Salt City Hoops » Alec Burks http://saltcityhoops.com The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Tue, 16 Sep 2014 23:12:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Salt City Hoops no The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Salt City Hoops » Alec Burks http://saltcityhoops.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://saltcityhoops.com/category/players/alec-burks/ Focusing on FTr: Alec Burks and Trey Burke http://saltcityhoops.com/focusing-on-ftr-alec-burks-and-trey-burke/ http://saltcityhoops.com/focusing-on-ftr-alec-burks-and-trey-burke/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 18:30:48 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12363 Author information
Laura Thompson
Laura Thompson
I grew up in California, but have been a Jazz fan pretty much since I was in diapers; I went to Karl Malone's basketball camp when I was 11 and I flew up to Utah in 1997 to go to Game 3 of the Finals. After graduating from BYU in 2008, I moved back to California to work in Marketing and have been doing that for the last five years. My favorite things in life are the Utah Jazz, basketball, food (whether cooking or consumption of), reading, church, black Labs, and the beach (though hopefully not in that order).
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Rocky Widner - NBAE via Getty Images

Rocky Widner – NBAE via Getty Images

I was looking at some stats for the team, and what stood out to me was the discrepancy between Trey Burke’s free-throw rate (.126) and Alec Burks’ (.449). Burks has a FTr better than 3.5x that of Burke’s. I don’t mean to harp on Burke entirely on this one, but I think noticing the discrepancy illustrates both what makes Alec Burks unique—and potentially elite in one area—and how improvement in this area could elevate a young-and-improving Trey Burke from a below-average starting point guard (according to Hollinger’s PER ratings, he’s 52 of 71) to what could be an average to above-average starting point guard.

 

Rk Player Age MP PER TS% eFG% FTr 3PAr ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% TOV% USG%
1 Gordon Hayward 23 2800 16.2 .520 .454 .369 .271 2.5 14.0 8.0 24.1 2.1 15.0 23.1
2 Trey Burke 21 2262 12.6 .473 .442 .126 .375 1.8 9.0 5.3 29.4 1.0 12.2 21.8
3 Richard Jefferson 33 2213 11.8 .573 .544 .248 .460 0.9 10.8 5.7 9.6 1.3 11.5 16.9
4 Derrick Favors 22 2201 19.0 .556 .522 .380 .001 10.1 23.7 16.7 7.3 1.8 12.9 20.8
5 Alec Burks 22 2193 15.8 .547 .487 .449 .172 3.0 10.7 6.8 16.9 1.7 13.0 23.9
6 Enes Kanter 21 2138 15.6 .523 .491 .239 .001 11.6 20.9 16.1 6.4 0.7 13.3 23.3
7 Marvin Williams 27 1674 14.0 .540 .519 .139 .445 5.5 17.9 11.5 7.7 1.7 8.7 16.7
8 Jeremy Evans 26 1209 16.2 .549 .527 .226 .006 11.1 18.7 14.8 6.1 1.8 9.9 15.3
9 Diante Garrett 25 1048 7.1 .459 .449 .045 .362 1.2 9.8 5.3 17.6 2.1 21.7 15.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/27/2014.

 

So let’s look at some numbers and comparisons and see where each player stands.

One of the things that was so tantalizing about Alec Burks’ game his rookie season was his ability to get to the line—a skill very few rookies have to that degree. His FTr in his first season was .401, which was third on the team that year behind Enes Kanter (.445) and Derrick Favors (.436).

 

Season Age Tm Lg Pos G MP PER TS% eFG% FTr
2011-12 20 UTA NBA SG 59 939 14.0 .506 .450 .401
2012-13 21 UTA NBA SG 64 1137 11.5 .507 .463 .332
2013-14 22 UTA NBA SG 78 2193 15.8 .547 .487 .449
Career NBA 201 4269 14.2 .528 .473 .409
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/29/2014.

 

How did that FTr compare to other rookies in previous years? I was curious what superstars had as their FTr their rookie seasons: Burks’ .401 FTr was higher than Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James. Of the superstars I looked through, only Kevin Love had a higher FTr than Alec Burks in his rookie season.

 

Rk Player Season Age G MP PER TS% eFG% FTr
1 Carmelo Anthony 2003-04 19 82 2995 17.6 .509 .449 .358
2 Alec Burks 2011-12 20 59 939 14.0 .506 .450 .401
3 Anthony Davis 2012-13 19 64 1846 21.7 .559 .516 .333
4 Kevin Durant 2007-08 19 80 2768 15.8 .519 .451 .328
5 LeBron James 2003-04 19 79 3122 18.3 .488 .438 .308
6 Kevin Love 2008-09 20 81 2048 18.3 .538 .461 .488
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/27/2014.

 

Interestingly, Burks’ FTr dipped to a mere-mortal .332 in his sophomore season, possibly because opposing teams knew more what to expect, and also possibly because he was sometimes tasked at the PG position.  But that doesn’t explain how he was able to increase his FTr in his third season to an incredible .449. Given the improvement he made in his game last season, I’m intrigued to see what his FTr will be in 2014. With a new-and-improved offensive system and better spacing, will Burks be given the green line to attack the rim with reckless abandon? Burks has an elite skill in his ability to get to the line; what if he became the best in league in that area?

So what about Trey Burke? He had a very solid season for a rookie point guard, especially considering he broke his index finger in the preseason. We saw how much better the team was with him running the show instead of JLIII or Tinsley. We saw how careful he was with the ball (very low turnover rate). We saw how clutch he could be. But looking at his stats, his FTr is incredibly low. If he were a poor free-throw shooter, that might be a more understandable statistic, but given that he shot 90.3% from the line last year, why not attack the basket a bit more and make the opposing team pay for it by sinking the free throws?

 

Rk Player Season Age G MP PER TS% eFG% FTr 3PAr
1 Trey Burke 2013-14 21 70 2262 12.6 .473 .442 .126 .375
2 Stephen Curry 2013-14 25 78 2846 24.1 .610 .566 .252 .445
3 Goran Dragic 2013-14 27 76 2668 21.4 .604 .561 .381 .274
4 Tony Parker 2013-14 31 68 1997 18.9 .555 .513 .266 .073
5 Chris Paul 2013-14 28 62 2171 25.9 .580 .511 .397 .244
6 Russell Westbrook 2013-14 25 46 1412 24.7 .545 .480 .370 .271
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/29/2014.

 

Admittedly, the numbers above compare Trey’s rookie season numbers to star point guard’s numbers. But I think it’s instructive to show how much an increase in FTr and TS% (which will be bumped up by an increased FTr assuming his FT% stays stellar) could go a long way in helping Trey become a much better point guard. Chris Paul, someone to whom Trey was (unfairly) compared before entering the league, has a similar build and speed to Trey, but has learned how to use his body, how to use angles, and how to use his craftiness in order to get to the line, at more than three times the rate as Burke. Steph Curry has a FTr exactly twice that of Burke, while shooting almost nearly as well from the line (88.5%). What’s impressive about that is Curry takes nearly eight three pointers a game; he spends a lot of his time outside the arc, yet still gets to the line a decent amount. Dragic also went to the line at a rate three times that of Burke, which also helped contribute to his excellent TS% (60.4%). Of the star point guards here, Tony Parker had the lowest FTr at .266, which is still more than twice that of Trey’s. Russell Westbrook, considered a top point guard by Hollinger’s PER, had a FTr nearly three times that of Burke.

This is one area in which Trey could improve pretty quickly and fairly easily. He has the handle, he has enough speed and a quick-enough first step; I’ll be interested if he can develop a craftiness and some hesitation moves, a la Chris Paul, that enable to him to throw defenders off just a split second, enough to get them to foul him. Even though it’s nitpicking one stat, I think it’s one stat which, if improved, can dramatically improve other areas of his game. And with a new coach and a new offensive system, I think it’s very possible.

