Utah Jazz: Alec Burks' role still undefined
Johnnie Bryant looked more like a corner man preparing his boxer for a fight.
Standing under the hoop before practice Friday morning, the Utah Jazz player development assistant wore sparring mitts on his hands and each time third-year guard Alec Burks drove to the basket, Bryant was there to deliver a blow midair, knocking Burks off his path.
Bryant put down the mitts after a few more attempts and picked up a boat paddle.
As the Jazz season approaches, that appears to be Burks' primary task: be ready for anything that's thrown at him.
Of all the many questions surrounding this new Jazz team, Burks' role seems to come up most often.
Should he start alongside the young core that seems for now to be Utah's future?
Or is he best suited to come off the bench, a sixth-man spark plug for a second unit that will need scoring?
Then there's the question of which position he will play.
With rookie point guard Trey Burke injured, does Burks want to slide over to the 1 as he did last year?
If it matters to Burks, the 22-year-old University of Colorado product isn't saying so.
"I do whatever coach Ty [Corbin] says," Burks told reporters after Wednesday's preseason loss to Portland.
It's been two full seasons since the Jazz drafted him with the No. 12 overall pick. Burks has played in 123 regular season games and made four playoff appearances, but is still waiting to make his first NBA start.
So far this preseason, Corbin hasn't tipped his hand on where Burks will be at the beginning of games.
The Jazz coach surprised many who had penciled Burks in as the team's starting shooting guard by opting to start veteran Richard Jefferson at small forward in the team's first preseason game, bumping Gordon Hayward to the 2 and Burks to the bench.
After that first contest, Corbin praised Burks' scoring "punch" with the second unit as he finished with 14 points against the Warriors.
"He understands that we may grow him into [that role]," Corbin said. "I don't know which way we may go with that yet. We'll see. But he gives us punch off the bench because he can put the ball in the hole."
"If that's my role, I'm going to do the best of my abilities," Burks said.
Since then, however, Burks has started twice in three preseason games for the Jazz, and Corbin said he could start Burks at point guard early in the season depending on the matchup.
"It may be at times, because of his size, we start him at point," Corbin said this week. "[John] Lucas is a smaller guy. Scott [Machado] is a smaller point guard also. So against some points it may be better to start Alec. â¦ We have to figure out those things as we go forward. As I told the guys ... everybody has to be ready to go."
Whether he starts or comes off the bench, minutes should not be in short supply. Through four preseason games, only starters Hayward, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors have logged more time on the court than the 22.8 minutes a night Burks is averaging.
And if Wednesday's game against Portland is any indication, Burks will see time on the floor with the Jazz starters. Corbin used Jefferson for about 10 minutes at the start of each half, before bringing Burks off the bench. Down the stretch, Corbin left Burks on the floor with Hayward, Favors and Kanter to finish out the game.
Burks will have to be better than his 1-for-13 shooting on Wednesday, but Corbin said he has been impressed with Burks' progress since last season. The guard spent part of his summer in Washington, where he trained with John Stockton. Burks also spent time working out with teammates at the P3 training facility in Santa Barbara.
"I lifted a lot more than I did last summer, got stronger," Burks said. "That's going to help me a lot when I go to the rim."
Burks also brought an added confidence into this season.
"He's a confident guy," Favors said. "He comes out there, he thinks he can score on everybody. He's a confident guy, man. His confidence going to a new level now that he's got a new role."
Whatever that role may be.
By the numbers
Jazz guard Alex Burks:
Rookie season (2011-12)
G GS Min Ast Pts
59 0 15.9 0.9 7.2
Second season (2012-13)
G GS Min Ast Pts
64 0 17.8 1.4 7.0