It's basketball. It's a game, not something you should be scared of. I relish it, I love the moment. That's why I've got so much confidence. —Alec Burks
SALT LAKE CITY — Alec Burks still has a lot to learn about playing professional basketball.
Questions remain about his outside shooting ability, which is steadily improving but is still a work in progress. There are times when he likes to gamble — and occasionally loses badly — on defense.
At times, his shot selection is maddening. Though he's extremely quick and athletic, Burks has a bad habit of putting his head down and trying to force his way to the basket, often against opposing big men much larger and stronger than he is, when passing the ball off or pulling up for a short-range jumper would probably be a much better option — for him and for the team, too.
But there are two characteristics of his game that are absolutely invaluable: He's extremely confident in his own abilities, and he's completely fearless, regardless of who he's going up against.
Those are incredible qualities that you really can't coach or teach a young man, because they come from within.
And they are qualities which, last year as a 19-year-old NBA rookie for the Utah Jazz, allowed him to go up against the likes of the Lakers' Kobe Bryant and the league's other premier shooting guards without showing any signs of being the least bit wide-eyed, scared or intimidated.
"I wasn't excited about it at all," Burks said, downplaying those experiences as he prepared for Wednesday morning's practice session at Zion's Bank Basketball Center. "He's just the same as I am; everybody's the same, no matter what your name is.
"It's basketball. It's a game, not something you should be scared of. I relish it, I love the moment. That's why I've got so much confidence. You can't be (intimidated). You get caught up in that, you'll have a bad game. That's why I play the way I play, I've just got that much confidence in my game."
After averaging 7-plus points and 2.2 rebounds per game last season, Burks is back for his second go-round in the NBA. And he's eager to show that he not only belongs in the league but deserves more playing time on a team where the 6-foot-6 shooting guard must take a back seat to Gordon Hayward and Jazz newcomer Randy Foye.
"I know my time will come, I know I'll find my minutes somewhere," Burks said. "I feel like I can. I'll still play; it's all about competition, that's what they brought me here to do, to get better.
"I worked hard on that (jump shot). I wanted to prove people wrong, that's what I was trying to do. Just shoot, that's how you get better — repetition is the best teacher — just keep shooting, keep shooting all day."
Burks admitted that his rookie season was a bit of an eye-opener, but that he learned a great deal from it and has his sights set on improvement in Year 2.
"The life, the traveling, getting used to competing every day at a high level, I wasn't used to that part," he said. "I got wiser, got more stronger, and I used that experience and I got better.
"I want to improve on everything," Burks told reporters earlier this year at the Orlando Summer League. "I want to get a consistent 3-point shot. I want to get better on defense. I want to improve in all areas of my game and be a complete player. I think I can be a very good player in this league and I'm willing to do the work to get there.
"The expectations are high. I feel like I showed people I can play on this level in my rookie year. I want to keep proving myself and showing that I can play in this league. I want to make sure I'm able to help my team … I think we can be really good."
Burks scored five points in Utah's preseason opener on Monday night at Golden State, and Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin said he intends to try and get the second-year player more time on the floor in the future. Burks played 17 minutes in Monday's 83-80 loss — roughly the same amount of court time that both Hayward and Foye saw as well.
"I anticipate seeing him more on the floor on a consistent basis," Corbin said. "He's had a great summer, and now we need to get his summer and training camp to transfer over to the games. I thought at the end of last year, he came on very strong for us, and he had a good summer league down in Orlando.
"He didn't get as many minutes as I wanted to get him in the first game (Monday), but he will play for us, and we're looking forward to him continuing to develop. … Everybody has to raise their level of play to compete for minutes on the floor.
"He's coming along," Corbin said of Burks. "He's getting stronger, and he's understanding on the defensive end when to be aggressive and when to back off a little bit, and offensively how he has to have pace but controlled pace to his game."
Corbin pointed out Burks' propensity to take the ball hard to the hole when a different approach might be more beneficial.
"One of the things you saw in the game the other night, he came in and rushed a little bit," the Jazz coach said. "And when you go into the basket against big guys, you have to go in with body first and go vertical and not horizontal because these guys are so big.
"He's going to continue to get experience in this league, and minutes on the floor will help that and just playing. And that's going to come with time and getting used to playing at this level."1 comment on this story
Indeed, the learning curve continues for the former University of Colorado star and Missouri prep player of the year, with plenty of on-the-job training to come.
But Burks' playing time won't ever be hindered by his lack of confidence or fearlessness.
No, he already possesses those critical characteristics in great abundance.