Author information

Laura Thompson
Laura Thompson
I grew up in California, but have been a Jazz fan pretty much since I was in diapers; I went to Karl Malone's basketball camp when I was 11 and I flew up to Utah in 1997 to go to Game 3 of the Finals. After graduating from BYU in 2008, I moved back to California to work in Marketing and have been doing that for the last five years. My favorite things in life are the Utah Jazz, basketball, food (whether cooking or consumption of), reading, church, black Labs, and the beach (though hopefully not in that order).
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Should Utah Extend Alec Burks? http://saltcityhoops.com/should-utah-extend-alec-burks/ http://saltcityhoops.com/should-utah-extend-alec-burks/#comments Fri, 04 Jul 2014 22:40:10 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12115 Author information
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and general sports fanatic based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Nylon Calculus (Hardwood Paroxysm/Fansided Network), and can be heard on the airwaves for the SCH podcast and appearances with ESPN AM 700. With a strong background in both statistics and on-court fundemantals, he writes primarily as an in-depth strategic analyst. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
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Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Free agency is a complex game of give-and-take. Offer too much or too soon, and you’ve spent your way out of potential assets whose situations become clearer in later days. On the flip side, too much patience puts you at risk of seeing your targets snatched up elsewhere, and the balancing games herein are heavily contextualized and require not only an in-depth knowledge of personnel league-wide, but also of a stupidly complex CBA and its various intricacies.

The concept of restricted free agency tosses in further wrinkles, especially for larger names commanding eight-figure per-year offers – the simple standard of incumbent teams receiving 72 hours to match any outside offer can create a multitude of issues for potential suitors. Jazz fans with their ear to the ground this week have seen an example of this firsthand, with a report from Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Cleveland is unsure about offering Gordon Hayward a max offer sheet and tying up their cap for three days, a time during which they could potentially miss out on backup options should the Jazz match. The other side to this coin, though, is the obvious risk of either losing or overpaying a guy based on outside offers, another the Jazz could be experiencing firsthand if reports from ESPN’s Marc Stein on Hayward’s negotiations last offseason are to be taken at face value and Utah does end up matching a max deal or something close to it.

The Jazz have two more such situations in their infancy this summer, as both Enes Kanter and Alec Burks have a single year left on their rookie deals and will become restricted free agents next offseason if not extended by the time the 14-15 season begins. Kanter, with a larger salary scale due to his high lottery selection and coming off a disappointing season, appears a near lock to hit the restricted market.

But what about Burks? Coming off his best season as a pro despite very few positives around him, the young swingman generates a variety of opinions. On one end of the spectrum are folks like me who rate him very highly, with work to do on the mental side of his game but with the physical tools in place to be a hugely impactful NBA player if he makes the expected developments from a 22-year-old. Others point to various metrics that paint him as mostly average, and emphasize some of his issues on the thinking side of the ball (particularly defensively when away from the ball-handler) as serious concerns going forward for a guy who, in their minds, is nothing more than a head-down slasher offensively.

With the truth, as always, likely somewhere in the middle, it’s an interesting situation the Jazz have to at least take a look at before next season. Much will depend on their own internal assessment of Burks, and the argument for waiting another year on a commitment is bolstered somewhat by the train of thought that a new coaching staff may want more time to see him up close. But again, this carries the risk of either losing him or being forced to match a larger-than-preferred offer should he make another leap or two this season.

Is he worth the advanced commitment to keep this from happening? I wrote quite a bit on Burks during the season, including a February piece highlighting some of his strengths and weaknesses along with the areas he’s improved since coming into the league. I noted how, while he still has real work to do as a help and rotation defender, he’s shown marked improvements in even his weakest areas since coming into the league. He still over-helps on penetration far too often, but I continue to prefer this to under-helping as it at least shows an effort level and willingness to do his part. But he’s drastically improved elements like his defensive stance and positioning, as well as team-oriented defensive schemes like high hedges and icing side pick-and-rolls; on the ball, he was easily Utah’s best perimeter defender last year. I also find many of his mental hiccups (bad screen navigation, occasional ball-watching) to be due at least partially to less than optimal coaching, something Jazz fans everywhere are confident will improve going forward.

He’s thought of as a major threat on the break, but this perception is perhaps slightly overstated – per Synergy, he was both less efficient and less opportunistic (in terms of percentage of his offense) than one might hope given his speed with the ball. He wasn’t bad by any means, and an emphasis on more up-tempo play from Quin Snyder should help him here. He needs to improve his touch around the hoop, as he’ll get lazy and mail in attempts that should be close to automatic, but this again appears easily fixable given his immense athletic skill and the remarkable finishes we’ve seen from him at times.

Burks showed his largest year-over-year improvement last season in the halfcourt offense, where he made big strides in multiple areas. He improved his shooting from basically everywhere on the floor, including huge leaps from the 3-10 foot and 10-16 foot range, per basketballreference.com, despite a noticeable jump in his usage. He shot barely under 40 percent on corner 3’s, another area where he’s incrementally improved every year in the league. He needs some work as a distributor, but he’s made legitimate strides here each season – from an assist percentage (percentage of teammate field-goals assisted while on the floor) of 9.5 in his rookie year, Burks has advanced to 13.0 in 12-13 and 16.9 last season, again per basketballreference. He also turned the ball over less last season than the year before, a real accomplishment given his added usage and ball-handling responsibilities that were likely a bit too heavy for his skill set.

And of course, his calling card is how well he gets to the hoop. Burks led the Jazz in drives to the basket per game last year, per SportVU data on NBA.com, and was their only consistent threat to create his own driving lanes. Of 91 rotation players league-wide who attempted at least 200 drives, Burks checked in within the top 15 for points produced per-48-minutes on drives, narrowly ahead of both LeBron James and Kevin Durant and trailing elite penetrators like Tony Parker, Monta Ellis and Jeff Teague. These sorts of stats are obviously incomplete, but combined with an eye-test knowledge of his game, it’s easy to see where Burks’ biggest strength is.

He still needs major work on his selectivity offensively, as he was far too content to chuck away from midrange when defenses forced him there. The Jazz tweaked their pick-and-roll looks with him last year to try and clamp down on some of this, and increased offensive creativity from Snyder should do more of the same. This general issue for Burks remains his mental acuity on both sides of the ball, but it once again must be noted that he’s made real improvements here since entering the league, this despite a questionable head coach for the entirety of this period.

As far as the Jazz go, all the above particulars might end up coming down to a relatively simple question: do they value him and his potential significantly more highly than the market will? There’s obviously a ton of imprecise science going into that sort of decision, but it’s the sort NBA front offices are commonly faced with. How he’d fare on the open market is tough to gauge, but a few smart folks I talked to while preparing this piece pegged him in the $6-$7 million/year range, while a few others were a little higher on him. On yesterday’s SCH Podcast, editor Andy Larsen used a league comparison to contextualize things: Jodie Meeks, formerly of the Lakers, signed this week with Detroit for just under $7 million per season. Check out their splits from last year against each other – Burks is four years younger and had the higher PER, but Meeks shot the ball better and piled up bigger raw numbers on a chuck-tastic Lakers team. Are they worth similar amounts? It’s hard to say, especially given the league’s emphasis on 3-point shooting (and the fact that Meeks’ contract was for three years and Burks will be expecting four), but again, the main question isn’t what they’re actually worth, but what the market thinks they’re worth.

The Jazz could be at a real advantage here, especially if they rate Burks as highly as those in my camp. If they could get him for Meeks’ per-year figure or less this offseason and avoid the risk of him entering even a restricted market, I think they have to give it a look. Another mini-leap from him this season, easily possible in a new system that should better suit him, could place him in eight-figure territory and really stretch Utah’s ability to keep him if a large offer for Hayward is matched. The specifics here might be key, and the acquisition of Steve Novak’s salary today may tighten things even more, but it should be considered.

