New York • Alec Burks rattled off the names on his short list: “James Harden. Probably Tyreke Evans. Obviously LeBron.”
When it comes to the art of racing toward the basket, colliding with much-larger human beings, and still finding a way to contort your body while somehow spinning a basketball in such a manner that it will find its way into a hoop, Burks says, none in the NBA are better.
Although the Utah Jazz reserve guard might add one more name.
“I think I’m there right now,” he said. “I think the way I finish around the rim, it’s up there with the best in the league.”
In his three seasons in the NBA, moxie has never been Burks’ problem — and it shows in his fearless drives to the hoop and his jaw-dropping finishes.
It’s a skill set that’s been on display throughout the year, although never more consistently than of late. On a Jazz team struggling to find its way through the final stretch of a rebuilding year, Burks has provided the highlight reel.
“When we drafted him, we saw what he could do,” Phoenix suns coach and former Jazz assistant Jeff Hornacek said. “He’s got a unique ability to get to the hole and finish. A lot of guys can get to the hole quickly, but then they can’t get the ball in the hole. Somehow, someway, he does it.”
Over the Jazz’s last 10 games, Burks has led the team in scoring at 16.5 points a night. He’s done it by getting to the rim (65 percent of his shots have come in the paint this season), and by getting to the free throw line. He’s taken 73 freebies in his last 10 games. Gordon Hayward’s 44 is the next highest on the team.
Burks’ 58 percent field goal percentage in the restricted area is only in the top 50 among guards with 100 or more attempts there, but his flair and his ability to finish in traffic is what has caught his teammates’ attentions.
“His finishes are a lot more dramatic than those other guys,” forward Marvin Williams said with a laugh after being told who was on Burks’ list. “But he finds a way to do it. He’s really crafty about getting to the basket and when he does, he’s so big and strong. I think people underestimate his strength. ... He’s definitely a top-10 finisher in the league.”
That hasn’t always been his forte. It’s something Burks said he honed over his two years at Colorado. And his ability to work has Burks believing he’ll be able to fine tune other parts of his game, too.
“I’ve really dedicated myself to the game this year,” he said. “Just learning how to work, learning who to work the right way, [at] game speed.”
With teams spending more resources to slow down Burks, the guard knows he must improve his mid-range game (he’s shooting a woeful 33 percent from there) and that he needs to add the 3 to his regular arsenal.
Coaches and teammates also want to see Burks take the next step defensively.
“I think he has the ability to be a lockdown defender,” forward Richard Jefferson said. “He’s improved as the season has progressed. I think he could be a high-level steals guy. It’s just about focus and technique.”
The points, meanwhile, will keep coming.
Jazz at Knicks
P At Madison Square Garden
Tipoff • Friday, 5:30 p.m. MT
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 97.5 FM, 1280 AM
Records • Jazz 21-40; Knicks 22-40
About the Jazz • Wednesday’s night’s loss to the Wizards was the team’s fourth straight after leaving Utah for this road trip on a three-game winning streak. … Alec Burks has averaged 7.3 free throw attempts over his last 10 games. … Jazz have given up 57 points to opponents starting small forwards over the last two games.
About the Knicks • The second-highest payroll in the NBA hasn’t been able to buy wins, as the Knicks find themselves out of the playoff picture in the East. … Had lost seven straight before beating the Timberwolves on Wednesday. … Carmelo Anthony is second in the NBA in scoring, averaging 28.1 points per game.