the D-League right now who possess NBA talent, another aspect of their game or personality might be holding them back.

Trahson Burrell is a 24-year-old rookie who has ascended from JuCo superstar to a real eye opener as a rookie in the D-League. Burrell played two seasons at Lee College in Texas, where he averaged 20.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists before taking his game to the University of Memphis. Although he didn’t achieve star-type heights at Memphis, he finished his two years with averages of 9.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in just 24 minutes a night.

Instead of being used as a spark plug off the bench, the 6-foot-7 wiry Burrell is now a mainstay in the starting lineup for the expansion Long Island Nets. Through 33 games, Burrell leads the team in minutes (28.8) and averages 12.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting a respectable 49.4 percent from the field.

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Burrell is from Albany, New York and Long Island plays in Brooklyn this season, so he’s close to home. The Step Back recently talked to Burrell who was noticeably giddy when asked about playing in his home state: “It’s crazy, man. This is where I wanted to go so when they drafted me it was crazy. It’s just a two-hour drive for family to come watch me play. I also have a one-year-old son too, so it’s awesome to drive home when I can to go see him and family. The support really drives me.”

Burrell’s style on the court is eerily similar to another Memphis alum in Will Barton. Barton is listed at 6-foot-6, 180 pounds and Trahson is 6-foot-7, 190 pounds. They both very much live in the quirky, mid-range, take-you-to-the-basket bubble of the basketball world. Burrell confirmed the comparison for TSB as well: “I model my game after a lot of guys, but mostly Will Barton because he’s so crafty. I also watch a lot of Paul George and DeMar DeRozan, but I hear the Barton comparison a lot.”

Burrell is becoming more and more comfortable with the pro game three months into the NBADL season. Watch the video above and it’s easy to see the Barton comparison stylistically. Also notice how he was being guarded all game by one of two members of the Portland Trail Blazers — Jake Layman or Tim Quarterman — on assignment with Windy City, and he torched them. Burrell finished that game with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting and added 7 assists, showing off his vision and playmaking on the wing.

The differences between the college and pro games are stark, and Burrell was quick to point that out when asked. “The pace,” he said. “College is a slow it down, grind it out style. We get it and go now, so the pace is turned up. The physicality is definitely different as they let a lot more go here. We also have way more plays, so knowing the schemes, where you’re supposed to be at all times and stuff like that is different. There’s a lot more basketball IQ involved now”.

The skills are seemingly present for Burrell, but — as mentioned earlier — most guys have their own bugaboo holding them back, and he’s no different. The great thing is he knows it already. “Keeping my composure is what I’m really focusing on. I’m an emotional guy. I want to win and sometimes it gets the best of me. I’m really learning how to keep my attitude and emotions in line.” It’s cliche, but identifying the problem is half the battle. A lot of players have this “issue” but don’t realize it until it’s too late.

The Long Island fit has worked wonders for him, too. He gushed over the coaching staff, saying “Ryan Gomes helps me a ton. He knows what it takes as a former player and he keeps us all in check. The set up here is great. Coach [Ronald Nored] is a young guy. He understands us, he gets it. It’s his first year as a head coach and it’s the first year for a lot of us and I really look at it more like a brotherhood”.

Burrell is a bit of a throwback player. The majority of his points come from in the paint or mid-range looks, where he is very efficient. He’s shooting 56.4 percent (227 attempts) on shots from 16-feet and in. Step outside of 16-feet and he dips considerably down to 32.2 percent. He’s only hitting 31 percent of his 3s as well, but he knows his strengths and weaknesses at this point, so almost 72 percent of his field goal attempts come from within 16-feet. Some players will continue to shoot from inefficient spots despite the numbers, but Burrell shows off some of that IQ in knowing where he can succeed on the court.

There are 17 games left for the Long Island Nets (13-20) this season. They likely will not make the playoffs and there’s no guarantee Burrell will earn an NBA call up either. Right now he’s laying the foundation for a successful career as a pro, trying to earn NBA Summer League invites with the hope of getting an opportunity to prove he belongs at the highest level next season.

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