These are some of the toughest elements of managing an NBA franchise. On one end is a potential loss of an asset, and on the other is a premature commitment to a player who may or may not be deserving of it. But Lindsey and his crew have proven up to the task so far this summer, and the Novak trade is another savvy move. Can’t wait to see how it all shakes out.

Author information

Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and general sports fanatic based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Nylon Calculus (Hardwood Paroxysm/Fansided Network), and can be heard on the airwaves for the SCH podcast and appearances with ESPN AM 700. With a strong background in both statistics and on-court fundemantals, he writes primarily as an in-depth strategic analyst. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
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They Said It: Telling Jazz Quotes http://saltcityhoops.com/they-said-it-telling-jazz-quotes/ http://saltcityhoops.com/they-said-it-telling-jazz-quotes/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 18:00:08 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=10814 Author information
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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What does Derrick Favors say about his defense? (Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)

What does Derrick Favors say about his defense? (Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)

Going straight to the source for insights on the Jazz.

Today’s Salt City Hoops analysis comes straight from the Jazz themselves.

Well, sort of.

For a change, we’re going to take the players’ word for things and analyze a couple relevant topics through the lens of some of Jazz Nation’s favorite youngsters. We’ll hear what they have to say and react with some analysis.

 

Derrick Favors on his defense

Yessir! (When asked if he’s still on the top of the Jazz’s proprietary defensive ranking system.) I take my defense very personal… If my guy score on me 2 or 3 times, I tell coach, ‘Don’t switch me off of him, let me guard him. He ain’t gonna score no more.’

This whole interview was interesting to me because it displayed a level of personality and confidence you don’t get out of Derrick in every interview. It makes me think there’s a chance we have gotten the seemingly stoic Favors terribly wrong. But this quote in particular was interesting because another topic that’s been coming up a lot lately is “what’s wrong with Derrick’s defense?”

The answer, according to both Favors and the Jazz rating system? Not much.

Quick note on the Jazz’s system. It is largely behavior-based and not outcome-based. If you do the right things on the play but guys still score on you, you can still grade out pretty well. But I don’t think that’s what is happening.

The other difference between the Jazz’s own defense grade-outs and, say, Synergy, is that the person assigning Favors a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the play knows what his assignment looked like within the Jazz’s scheme. Synergy has to make a sometimes arbitrary decision on how to classify the play type as well as which defender the stop or score belongs to.

But since we don’t have access to the Jazz’s rating, let’s evaluate the question through the lens of Synergy. Honestly, his overall Synergy rating is based on some pretty wonky samples. He only has a large enough sample to have a category ranking in four play types, and he only has 435 assigned plays total.  I think we all can agree that Favors has a role in more than 7 defensive plays per game. That the number is so low alone indicates that he’s not getting credit for all the of plays that he impacts — only those where Synergy’s rules, which are completely agnostic to the Jazz defensive system, say he responsible for the outcome.

He rates as very good to elite in three of the four categories he ranks in, and rates slightly above average in the other (post-up, his most frequent defensive play category), and yet is a below average defender overall per their definition.

Again: wonky. SportVu cameras tell us that Favors defends more than 8 attempts per game just at the rim, to say nothing of everywhere else on the floor, so Synergy probably shouldn’t be trusted for evaluated him based on a selective memory of 7 total defensive plays per game. And since nbawowy.com gives us some other ways to articulate his defensive value, it’s also worth mentioning that with Favors on the floor, the defense is 1.5 points stingier per 100 possessions.

In short, we probably shouldn’t freak out over Synergy numbers. If the system created by people who know what Derrick’s supposed to do in every situation says he’s our best defender, and the team is better defensively with him out there… I trust that.

Because hey, he said it.

Richard Jefferson on Gordon Hayward’s Funk

You can’t put pressure on yourself. I try to tell him, ‘Look, when you got drafted or when you were in your last year at Butler, if someone told you you were going to get $10 million to play basketball, you would blow your mind… I don’t know what his number is, [but] all of a sudden, if you’re getting $11 instead of $13, you’re in a bad mood. No, that can’t be your mentality. And you can’t worry about what teams have money, what teams don’t…

…At the end of the day, we’re all very blessed, and there’s no difference between having $40 million in the bank and having $48.

There’s no other way to put it at this point: Hayward’s struggling. He hasn’t been the same since the injury, and his pre and post All-star splits definitely paint a picture of lower engagement.

We could have used Hayward’s own words here, too. He did his own sit-down with David Locke where he admitted that this is the first time he hasn’t had fun playing basketball. “Yeah, probably. It’s been a job sometimes this year.”

But the Jefferson quote was even more telling because he goes ahead and hypothesizes that the Hayward funk has to do with his contractual situation. Keep in mind, Locke didn’t ask a question about money; he asked a question about Jefferson’s friend/mentor relationship with Hayward, and Jefferson answered with a treatise on playing the game for love and not worrying about money. That feels like it’s pretty telling about what’s in Gordon’s thought patterns (and certainly his conversations, at least with Richard).

On a certain level, this is non-news. Which one of us wouldn’t have a rough time going the extra mile at work when our big raise was just put on hold pending further performance review? I used to study workplace engagement a lot, and I can attest that human nature makes it hard to maintain high performance.

That said, I’ve never been negotiating a raise that would put me at an 8-figure annual salary, so my frame of reference here is severely lacking. Jefferson has, though, and he just told us that Hayward is allowing his financial outlook affect him on the court.

I mean, hey… he said it.

Alec Burks on significant basketball

It’s very, very different (referring to contrast between this season and last). Games last year counted — counted a lot. We had a lot more veterans in there that took leadership roles. But right now we’re just learning, just learning through everything. We’re gonna get better.

Thanks to the tireless Aaron Falk at the Tribune for sharing this one.

The 2012-13 Jazz fell short, but not before they played 81 meaningful games. You could argue that this year’s Jazz — mathematically eliminated just last week from playoff contention — haven’t played a game with playoff implications since the 1-14 start in November.

This reminds me of when Devin Harris came to Utah and talked about how excited he was to be playing for a team that was relevant after a few missed-by-a-mile seasons in New Jersey. Interestingly, Harris wouldn’t make the playoffs that year either, but the fact that he was on a team that could have made it added to the experience.

Like Harris, I believe playing relevant basketball matters greatly, especially in terms of player growth. We talk a lot about the magical development effect of minutes, and I argue on principle quite a bit because I don’t think all minutes are created equal. You have Game 7 crunch time, you have crucial late-season battle for playoff seeding, you have a drama-free game in the dog days of January, you have garbage time in blowouts, you have pre-season, you have summer league… there’s a whole spectrum of importance. I think that being a secondary contributor in honest-to-goodness battles has more development value than being a main cog in glorified exhibition games — which is essentially what the Jazz have in front of them.

Of course, reps matter, too, so I don’t want to minimize the importance of what is happening right now in terms of player growth. When Burks and his peers are faced later with some more meaningful situations, the hope is that their muscle memories will kick in because of the reps they’re getting now. But when Burks — who averaged 19 minutes last March compared to 29 now — shrugs the importance of this stretch run away and tells us that this basketball is different, we should believe him.

After all, he said it.

Author information

Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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In His Words: Alec Burks On His Improving Defense http://saltcityhoops.com/in-his-words-alec-burks-on-his-improving-defense/ http://saltcityhoops.com/in-his-words-alec-burks-on-his-improving-defense/#comments Mon, 17 Mar 2014 16:18:19 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=10781 Author information
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and general sports fanatic based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Nylon Calculus (Hardwood Paroxysm/Fansided Network), and can be heard on the airwaves for the SCH podcast and appearances with ESPN AM 700. With a strong background in both statistics and on-court fundemantals, he writes primarily as an in-depth strategic analyst. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
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Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Third-year Jazz guard Alec Burks has frequently been the topic of my adulation this season in all aspects, but particularly for his rapid improvement on the defensive side of the ball.  He’s made a noticeable leap from a supremely athletic youngster showing glimpses of elite defensive potential to an on-ball stopper, and his help defense has made great strides as well.

