FanPost

Who Are You, Alec Burks?

Here is some bad news for the “Burks for Point Guard!” movement. (I’m not affiliated with that particular party, obviously.) Or maybe I should say more bad news, given the summer league results—an elite foul rate, ferocious scoring and shooting both, and looking very much like a true SG. As good a passer as Burks may appear to be, or even may be in actuality, the numbers suggest he’s about as unsuited to running the point as Al Jefferson—not in terms of physical ability, but in his mentality and perception of how the game is played. And I think the numbers show it.

How do you get statistics on a player’s perception of play? Well, here’s how I tried. I started with the premise that great point guards aren’t defined as much by court vision alone as by how and why they manipulate what goes on across the court on the offensive side of the ball. A John Stockton, Steve Nash, or Jason Kidd plays primarily on awareness of his teammates’ and their defenders’ positions in relation to the basket, is my theory. Thus, when Stock set up a pick and roll, he focused primarily on how the defenders all over the floor reacted and how that created an advantageous position for a teammate. This is very different from a score first shooting guard such as Kobe Bryant. Excluding called plays designed specifically to lead to a pass, putting Kobe Bryant in a pick and roll situation automatically triggers him in scoring mode. His focus and perception of play is based off of his own relationship to the basket and defenders’ abilities to interfere with him getting the shot he wants.

Burks’ ability to make beautiful passes, especially off the drive while in the interior of the defense, has relatively little bearing on his suitability as a point guard. How his mind is built—conditioned to primarily hurt the defense by putting his teammates in advantageous positions to score or scoring himself—will determine whether or not he can play the position at a high level. To try to assess how Burks is wired, I decided to look both at his shooting and passing, but also to try to get a handle on how innately aggressive he is. When on the court, how much of Burks’ offensive game focuses on himself as an individual player and how much hinges on combined effort with teammates?

To assess this, I looked at per 36 numbers for Burks as compared to a number of other prominent rookies at both guard positions. Specifically, I looked at field goal attempts (FGA), free throw attempts (FTA), offensive rebounds (ORB), assists (AST), assist rate (AST%), and usage rate (USG%). My theory is that a player’s innate aggression can be seen several ways through these numbers: a higher ratio of FTA compared to FGA equals more independent offensive aggression; any guard who offensive rebounds at a high rate is likely to be particularly aggressive; shooting numbers compared to assist numbers suggest obvious preferences in how the game is played; finally, similar USG% ensures that conclusions aren’t skewed by Burks having a significantly more or less significant role in an offense than comparison players.

The answer seems pretty clear to me. First, I compare Burks to past point guards, all of score-first mentalities. Most are recent players, though I included Isiah Thomas as a prototype true point guard who also had a scorer’s mentality:

Per 36

FGA

FTA

ORB

AST

AST%

USG%

Alec Burks

13.7

5.5

2.2

2.1

9.5

22.5

Russell Westbrook

14.8

5.8

2.4

5.9

27.5

25.8

Tony Parker

10.1

2.5

0.5

5.3

23.9

17.7

Isiah Thomas

15.8

6.3

0.8

8.4

32.6

25.0

Tyreke Evans

15.7

6.3

0.9

5.6

26.1

26.2

Kyrie Irving

17.3

4.5

1.0

6.4

36.5

28.7

John Wall

13.4

5.4

0.5

7.9

36.0

23.8

Derrick Rose

14.5

3.0

1.2

6.1

28.8

22.6

AVG

14.5

4.8

1.0

6.5

30.2

24.3

A lot of things immediately jump out at me. While Burks is similar to the average in both field goal and free throw attempts as well as usage rate, his work on the offensive glass is more than double the average, while his total and rate of assists are both three times lower than the average! In short, he scores much like these score first point guards but doesn’t come near them as a passer. His assist numbers are so much lower the comparison seems laughable. The player nearest to Burks in AST% was Tony Parker, whose percentage was still well over double what Burks managed (even with substantially the lowest USG% of all these players). Across the board the nearest comparison to Burks is probably Russell Westbrook, given the rebounding, but the discrepancy in AST and AST% is too extreme to consider it a true similarity. Simply put, Alec Burks is not this type of player.

He also appears more aggressive than the average: slightly fewer FGA as opposed to almost one addition FTA per game, plus a huge ORB. These numbers suggest Burks is a player who perceives the game with a high degree of independent aggression. He looks to score using himself far more than his teammates, and is likely to have inferior awareness of his teammates when he has the ball, at least when compared to all the players on this list. Yes, even Tyreke Evans, who is now playing small forward, and Russell Westbrook, who is fresh off of Magic Johnson’s worst-point-guard-in-Finals-history comment.

