Utah Jazz: Alec Burks, Randy Foye help shorthanded team stay on point
SALT LAKE CITY — Mo Williams is out for at least a couple more weeks while rehabbing his surgically repaired thumb.
Earl Watson is sidelined as well with multiple injuries on his lower right leg, including bone bruising and a stress fracture.
One of the Jazz's other primary ballhandlers, Gordon Hayward, is out for who knows how long with a sprained right shoulder.
Utah hasn't begun open tryouts for playmakers or asked the statue in front of the building to unretire yet, but Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin admits that he's in a precarious point guard situation.
"It's a concern," Corbin said. "Jamaal (Tinsley) is the last man standing there who's a true point."
Tinsley is expected to start again tonight at EnergySolutions Arena when the Jazz host the Milwaukee Bucks, but, don't look now, he isn't at 100 percent either.
Before Tuesday's practice, Tinsley admitted that his heavily taped left ankle is sore. He twisted it against Portland this past weekend.
"I'm OK to play," he said. "But it's hurting."
Remember that joke Al Jefferson made about playing point guard the other day?
OK, forget that idea. But the Jazz have already pulled on the in-case-of-emergency point guard lever, and Alec Burks and Randy Foye have responded nicely. The team, already down to 11 healthy and available players, certainly doesn't want to dig even deeper into the backup ballhandler bag of tricks.
Tinsley, who is 16-9 as a Jazz starter this season, insists that isn't an option right now anyway.
"I can run up and down and be out there on the court and help the team. I just can't move how I want to move," the soon-to-be 35-year-old point guard said. "But I think just by me being out there, I can still help."
Corbin is counting his lucky stars that Kevin O'Connor set his roster up with a couple of combo guards who can run the offensive show before O'Connor stepped aside as general manager.
For the most part, Alec Burks and Randy Foye have given yeoman efforts in filling in for the missing Williams, Watson and Hayward, and when Tinsley has needed a breather.
The Jazz have even managed to pick up steam since Williams injured his thumb during the pre-Christmas road trip. Utah fell to 14-14 after that loss in Miami when he was hurt, and has since gone 13-8 (a stretch which also included absences of Hayward for five games and Watson for two).
"Not only injuries, guys are just beat up," said Corbin, mentioning how close the Jazz are to the proverbial 50-game wall.
"We have to play our way through it just because of how close we are in the race. We want to finish up as strong as we can."
Tonight will be a big test for the Jazz, considering the Bucks are a likely Eastern Conference playoff team and have a quick and high-scoring point guard in Brandon Jennings.
The ball isn't always advanced downcourt as quickly as Corbin would prefer, limiting the Jazz's offensive options and forcing them into some rushed plays. But the third-year coach has been pleased with the production from Burks and Foye, the guys who rank somewhere between fourth and sixth as point guard options.
"We'll continue to work as a committee," he said. "Guys understand they have to step up, and we'll try to put them in a position to help them out as much as we can."
Pairing Foye and Burks is just one of those solutions. All the better that Foye is on target to smash the Jazz's 3-point shooting record and that Burks has developed an inside and outside game to go with improved playmaking decisions.
"We just make reads. If it's a play that we need to set up where I need to initiate the ball, then (I'll) do it," Foye said. "If it's a play where I need to be on the weak side, then he'll bring up the ball. I think we fit good together because we read off of each other."
"Just two combo guards that can score (and) set teammates up," Burks said of the pairing with Foye. "It's a great thing and we make it happen together."
It helps, Foye said, that the Jazz offense can be initiated by multiple players, not just the point guard, per se.
Foye played point guard earlier in his NBA career at Minnesota, so this isn't a new thing for him. Burks was a part-time point in high school and college, and he's feeling more comfortable with each passing professional opportunity — both offensively and defensively. He's taking smarter shots, helping teammates get looks and staying on his man.
All the while, Burks said he's receiving good advice from the guys he's filling in for — Williams, Watson and Tinsley.
"Just learning from them," he said, "it's helped my game out a lot."
In turn, Burks is finding a way to help his team out, too.
"It's always fun to play the game that you love," he said. "As long as I'm on the court, that's the position I like."
Burks, never lacking for self-esteem, has received a confidence boost that Corbin has entrusted him with point guard duties.
"It's the utmost confidence," he said. "If you run a team, then you've got to have a lot of confidence from your coach. It's a great thing."
What does Tinsley, the guy Burks has been spelling, think of the job the second-year pro is doing?
"I think he's doing a good job attacking," Tinsley said of Burks. "He could be one of them guys that can play point and play two but be a scoring point guard. I think he's doing a great job."
As he tends to do, Corbin was quick to point out the "character" of the Jazz players to rally together in tough times. That has helped ignite individual progression and collective improvement.
"The trust has gotten better on both ends of the floor. They hold each other accountable," Corbin said. "They just don't make any excuses because somebody's out, because we don’t have this or that. We have each other and we want to continue to work to play together."
That said, the Jazz are looking forward to getting all their non-Raja Bell pieces put back together again.
"Hopefully, we'll get bodies back — especially if we get Gordon back, he gives us another ballhandler, and then I can play a combination of Gordon, Alec and Randy, split the ballhandling duties there," Corbin said.
"Hopefully Mo and Earl will get healthy and be able to get back for us, if not before, soon after the All-Star break."
The Jazz have five games remaining before that five-day break.
"I just think once we get those guys back," Jefferson added, "everybody will come together and everybody will take advantage."
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