Salt City Hoops editor Andy Larsen caught up with Alec after practice last week, and picked his brain a little on some of his development defensively.  Alec and Andy’s comments will appear in bold, while I’ll add some of my thoughts in a few places.

Andy: What’s the biggest difference for you on defense from college to the NBA?

Alec: Just the level of athletes.  Grown men, you know, world-class athletes.  That’s the biggest difference.

Andy: Is there a difference in the schemes teams play, like is there more zone in college?

Alec: I played a lot more zone in college with my team [at Colorado], but I feel like the athletes, and the level of talent at this level, it’s just unbelievable.

Andy: Did you find, in your rookie year, that it was tougher to stay in front of guys?

Alec: No, just knowing when to be aggressive and not be aggressive, you know?  I feel like my rookie year, I was sometimes too aggressive and they’d go by me, sometimes I wasn’t aggressive and they’[d] score, so it’s just knowing the balance of it.

Alec’s answers here speak to themes he’s certainly worked on each year in the league, not just during his rookie season.  His defensive development began, like Andy points out, with the transition from college to the NBA.  This was a twofold segue, as Alec notes – not only the large leap in talent and athleticism, but a change from a more zone-heavy defense to a league where zones are used considerably less frequently.

He’s made most parts of this transition quite well, and as I’ve noted, he’s taken the most noticeable leap from last season to this one.  The move from zone certainly hasn’t hurt him, as he’s quickly developed into a very good on-ball wing defender.  One small variation he’s started to see more recently with opponents recognizing his quickness and agility goes back to his own point about managing his aggression and balancing when to turn it on and off – watch him here defending Devin Harris:

Harris is nothing if not heady, and he loves to throw in little variations to catch his defenders off guard.  He knows Burks has elite closing speed on drives to the hoop, so he waits just until Alec has the right amount of momentum and stops up for the good look.  Here’s Bradley Beal pulling the same gag:

These sorts of variations are the next step in Burks’ improvement defensively, but let’s be clear about something: that he’s already at this point is, by itself, a positive.  It takes a majority of players longer than a couple seasons to grasp what may seem to casual fans like simple defensive principles – things like staying in front of drivers, good footwork, and positioning look easy on TV, but the game is a lot faster in person.  That Alec is already well versed in several of these areas and can already shift much of his defensive focus to containing the resulting variations is certainly encouraging.

Andy: The numbers show that this year, you’ve done a great job defensively.  Is that work you did over the offseason?

Alec: [It’s] just the overall opportunity, just knowing how guys play and their tendencies, I’m just learning more and more.  [It’s] my third year, I’ve just seen a lot of players play the game a lot, so I think that’s what it is.

Whether or not Alec is perhaps smartly guarding some secrets to his preparation and offseason work, the numbers do indeed showcase his defensive leap this season.  He’s fallen from his top-5 perch among isolation defenders league-wide, per Synergy Sports, but with the relative infrequency of pure isolation plays and the remarkably low per-possession numbers the league’s very top guys in this area put up, this is really just the result of a couple extra made baskets here or there.

Andy: What do you think your best skill defensively is?

Alec: Just being an athlete.  I feel like I can pressure people a lot with my athleticism and that’s my best [skill], just being active all the time.       

Andy: Where are you best, on ball or off ball?

Alec: On ball, I feel like on ball is my best skill.

Andy: On the other side of the coin, what do you still think you need to work on (defensively) to be the best player you can be?

Alec: Probably off ball, just always staying engaged, you know?  You’ve got to in this league with so many great players, you’ve got to be engaged all the time.

I’ve written a great deal already about Alec’s work away from the ball, although as he readily admits it’s still the area he has the most work to do in.  And even since I highlighted one or two of his less efficient tendencies, he’s already made tweaks in a couple places.  He’s still over-zealous on help defense, but he’s starting to siphon away some of the unnecessary help and be a bit more selective.  He’s also losing his man less, and even when he does collapse away he’s doing a better job looking around to relocate his mark.

Just like his on-ball defense, though, he’s now at a point where he can incorporate more high-level thinking into his help to seal a few cracks.  Watch him help off the weak side on this Atlanta pick-and-roll:

Burks’ initial collapse here, first and foremost, is good and necessary help.  Ball-handler Dennis Schroder (17) and roll-man Mike Scott (32) are both past Utah’s two primary pick-and-roll defenders, with Enes Kanter sliding off Elton Brand down low:

Kanter can’t defend both the ball-handler and the roll-man on his own, and Burks is next in line.  But here’s where some subtle adjustments could come in handy for him: Alec’s microscopic mistake here is in the positioning and angling of his help, and you can see how precise good defense really can be – this still isn’t even a full second after the one above, but Burks has doomed himself:

Alec needs to be a step closer to the rolling Scott, and instead of facing inward and turning completely away from his own man in the corner, he needs to only half-commit – keep his feet parallel to the baseline.  This will create something of a triple threat for Burks defensively: he’s in position to stop Scott on his roll, he’s between the ball-handler and his own man (Shelvin Mack) in the corner to make the pass there tougher, and his feet are positioned in such a way that, should that pass be made out to Mack, Burks should have just enough time to scamper back out.  As it is, with his extra step inside and imperfect footwork, he still nearly makes it out in time for a strong contest.

It’s only one play, and the reality is that Burks and the Jazz defense are in some degree of trouble the moment both the ball-handler and screener beat both defenders into the lane.  But this example showcases the vast nuance of high-level NBA defense, and Burks has progressed to a point where he can begin worrying about elements this subtle and working to perfect them.  As I’ve noted at length, he’s already among the league’s best on the ball; a similar leap in some of these more complex areas could yield one of the NBA’s top overall wing defenders before long.

Big thanks to Alec Burks for his time, along with Andy for putting everything together.  Cheers, Jazz Nation.

Author information

Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and general sports fanatic based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Nylon Calculus (Hardwood Paroxysm/Fansided Network), and can be heard on the airwaves for the SCH podcast and appearances with ESPN AM 700. With a strong background in both statistics and on-court fundemantals, he writes primarily as an in-depth strategic analyst. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
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Is Alec Burks Best as a 6th Man? http://saltcityhoops.com/is-alec-burks-best-as-a-6th-man/ http://saltcityhoops.com/is-alec-burks-best-as-a-6th-man/#comments Mon, 17 Mar 2014 16:16:11 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=10756 Author information
Dakota Schmidt
A Wisconsinite who spends way too much time watching mediocre basketball. Started to love the game as I watched the "Big 3" era of the Bucks in the early 2000's but was eventually raised on the teams lead by the likes of Michael Redd, Desmond Mason and Andrew Bogut. Those mediocre teams helped me grow an appreciation for the less than spectacular style of basketball which has lead me to different gigs with Queen City Hoops (Bobcats), Ridiculous Upside (D-League) and now Salt City Hoops.
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(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The main objective for the Utah Jazz going into the 2013-14 season was centered around trying to find the pieces that will be with the squad as they continue their rebuilding process. While that state-of-mind basically killed off any playoff aspirations, this 82-game stretch was still extremely important in terms of determining the pieces that will define the Utah Jazz for the new generation.

Even before the 2013-14 season started, that potential franchise-changing core of players were pretty much spoken for. The Kanter/Favors duo would replace the departing Jefferson and Millsap, while Hayward and Burke would help define the perimeter for the near future. While that “core four” has been at center stage for the majority of the season (possible exception being Enes Kanter), former top-15 pick turned 6th man, Alec Burks has been that somewhat hidden diamond in an otherwise rough season.

