Hours before the game it was announced that Utah Jazz players Alec Burks and Raul Neto would be joining the Salt Lake City Stars in the Wednesday matchup against the Grand Rapids Drive. The two had joined the Stars on Monday, along with Dante Exum, for a practice but this marked the first time a Jazz player other than Joel Bolomboy was being assigned to Utah’s D-League team.
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) January 11, 2017
While he was going up against the D-League’s top ranked prospect in Ray McCallum, Neto was the best player in this game. Neto was the consummate professional that he has been all season as he came in and controlled the offense for the Stars without being familiar with any of the players and get 12 assists. He drove the ball into the paint and the defenders collapsed on him, leaving shooters open for him to find. Neto was only one rebound away from a triple-double as he crashed the boards throughout the game.
You can make an argument that Neto is the 14th or 15th man on the Jazz roster right now, but to see him come in and play at this level against a very good player in McCallum was very reassuring. The depth the Jazz have this season has been discussed many places, but Neto being at the end of the bench is a big part of it.
Neto said he was happy to get some minutes and do well tonight, though at first he was a little nervous to play in the D-League, “At the first moment it’s tough for a guy who played almost all season last season as a starting point guard in the NBA to come and play in the D-League, but I think that I was ready to play and like I said I’m happy that I came here and I’m happy that I played a lot of minutes, and I’m happy that it went well.” Neto even mentioned that if the chance came up again and he isn’t getting minutes with the Jazz he would like the chance to play in another Stars game so that he can get some in-game minutes.
While Neto truly looked like the best player on the court, Burks was a slightly different story. This was the first real time that Burks has played 20 minutes of five-on-five basketball in over a year. At times we saw the old Burks as he slashed to the basket and made a spinning layup or pushed the ball in transition. In other moments Burks looked winded and appeared to be on a rehabilitation assignment.
If this game was any indication the injuries have note changed the core fundamentals of Burks game drastically. He is still a score-first guard who is an above average rebounder. He did not show any hesitation in attacking the basket as some might have feared after coming back from an injury. His shot did not fall tonight but what I did think was positive were the attempts from three. While he has certainly taken 17 shots in a game, he has never taken more than six threes in an NBA game. Burks has been a pretty good three point shooter over the last couple years, but his attempts have been low for a shooting guard. If he has embraced the three and is willing to up his three-point attempts this could open up the driving lanes for him even more and much him much better on the offensive end.
Burks was excited for this opportunity to play with the Stars: “I think it was great for my rehab. I haven’t really played in 12 months so I feel like it was great. I got to run up and down and get contact.”
However, do not get your hopes up on seeing Burks in a Stars uniform again. When asked if he anticipated playing any other games with the Stars, Burks said: “Nah, I don’t.”
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) January 12, 2017
Head Coach Cooper was ecstatic to have these two guards with the team and talked about how they help make the Stars players better in the long run: “I’m sure Alec has to be the highest profile player to ever play in a D-League game. I think as much as anything, hopefully, our guys realize how hard the NBA is and what you have to do to play there. Raul comes down and his minutes are all over the board with the Jazz and he’s a rebound away from a triple-double and picking up Ray McCallum who is an NBA caliber player and frustrating him and played hard the whole time. To me, that was the biggest thing that we could take away from this, a lot more than winning a game.”
The rest of the Stars roster played fantastic as they shot 51.0% from the field and held their opponent to 40.0%. Michale Kyser stepped in to start, and though he is more of an athletic wing played minutes at center because of injuries to the Stars bigs. Playing as a big deemphasized his lack of shooting and allowed Coach to utilize his athleticism and defense. Kyser ended up with 12 rebounds and was a +28.
Marcus Paige thrived playing off-ball and had 22 points on 7-12 shooting, including five threes. Paige continues to improve with every game, though his limitation will always be that he is a shooting guard in a smaller point guards body.