This season has been quite a bumpy ride for Alec Burks. With Trey Burke injuring his finger in the third game of the preseason, Burks was thrust into playing the point guard position—something he was asked to do last year for chunks of time, as well. I think we saw pretty quickly and pretty clearly that that wasn’t a position that was going to let Alec’s strengths shine through. As athletic and skilled as he is, his unique skillset is much better suited for the shooting guard position, not setting up teammates, running the pick and roll, etc. Subsequently, after a strong four-game showing to start the year (24 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists in the opening-night game against Oklahoma City, for example), he then followed a string of 2, 7, 8, and 11-point games as he was trying to navigate the point guard position.
Assists. Alec had 39 assists in the first 16 games of the season, for a rate of 2.4 apg, versus his last seven games, where he’s been averaging 2.9 apg. That might not seem like a drastic difference, but that his assist numbers have gone up as he’s played less time at the point is interesting— it shows that he’s strengthening his all-around game, becoming more efficient, and not just looking to score (one of the knocks on him early in his career).
Free-throw attempts. As a rookie, one of the aspects of his game so many of us were drooling over was his ability to get to the free-throw line. During his rookie season, his Free Throw Attempt Rate (FTA/FGA) was .401, very solid for a shooting guard, and especially good for a rookie. For comparison’s sake, I looked up some other players whose free-throw-attempt tendencies Jazz fans might understand and be able to use as a frame of reference: Gordon Hayward’s career free-throw attempt rate is .368, while Al Jefferson’s free-throw attempt rate while he was with the Jazz was .190; LeBron James has a career free-throw attempt rate of .430. In his sophomore season in the league, his FTr was a more pedestrian .332, causing some to worry that one of his strengths was not continuing to be developed.
This season has shown improvement, although playing the point position really hurt his ability to get to the line. For example, Burks’s FTr through the first four games of this season was an incredible .537. Then, once his slump started, his FTr over the next 12 games was .271. However, in the last seven games, his FTr has been .407. So he’s using his possessions much better now to get to the line than he did during his 14-game slump.
Turnovers. David Locke has made a big deal about Alec’s turnovers—and specifically his fatal turnovers—so I was expecting some pretty awful turnover numbers in the last seven games. However, aside from his five-turnover night in the Kings game a few nights ago (complete with several fatal turnovers as described by Locke), Burks has been able to keep his turnovers down, averaging 1.7 turnovers per game over the last seven games, where he’s been averaging around 29 minutes of play.
Random Odds and Ends. Perhaps surprisingly for someone we’ve been told isn’t much of a shooter, Burks has hit a three in any of the last seven games in which he’s attempted one: 1-1, 1-3, 3-4, and 1-1 to go along with three 0-0, for a 66.7% clip. Additionally, Burks has been averaging 3.7 rebounds a game over this stretch, up from 2.8 on the year.
Throw in all of these facts and figures with a 16.6 ppg average and you’re looking at a very solid spell for Alec Burks. His good play is very possibly correlated to Trey Burke being back, relieving him of point-guard duties. It’s nice to have another bright spot of development, and it’ll be fun to see if Burks can maintain this level of play.