One year ago, this is what Dennis Lindsey had to say about Alec Burks and the Utah Jazz offseason. He received criticism for the lack of initiative in using cap space and building the team. Burks had missed the majority of the previous season with a shoulder injury and surgery, but he looked prime for a breakout season with the upstart Jazz. The Jazz were ready to roll with their young guys, Burks included.
Less than two months later, Dennis Lindsey’s marquee free agent was lost to injury. Again.
To say that Burks has struggled with injuries would be an understatement. Over the last two seasons he has only played in 58 games. His shoulder surgery cut the ’14-15 season short, while a fractured ankle all but ended his 15-16 season. This June, Burks had arthroscopic surgeries on both his knee and ankle, a “minor” surgery that he is still rehabbing from. No exact timetable has been set for his return.
Burks is a 6’6″ guard out of the University of Colorado, entering his sixth season. He’s a very dynamic player, relying on his ability to drive to the basket and get to the free-throw line. He’s shown flashes of being a well-rounded player, filling up the box score at times, though he has typically been a score-first guard. He’s also shown to be a surprisingly adept three-point shooter.
He looked to be a big part of the future of the Utah Jazz and their current core of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert when he was first drafted. His minutes and production increased steadily over his first few seasons, resulting in a 4-year, $42 million dollar extension in 2014. Though that kind of contract is hardly shocking after this offseason’s spike, his production and contributions are not what anyone anticipated going into year two of the extension.
Assuming and hoping that Burks gets back on track and joins the Jazz again soon for a healthy season, what can his role be, and how will he fit in with the Jazz? The Jazz are no longer a thin team. They are flush with guard and wing depth. Players like Rodney Hood, Danté Exum, and Joe Ingles have filled in nicely, and minutes may be sparse for Burks when he returns. If Burks is going to maximize his role with the Jazz this season, he has to do three things well:
This is a different team than the last time Burks was healthy. The Jazz are built upon a defensive identity, and if Burks is going to get consistent minutes, he must buy into this completely. Last season, in 31 games, Burks posted a defensive rating of 102.7. This was higher than the team average of 101.6 for the season. While Burks has shown the propensity to be a good individual defender, his ability to get on the court could be tied to his ability to provide excellent team defense.
This is now a shooter’s league. The Jazz brought in proven shooters in Joe Johnson and George Hill to further complement the talents of Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, and even Joe Ingles. Burks shot 38.2% and 41.0% from three the last two seasons. He was a very good spot-up shooter, hitting 40.9% in 31 games last year. He needs to show the ability and willingness to take and hit threes.
Burks need to continue to do what he’s known for – getting to the basket with ease. Burks is a very skilled ball handler, and he can be a big asset off the bench for the Jazz. His ability to get to the basket will allow him not only to finish at the rim and get to the free throw line, but to dish the ball out to open three-point shooters like Trey Lyles and Boris Diaw. He needs to show the ability to get to the rim while making the right decision.
How much playing time will Burks get this year? That’s a question that Quin Snyder may not even know the answer to right now. However, if Burks is able to bring defense, creation, and shooting to this team, he will be hard to keep off the floor. While he may no longer be the best “free agent” acquisition, there’s still time for Burks to shine.