As Gordon Hayward has been holding onto that starting SG spot, Burks has fit into his role perfectly as Utah’s 6th man. While Burks has always been an extremely solid player, his overall skill-set makes him into an ideal 6th man. As mentioned in a recent piece on the Salt Lake Tribune, Burks makes the majority of his impact on his ability to move past his perimeter defender and cut to the basket. Not only is Burks able to utilize his solid athleticism to move to the paint, he’s able to be effective in terms of finishing around the rim. By utilizing that ability to near perfection, Burks has turned into the atypical high-energy 6th man.

Even though that label isn’t totally ideal for a former 1st-round pick, the 6’6 Burks has the potential to be a transcendent 6th man going forward. While the 22-year-old Burks is still an extremely young player who has yet to reach his prime, he has quickly developed an extremely solid passing instinct for a player at his position. His 17.0 AST% is a pretty solid indication of his overall impact on the reserve and is a pretty solid improvement over the previous season (13.0 AST% in 2012-13).

By utilizing the same traits that has made him into an elite cutter, Burks is able to move the ball around to perimeter players as he’s making his way towards the paint. While he won’t replace Trey Burke or Diante Garrett as Utah’s main distributor, his continued improvement in that aspect of the game should elevate his overall value as a player.

While a top-10 lottery pick is bound to make its way to Salt Lake City, a potential building block could be on his way out. As we stand, starting shooting guard Gordon Hayward could be on his way out via restricted free agency. While the potential of drafting an upper-echelon forward in the lottery would push the team closer to the ultimate goal, it could also push Hayward out the door. The addition of an extremely talented wing alongside the continued improvement of Alec Burks could be enough to push Hayward out of Utah.

While Burks wouldn’t deny the opportunity to take the reigns as Utah’s starting shooting guard, it may not be the best move for the Jazz. As previously mentioned, Burks fits into that 6th man role so well because of how he’s able to control Utah’s offense. His high-energy approach and superb ability to work around the rim is a trait that has become effective because he’s the main ball-handler in the 2nd unit.

Does he have the abilities of a starting NBA shooting guard? Absolutely. However, the jury is still out on how Burks would be able to work as the 3rd or 4th offensive weapon in the starting lineup. Could he be as effective as an off-ball guard in an offense that’s lead by Trey Burke and Derrick Favors as he has been as the featured option off the bench?

That’s the question that will have to be answered to determine the future of Alec Burks with the Utah Jazz.

Author information

Dakota Schmidt
A Wisconsinite who spends way too much time watching mediocre basketball. Started to love the game as I watched the "Big 3" era of the Bucks in the early 2000's but was eventually raised on the teams lead by the likes of Michael Redd, Desmond Mason and Andrew Bogut. Those mediocre teams helped me grow an appreciation for the less than spectacular style of basketball which has lead me to different gigs with Queen City Hoops (Bobcats), Ridiculous Upside (D-League) and now Salt City Hoops.
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How Alec Burks Uses Screens http://saltcityhoops.com/how-alec-burks-uses-screens/ http://saltcityhoops.com/how-alec-burks-uses-screens/#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 20:29:06 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=10498 Author information
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and general sports fanatic based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Nylon Calculus (Hardwood Paroxysm/Fansided Network), and can be heard on the airwaves for the SCH podcast and appearances with ESPN AM 700. With a strong background in both statistics and on-court fundemantals, he writes primarily as an in-depth strategic analyst. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
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Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

When breaking down this wonderful game of basketball we all know and love, we typically start with general assessments: is this guy a good rebounder?  How well does he understand the system and work with his teammates?  Is he a good jump shooter?  The list goes on.

Of course, rudimentary analysis like this is just a base for far more detailed examinations of player and team games.  Teams and coaches delve into a variety of much more specific and detailed forms of evaluation, and by extension, those of us charged with examining these teams for the benefit of the fans try to do the same.

One of the very best at this, Grantland’s Zach Lowe, recently gave Jazz fans a great example of this sort of team-level analysis in a short blurb on Alec Burks, subject of much recent adulation from yours truly.  In his 10 Things section of this early-February piece, Lowe talked about how the Jazz had begun to notice Burks’ tendency to reject screens on the pick-and-roll in an attempt to throw defenses off balance.  While also mentioning a pre-season piece with a more detailed breakdown of Burks’ game, he lauded the Jazz for their recent attempts to disguise and vary the direction of their picks when Burks handles the ball.  But because he only had a small section with which to detail this process, he wasn’t able to delve into a full explanation of the method and the results. No worries, Zach, Salt City Hoops has your back.  Let’s have a look at the specifics and see just what he was talking about:

As Lowe mentioned in the longer pre-season piece on the subject, the general reason for Utah’s evolving screen setup speaks to a fundamental defensive concept against the pick-and-roll, particularly those initiated from either wing rather than the top of the key: if the defense can force the ball-handler away from the middle and closer to the baseline corners, said ball-handler will likely find himself in a trap of sorts – the baseline and sideline on one side, and the defending big man on the other.  This is nearly always a win for the defense, as the big can cut off passing lanes to the middle and good strong-side help can force either a mid-range jumper or a turnover, both positive defensive outcomes.

But like many ultra-specific situations, there’s some particular context that goes into this process when Burks is the ball-handler.  For one, as Lowe mentions, Burks is a very strong penetration dribbler with either hand – if defenses are going to shade him in one direction or the other, they better make sure they get it right, because this is what happens when they don’t:


Alan Anderson, guarding Burks on this play, sees the pick coming and positions himself with his back to screener Jeremy Evans:

This is a common league-wide tactic against side pick-and-rolls; if Burks tries to get around the pick to his right and toward the middle of the floor, Anderson will simply slide over top of Evans and remain in good position barring any slips.  But the big defending the screener, Mirza Teletovic, is a step or two out of position as Evans plants for his screen, and Burks doesn’t need a written invitation:

Plays like this are a major part of the reason Burks is so frequently happy to reject his screens – even the slightest step out of position for a defending big has dire consequences given Burks’ lightning quick first step and finishing ability at the rim.

Of course, trying to fool defenses like this over a third of the time is never going to work in the long term.  When teams see the play coming and have a competent, well-positioned big in place to guard against the screen rejection, Burks finds life significantly more difficult:

Portland defends this side pick-and-roll the same way Brooklyn did in the clip above, positioning Lillard with his back to the screening Kanter and inviting Burks to reject the screen and go to his left hand.  Given Utah’s slow approach to setting up the play, Brook Lopez has ample time to direct Lillard’s positioning for the pick coming up behind him, as well as to correctly position himself to cut off Burks’ path to the hoop.  Lillard is perhaps a half-step behind here actually, but his good initial positioning still allows him to recover in front of Kanter’s roll to the hoop, leaving Lopez to deal with Burks and the other three Portland defenders free to continue their off-ball marking:

Burks could possibly have threaded a pass to Richard Jefferson on the outside, as Portland is slightly sagged toward the paint and might not recover in time.  He instead tries a contested floater, one the Blazers will happily give up all day with Lopez getting up to challenge.  This is Portland’s calculated gamble: that Burks will make the wrong decision or fail to convert more frequently than he would against alternative forms of defense that might allow him easier access to the middle.

Seeing this type of defense more frequently, the Jazz have started mixing up their looks when Burks runs the pick-and-roll, particularly from either side.  The simplest way they do this, as noted by Lowe, is by having the big reverse the direction of his pick:

The key to this sort of variation actually isn’t forcing any change in the way the defending big man reacts, but rather making things more difficult for the ball-handling defender in his recovery.  Where in our earlier clips the on-ball defender was able to recover in front of the rolling big man to prevent him being an option, having the big (Rudy Gobert in this case) switch directions allows him to block off the on-ball man with his roll provided his footwork is solid:

Switching things up like this not only frees up openings like these for other guys, it keeps defenses on their toes.  But the sharpest of my readers are already asking themselves a big question: how does this affect Burks’ propensity to launch dreaded mid-range jumpers when he finds himself pushed toward the sideline?  As it turns out, the answer might surprise some; look at Burks’ shooting chart for this season, courtesy of NBA.com:

If that’s too small a sample for your liking, here’s last year’s chart as well:

Notice anything?  I’m sure you did.  While the total number of shots remains a tad low even over both seasons, evidence continues to mount that Burks is a far superior shooter from the right side than from the left.  In fact, while Burks is much-maligned as a mid-range shooter, nearly all of this is due to incredibly poor percentages from the left side of the floor – from the right side only, Burks is a competent and maybe even slightly above-average mid-range shooter.

