Alec Burks makes it look so easy.
Playing for the second game in a row without leading scorer Gordon Hayward, who averages 17 points per game, the Jazz found the offensive boost they needed thanks in large part to Burks. The third year pro out of Colorado scored a career high 34 points in almost 38 minutes on the court as a starter. Shooting 68.4 percent from the field, he was the game’s leading scorer with only one three-point attempt which he missed.
The 118 points Utah scored in a dominant win was the second most this year. The Nuggets were one of the NBA’s hottest teams before Monday riding a five-game win streak during which they had averaged 120 points. Even without Hayward on the court, Marvin Williams wasn’t at all surprised the Jazz could keep pace and light up the scoreboard.
“Not with Alec in the game,” WIlliams said. “Alec and Trey (Burke), they’re always going to give themselves an opportunity to score the ball… He had a great night, without him we wouldn’t have won this game, it’s not even close.”
After the game the veterans and young players alike had plenty of praise for Burks.
“It’s tough in this league, he’s only about 6-3 or 6-4 and he can get to the rim and finish the way he can,” Burke said of Burks, “It goes to show how good of a player he can be.”
The team hasn’t often looked for Burks to take on a starting role. Before this season he had never done it, and when he did earlier this year it was at point guard which is far from his natural position. In college, and apparently the NBA too, he’s been a scorer. That might stem from the fact that he believes in his ability to finish.
“He’s a confident young fellow,” head coach Tyrone Corbin said. “Rightfully so because he’s a talented young man. He’s getting better every year.”
Never one to speak out much through the media, if you talk to Burks it would be easy to think he’s not really interested in the exchange. Perhaps it’s his short answers that has led to some of the media assuming he isn’t the most coachable player. When Corbin was asked about this he didn’t hesitate to defend the man that usually leads his second unit “He’s been coachable the entire time,” Corbin said. “There was never a time that I thought he was not coachable.”
He went on to explain that Burks is improving at film study, not that he didn’t care to do it before, just that he’s better at implementing the things they notice he could improve on. His slashing and driving play doesn’t offend the big men who work the paint for the Jazz either.
“Once he drives I know the big is going to get over and help next time so that’s when I get over and get my points,” Derrick Favors said after the game.
Denver simply couldn’t find a way to slow down Burks. They don’t have a shot-blocker patrolling the paint like say, Roy Hibbert of the Pacers. They also didn’t have any wing-players athletic enough to stay with Burks either.
“He just won every individual matchup we put on him,” Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw said.
When he is getting those layups to drop, almost anybody in the league is going to run into the problem Shaw faced on Monday. Burks even had a similar explosion earlier this season at Miami and eventually the Heat put Lebron James on Burks to slow him down.
The one other thing I learned about Burks last night is his expectations of himself. After the game he mentioned to Richard Jefferson that he missed a lot of layups. Jefferson responded by telling him that he made a lot of layups. He went on to talk about the special talent Burks has.
“When you get this far in this league everyone has a unique ability, they have something that makes them special. and his ability to finish in traffic and in paint and his size and the way he can handle the ball is unique,” Jefferson said. “For Alec, because he’s such a young player, it’s the focus… that will allow you to stay on the court so you can make those spectacular plays. It’s not talent, it’s a matter of staying with the things you need to do and staying with the principles.”
Burks clearly had focus on Monday, now we’ll wait and see if he can string a few of these impressive games together. Not that he’ll be expected to put up 30 points on a regular basis, shooting a good percentage and recognizes the game situations would be fantastic to see.
On Wednesday the Jazz will be in San Antonio where not only do the Spurs know how to play great defense, they have Kawhi Leonard who can slow just about any perimeter player down. We’ll just have to see how much time they have on the court together. In the mean time, Jazz fans can feel comfortable seeing the potential that Burks has to grow.
Skyler Hardman, a Utah native and life long Jazz fan, dreamed of covering the team at an age when most of his peers were still hoping to play in the NBA. Before the Jazz, he spent time covering Snow College and BYU for various outlets. You can find him on Twitter @Skydiz