Image: AllThatAmar; Photo Source Images: Ezra Shaw - Getty Images (Wade, Burks), Mike Zarrilli - Getty Images (Hughes)
Back in July 16th I was astounded by the similarities between Alec Burks and Dwyane Wade. I wrote about it here. And it goes beyond just the data for their rookie years. It incorporates their sizes, draft combine measurements, college careers, and NBA rookie seasons. David Locke announced in a YouTube video on September 27th that he felt as though Burks was most similar to Larry Hughes. You can watch it here, and skip forward to the 11:45 spot. Back in July when I looked at the data I was very, very happy to see what I saw. And then this morning I looked at the comparison between Hughes and Burks (hat tip to Locke), and then I got very, very sad.
Hughes is a guy who was an NBA player for 13 years, who started 509 of a possible 727 regular season games, and a few times he scored 16 or more points per game. He's not a bad player on paper. He was really inefficient, shot poorly, but did a number of things well on the floor during his peak. He made the big jump from his rookie year to his second year in the league, but did not make the necessary big jump from his second to third years.He did play more, but did not get better. To be compared to Larry Hughes doesn't mean you are being compared to a scrub, or a marginal talent. Hughes was legit for a while, but did not really have the career that you'd want as a #8 lotto pick in the draft.
Wade is a two time NBA champion, multiple time All-Star and All-NBA player, and it's almost necessary to quantify his achievements. You know how good he is.
So when looking at the guy I thought was on a Wade trajectory, and then be grounded back down to earth to see that, "Hey, he could alternatively be on a Larry Hughes trajectory," well . . . it wasn't a happy moment. Clearly these two guys are super different in their careers. So why even have them in the same sentence? Well, it matters, and it is relevant, because right now Alec Burks and those two other players (one a star, the other a starter) seemed to have startlingly similar rates of production as rookies.
See, this is specifically the problem here. When you look at how they shot (in traditional terms, not things like what their PPP was on spot up three pointers from the corner or whatever), and what their PER 36 minute production rates were like you end up scratching your head. Why?
Because there ain't no damn way Hughes and Wade were every similar players!
Right? Well, there is some truth to that, even if the numbers make them similar. As a rookie Wade played 34.9 mpg, while Hughes played only 19.8 mpg. Alec played even LESS, only 15.9 mpg. Wade played more, played with arguably better players, and his sample size is much larger. I do attribute some of Wade's commanding assist supremacy to being on the floor at the same time as Eddie Jones (former All-Star), Lamar Odom (Reality TV star), Brian Grant (solid starter), and Caron Butler (former All-Star). Who was Larry and Alec on the floor with? Aaron McKie, Tyrone Hill, Enes Kanter, and Earl Watson. You go get an assist with those guys.
The other major point is that Larry and Alec both had rookie seasons in lockout years with little to no practice and less than a full schedule of games. Wade, who picks up injuries like a Kirilenko, had a full season where he wasn't able to suit up in more than a quarter of the games that year. As rookies Wade played more MPG while not being able to play in every game. He didn't get the "DNP-Raja Bell'" that Burks got. And he didn't play in a 50 game season where you ran a system called "Iverson ball". Wade had more opportunities to get assists. And he got more assists. This is reflected in the advanced stat AST%. Wade had a 25.1% as a rookie. Burks (9.5%) and Hughes (15.3%) did not. It should be noted that Wade played a lot more point as a rookie than Burks or Hughes did.
Aside from the assists thing (and really, you get an assist when you're running with Enes Kanter), Burks is similar to both players in almost equal measures. He wasn't as efficient as Wade at scoring (PPS), but he wasn't bad at threes like Larry was. He got rebounds more than Dwyane, but did not block like him. The problem, right now, isn't that he seems to be right down the middle between both older guards. The problem right now is that we don't know what kind of jump he is going to make over the next two seasons.
That seems the be the crux of the issue here. It's not how many points you scored in college (Larry played one year, Dwyane and Alec played two). It's not what your lane agility score was at the combine, because off-season work outs and in-season injuries change that as you age. Right now Wade is the prototype combo guard. Alec can be a very good combo guard if he really improves a lot. Larry had all the tools as a young player, but he did not sustain his growth as an NBA player.
