Of all the guys I once decided to clump together as "the C4", Alec Burks remains The Great Mystery. Whether he makes sense as a starter or 6th man is debated by fans. Whether he's even a SG or a PG has been the subject of several posts. Whether he will ever be better than Randy Foye was once a thing.
I happen to be a believer in Alec Burks.
I also know that many of you are not. I think he showed a lot of promise last year (not potential, but tangible reason to say he has improved and will likely still improve). Others say he had a terrible year.
I don't claim to know.
But I can present reasons I think he showed promise, and then let you all decide what you think.
When Alec Burks played regular minutes he was actually decent
Let's zoom back to last November. Alec was benched after outplaying Randy Foye in preseason—a situation I believe Ty Corbin foretold mid-October when he said some very talented players were not going to get the playing time they may deserve because of fit.
Alec did not respond well. He played only garbage time, and he played poorly. How bad? 18% shooting (!) and 14% from three. Three total assists, and five total rebounds (compared to 2 TO's and 9 PF's).
From December to the end of the year, Alec played regular minutes. Sure there were a few DNP's, and some random 4-minute games, but if you look at his game log, you can see how different it was. What did Alec do when he played regularly? (per-36 minute stats)
14.5 points, 3.1 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.1 steal, 0.4 blocks, 2.4 TO's, 3.4 fouls ... 43% FG, 38% 3P, 73% FT
They may not be All-Star numbers, but if you're getting that production from your fourth best guy, your team is doing okay.
I don't think it's reasonable to completely throw out his November garbage time numbers, they happened. But it also seems reasonable to note that things were different when Alec played them than when he did the rest of the year. I believe the second set of numbers are more reflective of what Alec will regularly produce when given a regular role — because that's what he actually did produce when given a regular role.
Alec was good defender matched up against PG's
He held opposing PG's to a PER of 11.8. This was by far the best of our PG's last year. And this includes some crunch-time defense against starting PG's.
And what makes me quite happy is that Alec wasn't actually a great defender his rookie year. He had moments that showed potential, but no extended play of consistently tough defense.
This shows me a guy willing to work on his game. And it's why I feel hopeful that he can extend his defensive play to the SG spot. It's far from a certainty, far from even probable—but it's still a reason I feel optimistic.
Alec improved his outside shooting
And it wasn't just his 3-point shooting, but also his long-2. Both were pretty bad his rookie year, and both showed significant improvement in year-2. Neither is ideal yet, but it again shows a guy who is improving his weaknesses. And as has been said before, though the long-2 isn't an ideal shot, a SG has to be able to hit them to open up the rest of his game. Otherwise, Kobe defends Ronnie Brewer, and we all remember what that was like.
Even including the rotten November, a lot of Alec's stats improved
3P%, assists, defensive rebounding, steals, and blocks were all better in year two.
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So what does it all mean? Who knows. I cite reason to feel optimistic. I also know that everything I wrote above screams both "Sample Size!" and "Cherry Picking Data!" warnings. And because of this, I would say that of the five guys I expect to start, Alec Burks strikes me as the least likely to break out as a star.
And that, of course, is the point of this exercise: to see what needs to happen for one of our F5 to make that leap to NBA stardom.
So let's look at some things Alec specifically needs to do:
Midrange and Close
Alec Burks has been awful when shooting from 3-15 feet. Like worse than Derrick Favors awful. In numerical terms, we're talking 26%.
That has to get into the 40% range. He has to be able to hit shots off curls, hit floaters, and hit sudden pull-up J's in order to keep the defense off-balance. It will completely change his production at the rim, his passing to cutters, and everything.
To me, more than anything else, these shots will determine what Alec Burks can be as a scorer.
I'm not going to go all hyperbole about Alec's passing ability (I did that last year, I was mocked, and I totally deserved to be mocked). What I will say is that he's shown the ability to throw some nifty passes every now and then. That said, he still only threw out 2.9 assists per-36 minutes. If you look at the best of the best SG's, they generally give out 4-6 assists per game.
It's something a scoring SG needs to learn to do ... to use his threat as a scorer to open up and enable easy shots for his teammates. I don't think Alec has learned to do this yet. Part of it is he's not been an elite scorer to date. But part of it is also that he also doesn't create a lot of shooting opportunities for teammates the way top SG's do.
After his midrange shooting, I think his assist rate is probably the second most significant aspect of his game that will determine whether Alec can be a star or not.
This is often a different sort of thing than defending a PG. PG's have the ball in their hands more often, and stopping them is often about stopping the dribble. SG's do much more off the ball. This is a big deal to Alec. He has shown strong defense against the PG, but not nearly as strong against SG's.
And those defending PG skills won't necessarily translate to strong D against the SG's. So it's not that Alec has to just be prepared to defend bigger guys, but he has to often play a different kind of defense to be effective.
His rebounding is, of course, one of his major strengths. And it's a significant reason he may fit really well playing with Gordon Hayward ... it covers for Hayward's deficiency as rebounder from the SF spot.
Burks hasn't had a huge turnover problem to date (it's fairly average for a SG), but it will be interesting to see what happens if he starts assisting more. His foul rate is a bit high, but pretty average for a Jazz player off the bench (this has been a Jazz philosophy for years ... bench guys seem to be told to foul with glee).
Alec Burks is so tantalizing, I believe, because he's looks like the kind of SG the Jazz never have. He's athletic. He has shown range from three, as well as a nice ability at the rim and get to the line. And he's athletic. And he doesn't have the kind of terrible knuckleheadedness you see from guys like J.R. Smith, Nick Young, and Co. When the best SG's in the past 10 years are probably Wesley Matthews and Raja Bell ... well you see how it's easy to go a little crazy with excitement.
And then there's his attitude on the court. Bill Simmons often talks about the Irrational Confidence guy. Think JR Smith or Jet Terry. Burks somehow goes beyond this ... he seems totally unimpressed with even his most spectacular plays. "Yeah, whatever. I do that all the time" he seems to embody. I can't get enough of it.
And so it's easy to get carried away with how good Burks is likely to be.
If I had to make a $1000 bet on which of the starters would emerge as the scoring star, I'd bet on Kanter. With Hayward and Favors as options 2(a) and 2(b). I believe the most reasonable hope is that Burks emerges as a nice complementary 4th guy alongside the three leaders. Part of this is my totally subjective perception that he does better when he plays off others instead of trying to be The Man. Part of this is acknowledging that of the four, Burks has established the least impressive career to date.
But at the same time ...
Damn, it would be fun if Burks could pull off becoming the star. I can't help it.