Editor’s note: Jordan Burgess is currently listed as day-to-day with an ankle injury.
For the first time in a while, Jordan Burgess feels like his has his legs under him.
Both literally and figuratively, Burgess spent his freshman year in search of sure footing. While the 6-foot-5 Midlothian, Virginia native was a starter and solid contributor for most of last season, when he averaged 4.9 points per game, he rarely felt completely comfortable.
That has not been the case this season. Healthy and confident for the first time in two years, the redshirt sophomore swingman has seen across the board improvement. A rugged presence on both ends of the floor, Burgess is averaging career highs in points (7.5) and rebounds (4.1) per game.
On offense, Burgess has looked like a different player. On drives, he’s taken the ball hard to the rim and has been finishing around the basket. When he’s not, he’s looking for open 3-pointers. Long twos and mid-range shots – statistically inferior to layups and 3-pointers – have largely been eliminated and account for just 12 percent of his attempts this season.
According to Jeff Horne, who creates shot charts for every VCU game, 34 percent of Burgess’ field goal attempts have come from about six feet or less, and he’s converted 83 percent of those opportunities.
In 2013-14, Burgess shot just 28 percent (24-of-85) on all 2-point baskets. In 13 games this season, he has converted 65 percent (20-of-31) of his attempts from inside the arc. Overall, Burgess is shooting 49 percent from the field, and his effective field goal percentage (59) leads the team. Burgess shot just 31 percent overall last season with an effective field goal mark of 39 percent.
VCU Coach Shaka Smart says shot selection has been a point of emphasis for the Rams this season.
“[Assistant Coach] Jeremy Ballard shows these guys after every game our reads. Did we make the right read did we take the right shot? So I think we’re making progress with that,” Smart said.
Burgess appears to be one of the primary benefactors. Bad shots have been largely disappeared from his repertoire this season.
“Last year I was forcing a lot of bad twos. This year I’m attacking better and making more layups than last year. If I’m driving and more than one person converges on me, it means someone else is open,” he said.
Shot selection has been just one component of Burgess’ growth. With a year of experience under his belt, he’s now more confident in his game at the college level. Another reason he’s more confident this year is improved health. Burgess suffered a right knee injury during his redshirt season in 2012-13 and then sprained the same knee early last season. He played most of the season while wearing a bulky brace.
Now, the brace is gone and the knee feels strong. When Burgess puts the ball on the floor to drive to the rim, he’s confident he’ll have the legs to get there.
“I couldn’t jump like I used to be able to before I had knee problems,” Burgess said. “Knock on wood, my knees are feeling great. The best they’ve felt in a while.”
Now that he’s coming into his own, Burgess is beginning to convince people that he’s more than just Bradford Burgess’ brother. Bradford, who played for VCU from 2008-12 and was a member of the Rams’ Final Four team, scored nearly 1,700 points during his career.
It’s been a difficult balance for Jordan, who is close with his brother – currently playing professionally in Italy. Despite the distance and time difference, Jordan says he and Bradford talk nearly every day. Jordan, three year’s Bradford’s junior, wears the same No. 20 as his brother.
Jordan says his bruising, physical style developed from playing in pickup games with Bradford and his older friends. The kids were bigger and more mature. The games were physical. It was either get tough or go home. Today, Jordan’s toughness is perhaps the defining trait of his style of play.
“What he’s been able to do for us is provide a level of toughness,” Smart said. “He’s one of those who’s almost always in the right place defensively. We need more guys like that and he’s shot the ball better than has last year so far.”
Now that toughness is allowing Burgess to muscle his way out of his brother’s shadow.
“He’s just playing with a lot more confidence. He’s a lot more sure of himself,” Smart said. “He’s mostly moved beyond comparisons with Brad. I think last year, for whatever reason that was a big deal. He’s his own man. He’s his own player. He’s a different type of player.”
“I’ll never really able to escape it because he did great things, but last year at the beginning of the year it was kind of a big deal,” Jordan says. “I still think about it, but it’s not at the front of my mind now. Now I’m trying to write my own story.”