The Jazz have noticed, and this plays into their thinking as they mix up their screen looks for him.  The potential for increased mid-range looks, especially from the right side, are something the Jazz are content to live with if they come with other benefits – namely, getting Burks more speed in his preferred direction and leaving him the extra option of the rolling big man.  It may not be their preferred set (with Burks, anything involving getting him as close to the hoop as possible with as much speed as possible is always the first choice), but it stops defenses from bottling up Burks’ creativity off the bounce by keeping them off balance.

But this is far from the only bit of moxie the Jazz are throwing into their sets.  Burks and Enes Kanter, in particular, have developed a fun rapport lately as a pick-and-roll tandem, with Kanter showing some heady screen disguises.  Watch the young Turk throw a pseudo-stutter-step and confuse Lopez for an extra half-beat, allowing Burks his preferred route to the middle:

Alec misses the bunny here, but it’s one he’ll convert a high percentage of the time.  This opening is possible as a result of the first level of complexity the Jazz insert – without the change of direction we noted above, defenses would have nothing to keep them honest and would simply continue to keep Burks away from the middle.  This layering and next-level improvisation is smart NBA offense at work, and real credit to Kanter for his ability to add this subtle complexity on the fly.

The two combine for other bits of creativity, as well.  Kanter is mixing in more of these screen disguises with top-of-the-key sets, as well, with some good results:

Furthermore, while the Jazz can’t simply remove all sets that might lead Burks to the dreaded left mid-range area (again, this would be too predictable against good defense), but knowing Burks’ shooting issues from that end, they’ll run quick-hitting Kanter screens directly out of a post set:

Plays like these may not be ideal in every sense, and this particular one certainly doesn’t end well after Burks is too slow with his first step (he probably travels, too, as the commentators note).  But at the very least, they once again put defenses on their toes and are always a threat to force a simple mistake.  And as we saw above, Burks needs very little space to make a defense pay for errors – the Jazz are putting him in a position to make things happen.

For younger players, developing little tweaks to their preferred playing styles can be paramount to their overall progression.  The NBA is a smart league with gobs of data available for scouting, and players who hang their hat on one particular skill alone will be left out to dry.  Seeing this type of heady experimenting pay some dividends is another positive sign for a player in Burks who has been impressing all season long.  With this same sort of diversity applied to his overall game, we could be seeing the makings of a franchise player in Salt Lake City.

Author information

Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and general sports fanatic based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Nylon Calculus (Hardwood Paroxysm/Fansided Network), and can be heard on the airwaves for the SCH podcast and appearances with ESPN AM 700. With a strong background in both statistics and on-court fundemantals, he writes primarily as an in-depth strategic analyst. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
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Alec Burks and Marvin Williams – Jazz Jolt Podcast http://saltcityhoops.com/alec-burks-and-marvin-williams-jazz-jolt-podcast/ http://saltcityhoops.com/alec-burks-and-marvin-williams-jazz-jolt-podcast/#comments Mon, 17 Feb 2014 16:10:43 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=10375 Author information
Andy Larsen
Andy Larsen
Andy Larsen is the Managing Editor of Salt City Hoops, the ESPN TrueHoop affiliate for the Utah Jazz. He also hosts a radio show and podcast every week on ESPN700 AM in Salt Lake City.
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The play of Alec Burks and Marvin Williams might be the two most pleasant surprises for the Jazz this season. Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The play of Alec Burks and Marvin Williams might be the two most pleasant surprises for the Jazz this season. Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

As we’ve reached the all-star break, Andy Larsen and Ben Dowsett identified two players who have exceeded expectations for the Jazz this season: Alec Burks and Marvin Williams. We break down their improvement in this 20 minute podcast: how have they improved, and who deserves credit for the improvement? Does Ty Corbin deserve credit, the players themselves, even P3? We take a look at what’s going on with the two best surprises on the Jazz.

Author information

Andy Larsen
Andy Larsen
Andy Larsen is the Managing Editor of Salt City Hoops, the ESPN TrueHoop affiliate for the Utah Jazz. He also hosts a radio show and podcast every week on ESPN700 AM in Salt Lake City.
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http://saltcityhoops.com/alec-burks-and-marvin-williams-jazz-jolt-podcast/feed/ 0 As we've reached the all-star break, Andy Larsen and Ben Dowsett identified two players who have exceeded expectations for the Jazz this season: Alec Burks and Marvin Williams. We break down their improvement in this 20 minute podcast: how have they im... As we've reached the all-star break, Andy Larsen and Ben Dowsett identified two players who have exceeded expectations for the Jazz this season: Alec Burks and Marvin Williams. We break down their improvement in this 20 minute podcast: how have they improved, and who deserves credit for the improvement? Does Ty Corbin deserve credit, the players themselves, even P3? We take a look at what's going on with the two best surprises on the Jazz. Salt City Hoops no 22:59
The Development of Alec Burks http://saltcityhoops.com/the-development-of-alec-burks/ http://saltcityhoops.com/the-development-of-alec-burks/#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2014 23:28:26 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=10298 Author information
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and general sports fanatic based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Nylon Calculus (Hardwood Paroxysm/Fansided Network), and can be heard on the airwaves for the SCH podcast and appearances with ESPN AM 700. With a strong background in both statistics and on-court fundemantals, he writes primarily as an in-depth strategic analyst. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
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Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

I frequently use much of this space discussing player development and the types of learning curves typically exhibited by young NBA talent.  This is partially out of necessity, at least this season – the Jazz are very young, with a keen eye on the future of a developing core – but also because, well, I’m a nerd and scouting really intrigues me.  So many variables go into predicting a player’s career trajectory, from physical talent to mental acuity and a whole bevy of intangibles.  These, combined with a large dose of unpredictability in many cases, make evaluating developing players, at least in my opinion, one of the most fascinating elements of covering NBA basketball.

In certain cases, players will develop at different rates or in different ways than is frequently seen.  There are guys like Lance Stephenson, a strange mix of talent and athleticism who struggled to find an identity for three seasons before making a huge leap this year in a system that maximizes his various abilities.  On the other side of the coin are guys like Michael Beasley or Darko Milicic, players once seen as elite potential talents who, for various reasons, just never approached that level.  The point, without getting too far off topic too soon: while there are “typical” developmental curves for young players, there are plenty of exceptions, loopholes, and corollaries to go along with them.

Alec Burks is a good example of both worlds.  Many parts of his growth through two and a half seasons are going exactly how most would have expected, but certain other areas have proceeded quite contrary to typical developmental curves, and in a couple of cases have yielded some pleasant surprises.  In both cases, to be clear: I have Burks well ahead of his overall expected progress to this point, and his progress this season, especially recently, has shown glimpses of a potentially game-changing player.

Some of the more expected areas of his maturation have been on the offensive side of the ball, where Burks is having something of a breakout year.  His career-high numbers basically across the board are mostly normal for a third-year player, although the fact that he’s lowered his turnover rate from last year despite significantly increased usage is a major positive most young players usually don’t achieve so quickly.  He came out of college as a slasher already quite capable of getting to the basket, and has showcased this at the NBA level also.  Of 88 players attempting at least three drives to the basket per game, Burks is generating 7.5 points-per-48 minutes on his drives, a top-15 figure in the league and close by the likes of Tony Parker, Kevin Durant, and even above LeBron James (19th in the league at 7.1 per-48 on drives).  Good things just happen when the Jazz get Burks the ball with momentum toward the hoop – his per-possession numbers off cuts and screens are both top-20 marks league-wide for qualified players, per MySynergySports.

