To be a starter in the NBA is (or should be) the goal of every player in the association. However, coaches often thwart the best laid plans of talented individuals with designs of dapping opposing players at midcourt just before the opening tip.
Alec Burks from the Utah Jazz is one such player who has the talent to start but whose role has been defined as a sixth man who gives the obligatory “punch” off the bench. The former Colorado standout has been everything the Jazz have needed as a reserve passing the tests of that obligatory role with flying colors in his third professional season.
At 13.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 27.7 minutes per game, Burks has answered the call for a team with the 12th best scoring bench in the league. Without question this has been Burks’ best season to date posting career-highs in just about every relevant statistical category with the lone exception being a slight dip in three point percentage.
He is better than last legs veteran Richard Jefferson and also has a much higher ceiling than Marvin Williams. Both Jefferson and Williams have seen regular time in the starting rotation ahead of Burks which could be attributed to their perceived defensive skills. But truth be told, head coach Tyrone Corbin couldn’t get either one of those two to be as productive off the bench as Burks has been.
The Jazz only have six players under guaranteed contract next year. They are expected to match any contract offer Gordon Hayward receives as a restricted free agent to up that number to seven. Utah owns two first-round picks in the draft and have cap space up the wazoo so the roster should be drastically different in 2014-15.
The contracts of both Jefferson and Williams come off the Utah books this summer opening up time for the ever improving swingman Burks. Williams could return at a much reduced salary but Jefferson is all but gone, so the only other competition Burks could face for a starting role next year might come from a drafted rookie or an unknown free agent acquisition.
But Burks shouldn’t be awarded a starting job next season based on attrition; he has to continue to improve specifically in regards to his ball-handling and defense.
As a guy who can get to the rim he can improve on making his teammates better. To some degree he deserves more credit for improvement in this area as he is supposed to be an offensive scoring weapon coming off the bench…and he has been. But his assists are up and that should rise with an increased role in the offense in coming seasons.
He currently has a defensive rating of 112 which is actually the worst such rating in his three seasons. With good length and athletic ability he should be more disruptive on that side of the ball, but the effort needs to be there on his part.
His efficiency is likely to spike with a move into the starting rotation especially if he is alongside playmakers like Hayward and Trey Burke. Not having the “pressure” to shoot everything on the second unit can make him a more selective scorer and allow all other areas of his game to improve (defense included).
The simple fact is Burks has done his time and the Jazz don’t have many viable options or reasons to keep him in a reserve role next season. It’s time to fully unleash Burks so that they can truly access if he is a key piece in Utah’s rebuild.