The NBA is a league of stars.
We know everything Stephen Curry and LeBron James do. We sound the alarm over every Anthony Davis block and dunk.
That’s all fair, but it makes it easy for role players to not get properly recognized. In the ebb and flow of the season, several role players go through hot streaks that go under the radar.
We’ll try to rectify this issue by awarding a Role Player of the Week Award. This is to highlight a superb week by a player who may not get a ton of coverage. The Week 3 winner is Alec Burks.
The record of a team isn’t always indicative of how that team played in the NBA, particularly over a short stretch of games. Utah went 1-3 this past week during a four-game road stretch, and while no one in the Jazz organization will be happy about that, the team played pretty well.
The Jazz went toe-to-toe with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it took a Herculean effort from LeBron James for Cleveland to pull it out. Then, the team lost by the narrowest of margins, 92-91, to Miami without Rudy Gobert (Miami was missing Dwyane Wade). On the second night of a back-to-back in Florida, Utah played its one poor game of the stretch, losing by nine to Orlando. But the team followed that up with a win in Atlanta.
Several players on the Jazz seem to be taking a step forward this year, and none more so than Alec Burks. Coming off shoulder surgery that caused him to miss most of last season, Burks has been excellent off the bench. This past week, he led the team in scoring at 19.3 points per game.
Burks is one of the better drivers in the game, and he has an innate sense of when the defense is out of place. As soon as he senses defenders on their heels, he attacks. Check out this drive against the Cavaliers:
Burks sensed J.R. Smith leaning one way and wasted no time in getting to the rim. Once he there, he threw up an acrobatic shot that showed his prowess in the restricted area. He’s exactly what Utah needs; an excellent ball mover who attacks the second the defense gets shifted the wrong way.
The next step in Burks’s progression will be developing into a lethal shooter, and he’s shown signs of getting there. Burks shot 38.2 percent on threes last season before his injury, and he’s torching it from distance this year at 55 percent.
That was the biggest reason for Burks’s scoring uptick last week. He shot 60 percent on 3.8 three-point attempts a game, up from just 1.3 three-point attempts the prior week. Burks has confidence in his outside shot now, and it’s added another dimension to his game.
Continuing to hit threes will be crucial for Burks, because players have started to slow down on closeouts to him since he’s such a good driver. Teams have been more willing to let him shoot than drive, and he’s made them pay lately.
Defensively, Burks has been solid as well. He’ll likely never be a true stopper, but he’s smart, athletic and long enough to bother opponents. Utah’s stingy defense has been slightly better with Burks on the court than off it this season by both points per possession and eFG%, per NBAwowy.com.
If Burks can continue to knock down jumpers, he’s going to be a handful for opponents in Quin Snyder’s system. Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors will likely continue to be the focal points of the offense, but Burks has shown he can handle a high usage offensively as well. In fact, Burke’s usage has been higher than Hayward’s thus far this season.
A lot of eyebrows were raised at Burks getting a four year, $42 million extension last year, but those doubts have been erased. And if Burks continues to develop, he could be a huge bargain for the Jazz moving forward.