It’s not all just scoring, either – Burks has upped his assist percentage to 17.3% from 13% last year and just 9.5% his rookie year.  He’s become more adept at reading multiple rotations a defense makes as he penetrates to the basket, and taking advantage of these tendencies to find open shooters.  He’s still a below-average jump-shooter for a shooting guard, though again, he’s improving gradually – he’s shooting 45.9% on two-point shots compared with 43.9% last year, and if you exclude end-of-quarter long bomb heaves, he’s shooting a respectable 36.7% from three, including nearly 39% from the corners.  With his speed and finishing talent at the rim, if he can lessen/improve his shooting (particularly from mid-range, where he’s taken 153 attempts despite shooting 33.3%, a lower rate than from beyond the arc) he could be a powerful offensive wing for years to come.

But where things get interesting, from a developmental standpoint, is on the defensive side of the ball.  Considered something of an interesting study on this end coming into the league, scouts were divided on Burks early on – he certainly had the athleticism to potentially be a strong defensive player, but would his IQ and grasping of difficult NBA systems be able to keep pace?

The answer has been yes and no, but the ways in which we reach both poles of conclusion are interesting.  Burks has, indeed, had trouble thus far with certain elements of team defense, particularly his navigation of screens and his off-ball help.  As far as the latter goes, though, Burks’ struggles are the exact opposite of most young players, who typically are too focused on staying attached to their own man and don’t help enough – Burks helps too much, to the point of detriment to the team defense.  Watch him here:

Let’s break this one down with some stills.  As LeBron rounds the Birdman pick, Burks is in the far corner marking Ray Allen.  Birdman’s screen is good, and LeBron is getting past Hayward into the second level of defense.  Note, however, that Derrick Favors is perfectly positioned to guard against the drive, while Chris Bosh has failed to get far enough away from the hoop, leaving Jeremy Evans also close to the hoop and in position to help:

But Burks doesn’t recognize that Evans is still in the play as a potential help defender on a Birdman roll, and crashes down on the headband-wearing ink cartridge, leaving the greatest three-point shooter of all time wide open in the process:

Allen misses the open look here, but the point remains.  Burks is far too prone to these sorts of mishaps, but as I noted above, this is  contrary to the typical process for young players, particularly young guards.  Most coaches pull their hair out trying to get their developing guys to help more frequently, usually a result of a lack of understanding of basic principles.  Burks, though, understands that on a general level, team defense requires a lot of this sort of thing – he just hasn’t yet figured out when to apply this and when it will hurt the scheme.  This is almost surely an easier fix than the typical help issues; some good film sessions on the correct responses to various scenarios can correct a lot of this for a player who is already more than willing to make the effort.

And when you look past correctable scheme issues like that one, what you see is an elite NBA wing defender in the making.  Woefully unnoticed by fans and media alike this year, Burks has become a lockdown isolation defender capable of guarding 1-3 effectively.  Of qualified players, he’s the league’s number one isolation defender this season, allowing only .34 PPP (points-per-possession) on finished isolation sets, per Synergy.  This is a remarkably low number, and a massive improvement from his .86 PPP mark last season and an ugly 1.02 PPP figure his rookie season.

He’s done it by making several huge strides in his positioning and balance on the ball, something he clearly put serious work into over the offseason.  He’s always been nimble, but Burks in the previous two seasons was, like his help defense, likely too energetic – he’d run himself out of position too often and bite easily on simple fakes.  These are common problems for guys his age, but of more concern was the way he set his feet and prepared for an isolation move from a defender – watch him here in a March, 2013 game against the Knicks:

Notice how, as JR Smith begins his drive, Burks’ feet are not set – he’s still backpedaling, and his hands are not up in a guarding position:

Burks was able to use his speed to somewhat catch back up, but getting a step behind after this initial setback doomed him and allowed Smith to get far too much penetration for a layup.  But now, watch his setup on a couple of isolation sets from this season:

His feet are set well in advance, knees are bent, and his hands are partially up and ready to move.  It’s a subtle change, but one that can and does drastically affect his positioning later on in possessions.  Ditto for his much improved balance – he still bites on the occasional fake, but this is less frequent and his recovery speed is much quicker than last year.  And while he still has some issues navigating around screens, especially multiple screens in one offensive set, he’s made major upgrades this year on his routes.  He could and should improve his peripheral awareness and not run smack-dab into a 7-footer’s chest as often as he gets older, but his resulting recovery back to the ball has been worlds better than the previous two years.  This contributes to his marked upgrade in defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers, where he’s brought his PPP allowed down from 1.03 last season to .86 this season, per Synergy.

Put it all together, and I think it’s hard to argue against Burks being the best perimeter defender on Utah’s roster and well above-average league-wide.  Coach Corbin still prefers to give Gordon Hayward the matchup against opponent’s primary wing talents when both share the floor, much to my own personal annoyance – not only has Burks been defending much better than Hayward this year, allowing Hayward to guard less threatening wings some of the time could help his dwindling efficiency on offense that many believe is related to him tiring from too heavy a workload.  Of their eight regular rotation players, the Jazz sport easily their best defensive rating with Burks on the court (105.9 points-per-100 possessions against), and are hurt the most when he leaves it (110.4 per-100).  Some of this could be due to lots of his minutes coming against bench-heavy units, but not nearly enough to defeat the point.

Burks’ name has surfaced in some trade whispers as the deadline approaches; it’s the opinion of this writer that the Jazz should squash that notion immediately.  Alec Burks is exactly the type of player every successful team employs in some form – an athletic, two-way player who knows his strong points and plays to them.  If he continues to show the kind of heady development he’s flashed this season, he could be a dark horse candidate to become a top-five player league-wide at the relatively weak shooting guard position.  This is one asset the Jazz absolutely want to keep in their pocket, and as always, they’d be well advised to #PlayAlecBurksMore.

Author information

Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and general sports fanatic based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Nylon Calculus (Hardwood Paroxysm/Fansided Network), and can be heard on the airwaves for the SCH podcast and appearances with ESPN AM 700. With a strong background in both statistics and on-court fundemantals, he writes primarily as an in-depth strategic analyst. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
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The Growth of Alec Burks http://saltcityhoops.com/the-growth-of-alec-burks/ http://saltcityhoops.com/the-growth-of-alec-burks/#comments Wed, 15 Jan 2014 20:37:09 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=9531 Author information
David J Smith
David J Smith
Besides writing for Salt City Hoops, David contributes to the Utah Jazz coverage for the Deseret News (instant analysis articles), WeAreUtahJazz.com, UtahJazz360.com and previously for Hoopsworld.com. He graduated from BYU and works for LDS Philanthropies. His wife, Elizabeth, is the most patient person in the world and they have four amazing children; Kadence, Tayah, Stockton (yes, really), and Cambria.
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Matt Gade, Deseret News

Matt Gade, Deseret News

During his first few seasons, Alec Burks experienced the requisite ups and downs common to young players in the NBA. His rookie season showed great flashes of promise–slashing, athletic play that excited the Utah Jazz fan base. His sophomore campaign, however, seemed to be less “wow” and more pedestrian as he was asked to assume a less natural back-up point guard role. Naturally the media and fans’ perceptions of Burks ebbed and flowed during this time. Last off-season, some questioned whether or not Burks could be a long-term cog in the Jazz machine and in some cases, whether he could be a long-term NBA player. Most felt that he was the most expendable of the young core players.

Flash forward several months and things are very, very different. Burks is showing that he may not only be a piece to the puzzle, but could very well be one of the main ones going forward.

