For the Utah Jazz this season was partly about development and discovery. Sometimes those two things go hand in hand when you find something new about a player who is getting better with each passing game. If you look at trends it's not hard to see how this could be applied to shooting guard Alec Burks. Burks is on quite a scoring tear right now. Well, he's not scoring 40 points per game like Kevin Durant did earlier this season; but comparatively to what the Jazz used to get from him, it's a significant tear on its' own. As far as bench scorers go what Alec has done over the last 15 games really needs to be recognized. Over the last few weeks we've seen flashes of greatness, but how good has he been? Let's find out.
Burks was "The Man" at his University of Colorado team and was drafted late in the lotto. Historically players picked at the #12 spot end up having better, more fruitful careers if they come into the NBA with an NBA level skill. For what it's worth the the players drafted there who are good at a number of things, but do not have an NBA level skill, seem to have a harder time sticking in the league. Lacking a reliable NBA range three point shot, it was clear that if Alec was to have an NBA ready skill on offense as a player it would have to be something other than shooting. Thankfully for him he found out that you could score a lot from fifteen feet, and in.
Burks has a strong slashing game where he does best when he's on his way to the rim. If you YouTube him (how is this now a verb?) you can see that he frequently wows crowds with his acrobatic finishes in the paint. More than that, though, we see that he has a knack for getting to the line. That's his NBA ready skill and he came out of the box with it. Now in his third season with the Jazz, he has honed that to a very fine point. And as a scorer, that's his main weapon on the court.
And really, being a guy who can get to the line a lot really makes scoring easier. Some of the best scorers do their damage from the line and don't think twice about it. A rookie Kevin Durant used it to his advantage and never looked back. Our own Karl Malone has the most free throw attempts in NBA history. Getting to the line is a great starting point for building a scoring repertoire around. And over the last fifteen games Burks has done just that.
But first, let's look at where Burks is, over all:
N.B. 2011-2012 season stats include Playoff Stats
Alec's cumulative career numbers don't scare anyone. His traditional shooting splits of 43/35/74 are far below the Jeff Hornacek idealized numbers of 50/40/90 for a Jazz shooting guard. Even if you isolate just this last season his shooting splits are 45/34/76. That's just about average for him, even if there are minor benefits seen when you round everything up. I think that's the wrong way to look at Alec though. His scoring efficiency doesn't come from how well he shoots from deep.
For Alec his scoring is based on getting to the line. And his efficiency from there is seen no better than from his Points per shot (PPS) value. As a rookie it was only 1.17, but has climbed up to 1.29 this season. Why? He's getting to the line and making more of his free throws there. Now that he's playing consistent minutes for the first time in his career, he's also consistently getting to the line. And the end result is being a consistent scorer. In 27.4 mpg he's scoring 13.7 ppg, and getting to the line 4.8 times a game. So on average he's getting a shooting foul drawn three times a game. Twice on missed contact layups, and probably once more on an And-1. Drawing three fouls per game off the bench is a pretty cool talent.
But Burks had really stepped it up over the last 15 games. And he appears to be heating up.
Here's what he's done over the last few weeks.
|12||@ Trail Blazers||1||24.8||12||5||15||33.3%||0||1||0.0%||2||4||50.0%||33.3%||35.8%||0.80|
What really pops out to me (besides the two games where he finished with fewer than 5 points) are his free throw attempts. Playing real minutes he's finally abusing teams this way in a significant enough manner.
If you add it all up, over the last 15 games he is averaging 26.9 mpg, scoring 16.1 ppg (46/36/76 - not really different at all from his season averages), but really killing it from the line. He has averaged 6.7 free throw attempts per game, which is pretty hot for a back up guard, right? Moreover, he's heating up. In the last five games he's averaging 17.2 ppg, and getting to the line 7.4 times a game while hitting 81.1% from there.
If you look at PPS for a gold standard indication of how efficiently he's scoring with free throws being a big part of it, well, during this stretch he's scoring 1.43 PPS. Karl Malone was a 1.41 guy. Food for thought.
So Burks is scoring really well right now.
How does it compare to the best scorers this season? Well.....
|7||LaMarcus Aldridge||Trail Blazers||53||1960||37.0||23.9||9.8||21.0||46.6%||0.0||0.2||20.0%||4.3||5.3||82.1%||46.7%||51.3%||1.14|
|14||Damian Lillard||Trail Blazers||58||2082||35.9||21.2||7.0||16.1||43.2%||2.8||6.9||40.9%||4.5||5.1||88.5%||51.9%||57.9%||1.32|
Let's compare the cumulative Top 20 scorer in the NBA to Alec Burks over the last 15 games.
Obviously those guys are better. They play more, take more shots, score more, and again, are just plain better. But Burks does go to the line more, and has a more ‘efficient' game based on PPS. What if you boost up Alec's minutes, vis a vis the Millsap Doctrine.
If he can build from that it would be good. So there's more development left for sure for Burks. But right now, he's almost playing like a Top 20 scorer in the NBA. And in a season of development and discovery the next thing for the Jazz to find out is to see how long can this last.