Utah Jazz: Defense, starting are near-term goals for Alec Burks

Published: Thursday, July 11 2013 7:25 p.m. MDT

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives between Utah Jazz guard Alec Burks (10) and forward Derrick Favors (15) in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, March 13, 2013.

Sue Ogrocki, AP

ORLANDO, Fla. — Earlier this week, Utah Jazz shooting guard Alec Burks had something to say to assistant coach Sidney Lowe after a game at the Orlando Pro Summer League.

"Coach, did you see that defense?"

Lowe had seen it.

"That's exciting for us," Lowe said.

It wasn't just exciting to see that the third-year pro played defense.

It was also exciting for the Jazz coaching staff that Burks listened to its advice and then returned with a positive self-report.

That's progress in action.

"We know that he can score the basketball. He can get to the basket," Lowe said. "But I saw him trying to really defend a little better here this summer, really trying to get after people better."

Burks has shown an improvement in the angles he takes on opposing shooting guards, Lowe said. He's pressuring the ball better. He's being more aggressive.

"He's certainly got to get better," Lowe said, "but he's working at it."

Burks didn't play in the Jazz's 79-73 loss to Indiana on Thursday — it was known coming in he'd get some time off — but fine-tuning his defensive game was a summer goal for the 6-foot-6 athletic guard.

In a sense, doing that brings him another step closer to earning his way into the Jazz's regular rotation.

That's one of the reasons Burks was glad to participate in the summer league even while a majority of players involved are rookies or NBA roster hopefuls.

It's also why he was excited to remind his coach that he'd followed orders.

"Anytime I do something good," he said, "I'm going to let you know about it."

Burks has done more good, more consistently, than any other Jazz player at summer league. He had a rough shooting outing against Houston (5 for 15), but he's averaged 14 points while playing an average of just 19 minutes a game.

While younger players have struggled finding their comfort zone — including highly touted point guard Trey Burke — Burks has simply looked like an NBA player among wannabes.

"I feel like I'm a vet," said Burks, who has two seasons of NBA experience. "It should show different. I should play different than everybody else. That’s why I feel like I have."

Another thing Burks is feeling?

That he should take Denver-bound Randy Foye's old job.

"That's what I come into the NBA every year to do — start," Burks said. "So I'm not going to set my goals any lower. I want to start."

Burks will certainly get that opportunity. For now, the only other candidates are newcomer Brandon Rush, who's rehabbing from ACL surgery, and perhaps Gordon Hayward if Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin decides to go with a different veteran small forward like Richard Jefferson or Marvin Williams (after his return from Achilles tendon surgery).

Two years after leaving Colorado following his sophomore season, Burks believes now is the time for his pro career to really blossom. He's eager for the challenge and opportunity of a steady role in the rotation.

Three months after his exit meeting with Jazz brass following the end of the 2012-13 season, Burks continues to take to heart the message given to him: "Just come back a better player and a better man at the same time."

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