Utah Jazz: Summer workouts with Gordon Hayward have rookie Alec Burks in 'great shape'
SALT LAKE CITY — It was just a fun exhibition game with players showing off a lot of dunks, playing little defense and entertaining fans starved for some NBA basketball.
But anyone who saw that early-November game at Salt Lake Community College featuring Jazz and other assorted NBA players was likely most impressed with one particular player on the floor — Jazz rookie-to-be Alec Burks.
Only NBA standout Stephen Curry outscored Burks, who poured in 29 points, including 12 of 13 from the field and looked very comfortable playing among the NBA veterans.
While it's been just a few days since the Jazz started practicing for the shortened 2011-12 season, the 6-foot-6 Burks is already impressing his coaches and teammates.
"He's learning a lot in the change from college to the pros and his energy and approach to practice gets better every day," said coach Tyrone Corbin. "He's picking stuff up, knowing where to get to on the plays. But he's really good at making passes to his teammates. That's going to be a great thing, because guys like to play with guys who like to pass the basketball."
Corbin was thrilled that Burks came into camp "in great shape," which probably had a lot to do with his summer routine.
Burks, who just turned 20 in July, spent the summer in Indianapolis, working out with fellow Jazzman Gordon Hayward at St. Vincent Sports Performance.
For three months, the two worked out together along with several other players Monday through Friday for a couple of hours in the morning and a couple in the afternoon.
Hayward, who a year ago was going through the same thing Burks is going through now, was impressed with what he saw of the Jazz's first-round choice from Colorado.
"He's definitely really talented, that's for sure," said Hayward. "He's a really good slasher and can get to the rim with ease."
Burks enjoyed the experience in Indianapolis and getting to know Hayward well.
"We worked out hard, got better together and got stronger," said Burks. "He told me a lot of stuff about the Jazz."
Burks stayed in a hotel, except the weekends when he went home to Kansas City, while Hayward was able to go home every night to his old house where he grew up. But the two did hang out together and Burks commented what a funny guy Hayward is, while Hayward talked about how nice it was to get to know Burks off the floor.
"It was good to see what he has on the court, but more importantly to meet him as a person and as a teammate and a friend," said Hayward. "Sometimes that's more important than the basketball stuff. He already knew who I was, and it was really good to have someone you're comfortable around."
One of Burks' biggest improvements over the summer came in his long-range shooting. In college he was known — as Hayward said — for his ability to slash to the basket and score. While he shot 50.8 percent from two-point range at Colorado, he only made 29.2 percent of his shots from 3-point range.
But as he showed in the November game at SLCC when he made 5 of 6 from 3-point range, he has improved dramatically from beyond the arc.
"I didn't shoot outside a lot in college because I got to the rack a lot," said Burks. "So I want to prove to everybody I can shoot."
Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor has noticed the improvement in Burks' game since he was drafted, not only in his shooting, but all aspects of his game.
"To see the shooting, ball-handling, to see him get bigger — you know he worked during the summer," O'Connor said. "Those are the things you like to see."
Burks has already adjusted well to Utah, saying, "it's basically the same as Colorado," where he played his college ball. He's also had no problem adjusting to the altitude, which is actually lower than Boulder.
On the first day of practice "everybody was sucking wind, but we got through it," Burks said.
Burks' biggest adjustment so far has been "the speed of the game" with more talented players. "A lot of things you can do in college, you might not get away with here," he said.
Corbin is high on Burks and said he has a chance to play a lot for the Jazz this year.
"It's been going good — I'm just trying to learn everything and work hard," Burks said. "I just want to contribute early. I feel like I have the ability, and the way we're playing with a lot of young guys, I have the chance."
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