Growth is often an example of directed opportunity. The more chances you have, the better it should turn out. In the NBA game, opportunity is something we can quantify in minutes per game -- in actual NBA games. Here's how it looks for these three guards:
Wade started out with all the opportunity as a lotto pick, and killed it. He was good, he deserved the minutes. He got the minutes. Hughes, also a lotto pick, worked his way up, and when he moved form Philly to the Warriors he got more playing time, but did not continue his progress as a player. Burks, also also a lotto pick, is starting out way behind on the opportunity scale. He has some catching up to do. I do contest that he should have played more, but the Jazz seem to have a hard on for making life hard on rookies. Burks was already better than Raja Bell, most all evidence points to that. Bell was flat out stealing minutes last year. And minutes to a guy Bell's age have less benefit than the crucial early career minutes a guy Burks' age needs. (Performance is all about comfort on the floor, comfort on the floor comes from confidence that you can play in this league, the feeling of confidence that you can play in the league comes from seeing good things happen on the court, and seeing good things happen on the court is a direct product of actually being ON THE COURT)
But in the case of Hughes it's not just minutes that matter. You can throw all the minutes in the world to a bad player who is not motivated, and he'll never get better. Look at all the minutes Jarron Collins got over his career. His best season was his rookie year, and he never got better. (I'm not making that up either, check it out for yourself, FT% went down, PPG went down, RPG went down . . . his highest PER was in his rookie year.) What Larry did do was have a significantly good enough jump from Year 1 to 2.
Right now, on the precipice of Burks' second year I think it's totally okay to ask if he's most similar to Larry than Dwyane. I hoped for Wade myself, not just as a fan, but as a product of my own research into the subject (which goes beyond 1 lockout shortened year's worth of data). Wade made good jumps from 1 to 2, and from 2 to 3 and beyond. Dude even hits threes now.
I think being drafted a bit lower than he wanted, not playing as much as he wanted as a rookie, and generally his attitude from not even going to the college program he wanted, Burks seems to make do with the situation he is in, and has a chip on his shoulder. He wants to get better for the purpose of being better. I never got that vibe from Larry Hughes, and he always seemed happy to be here. Wade wants to win. And he has won. Twice.
I think personality-wise Burks is closer to Wade than Hughes. And I think it's that intrinsic motivation that will push Burks to not take it easy after solidifying himself as an NBA starter. Hughes isn't horrible. He's not a guy without NBA talent who'll never get into games, or a guy who isn't even in the league. He played for 13 seasons. He was a starter for 70% of the regular season games he played in his career.
Somehow I don't think that's Burks' main goal. He's not here to just be a starter. He strikes me as a bright, self assured individual who may or may not know his coach's first name. (I see you, Diana) For me, as a fan, clearly I want him to be more like Wade than Hughes. There have been other lotto guys who are "just" NBA starters and no better. Logically it is not a failing for a guy picked #12 to "just" be a starter, or even a rotation guy. According to 82games.com only about 30% of guys picked #12 are solid or stars. So if Alec doesn't make it, it's supposed to be okay.
Looking at the numbers, watching him move on the court, seeing his tenacity (his offensive rebounds! his pick and roll defense! his steals!) and from reading about the chip on his shoulder I do have higher hopes than Hughes for Burks. And I think he will be better.
Oh, and one last thing . . . Locke stated in that video that Burks may be a bit small for the 2. I guess he is, if the idea is to keep pushing 6'8 Gordon Hayward as the 2 of the future. But from their pre-draft measurements, Wade (who plays the 2) was 6'3.75" without shoes. Burks was 6'5.0" without shoes. Larry's was 6'4.5". If you go deeper into the measurements Burks maximum reach and wingspan aren't shabby for a shooting guard either. He doesn't have a 7'1 wingspan like the 6'5 Marshon Brooks, but he doesn't have the 6'7.75" wingspan of a 6'8" Hayward either. For the record, I'm happy with Hayward at the 2. I'd take really anyone as long as it's not Randy Foye or Raja Bell starting there this year.