But while all these players are score-first players, they were all (with the exception of Burks) also drafted as point guards and played that position as rookies. So some of the passing discrepancy is certainly due to positional difference. How much? A comparison of Burks to prominent rookie shooting guards can give us an idea.

Per 36

FGA

FTA

ORB

AST

AST%

USG%

Alec Burks

13.7

5.5

2.2

2.1

9.5

22.5

Allen Iverson

17.8

6.4

1.4

6.7

33.6

28.9

Kobe Bryant

13.8

5.4

1.5

3.0

13.8

24.7

LeBron James

17.2

4.0

1.1

5.4

27.8

28.2

Dwyane Wade

13.5

5.3

1.4

4.7

25.1

25.0

James Harden

12.0

5.0

1.0

2.8

12.3

20.4

Manu Ginobili

10.0

4.3

1.2

3.5

15.8

18.5

Brandon Roy

13.7

5.0

1.2

4.3

21.3

24.1

AVG

14.0

5.0

1.2

4.3

21.3

24.1

Again, we find Burks shooting numbers to be very similar to the position average, though slightly skewed toward the aggressive with a slightly higher FTA and slightly lower FGA. Once again, his ORB is a clear outlier. (Translation: At either guard spot, Burks will likely be a beast on the offensive glass.) But once again, with a very comparable usage rate, Burks’ assist numbers are less than half the average for this group of shooting guards. And while Allen Iverson frequently played point guard his rookie year and LeBron James has always been a point-forward, most of these players have never been anything but pure off guards. Even the least pass-happy among them, Ginobili (15.8 AST%), Kobe (13.8%), and James Harden (12.3%) all had substantially higher assist rates as rookies compared to Burks. The rookie player most similar to Burks according to this list, by the numbers, is Kobe Bryant: almost identical field goal and free throw attempts, both impressive on the offensive glass, both below average in the assist categories. Would anyone in his right mind suggest that Kobe Bryant could ever have become as great a point guard as he has been a versatile, scoring wing? Not a chance. The numbers suggest a similar skepticism in regard to Burks.

Just to finalize the argument, here are few players to compare to Burks just because I was interested:

Per 36

FGA

FTA

ORB

AST

AST%

USG%

Alec Burks

13.7

5.5

2.2

2.1

9.5

22.5

CJ Miles

13.5

4.3

3.2

2.8

14.3

21.8

DeMar DeRozan

11.1

3.2

1.4

1.1

4.9

18.1

Danny Granger (adjusted for USG%)

12.3

3.8

3.4

2.3

8.8

22.0

My idiosyncratic curiosity yields these insights: rookie CJ Miles projected slightly better as a point guard than Alec Burks, at least in terms of a passer; and there is, indeed, a more shoot-oriented young guard of decent talent in the league than Burks—DeMar DeRozan, a.k.a. Why Do Anything Else When I Can Score? Danny Granger as a rookie ends up being a very good comparison passer-wise when adjusted for a similar USG%. AST and AST% are very close between the two. Granger gets more offensive rebounds, which makes sense considering his position and height, and shoots slightly fewer shots with fewer free throws (likely a product of so many threes). But I sense these numbers show two very different types of players—a slasher vs. a shooter—who have remarkably similar perceptions while on the court. Both have a much higher awareness of their own position and scoring options than they do that of teammates. Since his rookie year, Granger has proven to be a largely one dimensional player: a scorer. He sometimes chips in respectable rebounding numbers for his position, but is not much of a facilitator at all. If we go by the numbers, Alec Burks will likely mature as a player along a similar scoring line. While I do believe Burks is a better and more willing passer than Granger, I suspect his greatest asset as a passer is the ability to dish deep in the paint off a drive. In such situations, the pass will always be the second option, his own shot the first.

And you know, that's great. The Jazz have an athletic youngster who, after his rookie reason, looks to have the scoring mentality of a Russell Westbrook or Kobe Bryant. I'm not sure I can think of a better wing combination for such a player than Gordon Hayward, with his improving shot from distance and substantial skill as a facilitator. The Jazz can make great use of both players so long as they employ them for what they are--one attacking scorer and one versatile wing--and not for what they aren't. And Alec Burks doesn't look much like a point guard.


All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.

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