Monday night, the Utah Jazz beat the Sacramento Kings. While the game going into overtime was surprising, perhaps the biggest surprise was seeing Alec Burks playing point guard down the stretch.
Burks is a shooting guard from Colorado that really does have enormous potential. He has a natural shooting stroke and a Paul Millsap-like ability to get to the rim and finish.
Watching Burks play and seeing those flashes of brilliance excites a lot of Jazz fans about the potential of this kid, and rightly so. At 6’6″ and 202 lbs., Burks could blossom into a legitimate threat at the point.
But what’s it going to take for that to happen? While he scored 14 points Monday night against Sacramento, I wasn’t terribly impressed with his ball handling – he had 4 assists and 4 turnovers. While point guards always have higher assist to turnover ratios than their teammates, a 1:1 ratio isn’t that great. Jose Calderon leads the NBA in that category, with an assist to turnover ratio of 4.48:1. That’s very impressive, besting even Chris Paul. Interestingly enough, Earl Watson ranks number five in the NBA in this category, notching an assist to turnover ratio of 3.41:1. However, Watson sees limited minutes with the Jazz and has only dished 133 dimes to his teammates, as opposed to the league-leading 448 assists New Orleans guard Greivis Vasquez has notched. If Watson saw as many minutes as some of his point guard counterparts, his assist to turnover ratio would likely be much lower than it is currently.
So does this mean that Burks needs to raise his assist to turnover ratio for me to take him seriously as a point guard in this league? Well, that’s part of it, but Burks hasn’t seen enough time at the point to prove his worth as a ball handler. The game against Sacramento (he played a career high 31:14 Monday night) isn’t a fair measuring stick for Burks. Even though he turned in a solid performance, that’s only one game against a very bad Kings team.
The main thing I’m trying to get at is that getting caught up in a solid night from a young guard isn’t going to do anyone any good. Burks is still new to the Association, and he’s trying to figure out his role in the NBA. If Burks wants to be a point guard in this league, he needs to build on that good game and turn it into a string of good games.
There’s a few things Burks can do to improve his game. First and foremost, Burks can improve his court vision. Monday night, there were more than a few instances where Burks ended up caught on the wing dribbling, waiting on his teammates to come to him. In situations like that, Burks needs to realize where the defensive pressure is coming from and get rid of the ball quicker. As soon as a player starts a cut towards the basket, or comes up top to set a pick, Burks needs to be aware of that movement and already making the decision on where to pass the ball. Good point guards know when to hold the ball and wait for a play to develop, and when to get rid of the rock as fast as possible. This is a skill that comes over time, and by no means do I expect Burks to turn into a Rajon Rondo-style point guard by season’s end. If Burks can focus on truly running an offense, his game will vastly improve.
Another aspect of the game Burks can focus on is knowing when to shoot the ball. While point guards have morphed into more than just an offensive facilitator over the last decade in the NBA, there are plenty of point guards that shoot too much. Think of how many times Russell Westbrook has been called out for taking a game winning shot, instead of setting up a play for his teammate Kevin Durant. Westbrook has an impressive shooting touch, but when he’s playing the point his main job should be to set up his offense and get the best shot possible. If that shot happens to be his own, then all the more power to him. However, more often than not someone else will be open with a better look at the basket.
Burks sometimes falls prey to the Westbrook curse, because he has a great knack for finishing around the rim. If Burks makes one nice shot or circus layup, he’ll often try to do the same thing the next time he gets the ball, instead of taking stock of the game around him and then making a decision based on what he sees. While Burks does have the talent to make a lot of the shots he takes, there’s usually someone else open for a better, easier shot. This is another skill that takes time to learn, but in his limited playing time this season, Burks has learned to be smarter with the ball.
If Burks can focus on these two aspects of his game, I think he could turn into an absolutely potent weapon at the point guard spot. He’s very quick off the dribble, and he towers over most other point guards. Defensively, he’s shown good ability as well. But this is just my opinion. What’s yours? Do you think Burks has what it takes to be a point guard in the NBA?
Spencer is a senior at Payson High School who loves fishing almost as much as basketball. He hopes to break into the sports writing business and make a living watching a game. You can find him on Twitter @Spencer_Durrant.