San Antonio • As he dribbled behind his back, shaking his old teammate Randy Foye and then dropping in a bucket over the arms of two Denver defenders, it was easy to see Monday night why Alec Burks envisions himself as a starter in this league someday soon.
Filling in for the injured Gordon Hayward, in just the fifth start of his career, Burks scored a career-high 34 points to help the Jazz beat a hot Nuggets team.
“Last night was a great indication of what he can do when he gets going,” Utah coach Ty Corbin said.
On Tuesday morning, the Jazz coach acknowledged that a performance such as Burks’ makes a coach re-evaluate a players’ role and his minutes. But even if Burks returns to the bench when Hayward returns from injury, the third-year guard won’t be bothered.
“It’s not frustrating,” he said. “It’s what the team needs, and whatever Coach Ty wants, I do.”
After being used as a point guard early in the season with Trey Burke sidelined by injury, Burks has returned full time to his natural off-guard position. Aside from two spot starts in place of Hayward, Burks has been Utah’s sixth man so far this season.
He’s averaging 12.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists a game.
At 27.4 minutes a night, he trails only Hayward, Burke, Derrick Favors and Richard Jefferson in minutes per game.
“He still plays starter minutes so it doesn’t really matter if he starts or not,” guard Brandon Rush said. “I think he’s more comfortable coming off the bench because he can just come in and be the guy for that second unit.”
Still, Burks made a case for himself Monday.
Playing a season-high 38 minutes, Burks made the most of an opportunity. He finished 13 of 19 from the field and 8 of 8 from the free-throw line.
“He did a tremendous job [Monday] night of stepping up,” Corbin said. “We’ll have times to go to him. We talked about it from exhibition season, he’s one of the guys we want to be able to go to [offensively] in different circumstances.”
Hayward, who has been dealing with a hip flexor injury, returned to practice Tuesday, though his status for Wednesday night’s game in San Antonio was still up in the air. If he cannot play, Burks would get a third straight start.
In either role, Burks’ teammates expect the same things from him: energy and offense, specifically by attacking the basket.
“He’s just really good at getting to the rim,” Burke said. “With his body type, he knows how to use angles, how to get to the basket, how to get to the free-throw line. Most importantly, he’s one of the best finishers I’ve played with.”
Burks said he’s better prepared now for any situation.
“I’m a lot more mature than I was [as a rookie],” he said. “I was 19 when I came. I feel like I’m a better player.”
Part of that is making the most of his role.
“Just whatever Ty needs,” he said. “If he needs me to be a spark off the bench, I’ll do that. I’ll do it to the best of my abilities.”
Jazz at Spurs
At AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas.
Tipoff • Wednesday, 6 p.m.
TV • ESPN
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 13-26; Spurs 30-8.
About the Jazz • Leading scorer Gordon Hayward has missed the last two games with a hip flexor injury; his status remains uncertain. … Winners of six out of their last 10. … Playing in just their third national TV game of the year (previous two on NBA TV).
About the Spurs • Tony Parker leads the team with 17.9 points and 6.3 assists a night. … Have beaten the Jazz twice this year in Salt Lake City. … Forward Danny Green (finger) and center Tiago Splitter (shoulder) are both injured.