Confident Burks is happy to be contributing off the Jazz bench
SALT LAKE CITY — Because he tends to shy away from the spotlight and rarely says much, Alec Burks might be thought of as someone who is upset or disappointed that he hasn’t become an NBA starter during his three years in the league.
Over the past month, the 22-year-old has arguably been the team’s most productive offensive player, the guy the team goes to when it needs a bucket. Certainly he is the most exciting player with his assortment of nifty moves around the basket. Yet he still hasn’t earned a starting berth, usually coming into games late in the first quarter as the first or second man off the bench.
On Wednesday morning, Burks may have set a record for his longest interview since coming to the Jazz in 2011 — 2 minutes and 32 seconds — when he revealed that he’s not unhappy with his playing time and is even ahead where he thought he might be at this point of his career.
“I didn’t think I’d be in the NBA, so that’s one thing, but I’m here,’’ he said. “I’m glad to be here. I’m ahead of schedule.’’
The man of a few words expressed confidence in his abilities and after making a big improvement between his freshman and sophomore years at Colorado, began to see a future in the NBA.
“I produced really well against some of the top players in the country and thought I maybe I could make a life out of this,’’ he said. “That really changed my attitude.’’
Coach Tyrone Corbin is happy with Burks’ production of late, particularly with guards Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke struggling with their shooting.
“We’ve been able to get him the ball where he can attack early,’’ Corbin said. “His setup has been good and he’s getting to his spots quickly. He’s very creative, finishing at the rim. He understands that we need him to score, especially when the second group’s in there.’’
Burks is third on the team in scoring at 13.2 ppg, just behind Derrick Favors, but over the last 10 games he’s been the team’s top scorer. Beginning with the career-high 34-point game against Denver on Jan. 13, Burks has averaged 17.1 ppg on 49.6 percent shooting (58 of 117). He also continues to get to the free-throw line as he leads the team with 203 attempts on the season.
“I’m getting aggressive and the shots are starting to fall,’’ Burks said. “I feel like I’m improving a lot. I’m doing it to the best of my ability when I come off the bench.’’
One thing Burks isn’t lacking is confidence.
“It’s a grown man’s league,'' he said. "If you don’t have confidence, the league will tear you apart.''
HEALTHY AGAIN: The Jazz are getting closer to being at full strength for a game. Every Jazz player practiced Wednesday, the first time that’s happened in more than a month.
For much of the season, the Jazz have been missing a key player whether it was Trey Burke for 12 games, Gordon Hayward for five, Derrick Favors for six or Jeremy Evans for 15.
Favors and Evans, who have been out with nagging injuries over the past week, both practiced Wednesday and should be able to play this weekend against Dallas Friday and Miami Saturday.
“Hopefully we’ll get everybody back on the floor this weekend,’’ said Corbin. “We are young and developing as a group, but when you miss key guys, it hurts and we have to change and juggle some things.’’
During the course of an NBA season, days off are rare because if a team isn’t playing a game or traveling, it takes every opportunity to practice. However with a three-day gap between games this week, the Jazz took Tuesday completely off. Corbin thinks it will help his team.
“I think it will, especially where we are now at this juncture of the season where guys are beat up,’’ he said. “To get a day away from it and get off the floor a little bit helps you get re-focused and re-energized.’’
ATTENDANCE ISSUES: For the first time since the EnergySolutions Arena (formerly Delta Center) was built, the Jazz don’t rank in the top 10 in the NBA in attendance.
The Jazz have fallen to 14th at 17,742, their worst average since the days of the old Salt Palace.
Monday night’s crowd was one of the lowest of the season with scores of empty green seats on the lower level, and the announced attendance of 17,139 didn’t reflect the number of people in the building.
However, things should be different Saturday night when LeBron James and the two-time defending champion Miami Heat visit ESA. As of Wednesday, just a few seats were unsold and the arena is expected to be sold out by tipoff Saturday night.
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