Before the season began, Utah Jazz coaches and front office personnel repeatedly lauded Alec Burks for his off-season efforts. By all accounts, the third-year pro had put in a lot of work, even taking a trip to Spokane with new teammate Trey Burke to get tutored by the one and only John Stockton. While he encountered some rough patches early on, Burks has shown more and more his improvement, his abilities and his potential. He has certainly been a bright spot for the Jazz, demonstrating solid consistency.

Here are his statistics month-by-month, displaying the progress he has made.

burksstats1

And after his stellar 34-point, five-assist, one-turnover outing versus the Denver Nuggets, here are his numbers the past two games, both starts:

burksstats2

There is a lot to like about Alec Burks. First and foremost, he has shown more confidence and better decision making this year. He is not forcing things and is much more cognizant of when he is needed to create for himself and when he is needed to create for others. Burks was quick to shoot as a rookie, more reticent to do so as a back-up point guard his second year. He seems to be putting it together, becoming a more well-rounded offensive weapon.

Credit should definitely be given to head coach Tyrone Corbin, who moved Burks to his more fitting shooting guard position alongside Trey Burke and Diante Garrett (and less with John Lucas III, with whom Burks had to handle a majority of the ball handling responsibilities). This takes advantage of his creative, slashing talents, while emphasizing his talents as a secondary facilitator (gone from 13.0 AST% in 2013 to 16.9 this year, while cutting his TOV% from 14.3 to 12.6).

Burks is coming into his own as an offensive force. While his shooting still has a way to go, he has moved to a respectable .522 TS% (up from .507 last season). In that point guard role, he was more reliant on 3-pointers. This year, his 3PAr has dropped from .237 to .163 and he’s still shooting them at a decent level (.343). His ability to get to the line (.363 FTr) is a big boon to an offense that can sometimes stagnant.

Burks has scored in double digits in 15 of his last 21 games, including four games with over 20 points and two 30+ outings. In the Denver game, he was clearly the best player on the floor, repeatedly making great play after great play. He has some star qualities about him.

As a personal admission, I too was one who was apprehensive about Burks being a major part of the core. Now, I think he is certainly one who should be part of the foundation going forward, despite what may happen between now and the NBA Draft. Count me in as a Burks believer.

Author information

David J Smith
David J Smith
Besides writing for Salt City Hoops, David contributes to the Utah Jazz coverage for the Deseret News (instant analysis articles), WeAreUtahJazz.com, UtahJazz360.com and previously for Hoopsworld.com. He graduated from BYU and works for LDS Philanthropies. His wife, Elizabeth, is the most patient person in the world and they have four amazing children; Kadence, Tayah, Stockton (yes, really), and Cambria.
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The Triple Team: Three Thoughts on Jazz vs. Nuggets 1/13/2014 http://saltcityhoops.com/the-triple-team-three-thoughts-on-jazz-vs-nuggets-1132014/ http://saltcityhoops.com/the-triple-team-three-thoughts-on-jazz-vs-nuggets-1132014/#comments Tue, 14 Jan 2014 06:22:29 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=9507 Author information
Andy Larsen
Andy Larsen
Andy Larsen is the Managing Editor of Salt City Hoops, the ESPN TrueHoop affiliate for the Utah Jazz. He also hosts a radio show and podcast every week on ESPN700 AM in Salt Lake City.
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Alec Burks can float. It's a useful skill for making layups. Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Alec Burks can float. It’s a useful skill for making layups. Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

1. Alec Burks can score and amaze.

Alec Burks was Utah’s best player tonight, scoring a career high 34 points in the 5th start of his career. First of all, he got the shots around the basket that he likes: 13 of his 19 shots came within 8 feet of the hoop. Because of his athleticism, and excellent finishing ability, he made 10 of those 13.

Alec Burks gets shots near the basket.

Alec Burks gets shots near the basket.

Part of this is because Denver doesn’t really have defensive presence in the middle, nor do they have a stopper guard. As a result, guys like Alec are able to get what they want off the dribble. As Brian Shaw said, “Defense, for the most part, tonight was nonexistent… Alec Burks just won every individual matchup that we put on him. It started with Randy Foye and then down the line.”

But perhaps the bigger part of Alec’s 34 points is because Alec Burks is really good at scoring, especially finishing at the basket. Richard Jefferson explained the experience of watching Alec Burks:

“There are some terrible, terrible shots. I have no idea. He’s just like, ‘Man, I missed some layups”, and I’m like ‘Man, you made some layups!’ When you get this far in this league, everybody has a unique ability. They have something that makes them special. And his ability to finish in traffic and in the paint, and his size and his ability to handle the ball is unique.”

Or, as Trey Burke pointed out, “He didn’t make one three, so that’s the impressive part about it to me. Having 34 points without a 3 pointer is kind of crazy to me.”

2. Utah coughed up the ball only once in the first 32 minutes tonight.

That’s pretty ridiculous. 1 turnover in the first half ties an all-time Jazz team record, last accomplished in 2011 against Oklahoma City. That was the biggest single reason for the Jazz’s offensive explosion in the first 32 minutes; by the time Marvin Williams committed the team’s second turnover, they had scored 89 points, on pace for 133 in the game. The Jazz were shooting well, sure, but not amazingly: the first half FG% of 51% is a good-but-not-great percentage, and the team had made just 5 threes. Instead, they won on sheer volume: they took 47 shots from the field and 18 free throws in that season-high first half.

This is a young team with a rookie point guard, and they’ve had some turnover problems early in the year. So why the success tonight? I asked Trey Burke to explain why.

Me: “So you had one turnover in the first two and a half quarters. Dawha? How is that possible?”

Trey: “The coaches did a really great job of scouting. They scouted their last game out in Denver, knowing their rotations, knowing what they like to do coming off the pick and roll. We executed. We knew what man would be open on certain plays, and we took advantage of it.”

Me: “So you watched film and knew that X defender was going to be rotating to Y place?”

Trey: “Yeah, absolutely. They made an adjustment in the second half: they started trapping the pick and roll, and that’s when the turnovers came. But in the first half, we were coming off that screen, and they were up on it, but they weren’t trapping, so that diagonal skip pass was always there. We made the play, and whoever got the ball made another play, so it all worked out.”

That was the biggest difference tonight: the Jazz’s scouting report, and that the players paid close attention to it, allowed Utah to play mistake-free basketball for two-thirds of the game. Credit: everyone.

3. Dan Roberts should come up with a signature call for Trey Burke’s threes.

I love Dan Roberts. The in-game voice of the Utah Jazz for 34 years (since the franchise first moved to Utah), in many ways, Dan Roberts is the last original Jazz personality around the franchise. He’s one of the best in the business, and I hope he keeps announcing games forever: he brings both gravitas and excitement to his calls.

He’s been presented with a pretty unique opportunity for an announcer: a player named Trey, with the number 3 on his jersey, who makes three point shots with regularity. This seems like the perfect chance for Roberts to come up with a signature call: a clever combination of name and event that will stick with Trey for the rest of his Jazz career. At the moment, though, Roberts hasn’t found the exact phrase he likes. In this homestand, I’ve heard:

  • “Three for Three”
  • “Trey for Trey”
  • “Trey for Three”
  • “Number Three for Three”
  • “Three for Three from Trey Burke” (upon his third made three of tonight’s game)
  • “Trey Three Pointer”
  • “TB for Three”

These are all not terrible, but its probably best if Dan chooses the most catchy and goes with that for the foreseeable future. Trey Burke will be making many threes in EnergySolutions Arena, and it would be great if he had a signature call to go with it.

Author information

Andy Larsen
Andy Larsen
Andy Larsen is the Managing Editor of Salt City Hoops, the ESPN TrueHoop affiliate for the Utah Jazz. He also hosts a radio show and podcast every week on ESPN700 AM in Salt Lake City.
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