Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — In the recently completed 25-57 season, the Utah Jazz didn’t have a lot of bright spots. But if you’re looking for just one, it would be hard to find one brighter than the play of Alec Burks.
The third-year player out of the University of Colorado was finally given consistent minutes, and he responded with an excellent season. He finished second on the team in scoring at 14.0 ppg, double his 2012-13 average, while averaging 3.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He also upped his field goal shooting percentage to 45.7 percent, and his 3-point percentage was about the same as the previous year at 35.0 percent.
In his postseason press conference last week, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey gushed about Burks as much as any other player.
“I’m very pleased with the season Alec had,’’ Lindsey said. “He just continued to grind through and ended up putting up a very good season. I’m really pleased with where he’s moved to as a player, and he’s really maturing as a person and becoming an adult.’’
Burks played just two seasons at Colorado, where he averaged 20.5 points as a sophomore before being drafted No. 12 by the Jazz in 2011. Lindsey said Burks, who turns 23 in July, has been especially effective in Utah’s “pick and post” offense, where the Jazz like to get Burks and Gordon Hayward going to the hoop.
“He has an ability to put pressure on the rim,’’ Lindsey said. “I thought (player development coach) Johnnie Bryant did a good job of working on his finishing. We wanted to simplify his finishing — there were too many jackknife, highlight type of finishes and we want them to be more simple in nature.’’
Thanks to his aggressive moves to the hoop, Burks nearly led the team in free-throw attempts on the season with 373, just behind Hayward, despite playing eight fewer minutes a game. He finished a respectable 74.8 percent shooting from the line.
Burks has never been known for his verbosity, speaking in short snippets and acting like he’d just as soon be getting stuffed by Blake Griffin than talking to the media. However, before he left for his home in Kansas City for the summer, he opened up a bit about the season and his future.
“I did what (coach Tyrone Corbin) wanted me to do and did it to the best of my ability,’’ he said. “I was a more mature player, knowing the surroundings, always being in an attack mode on both sides of the floor.’’
One of the criticisms of the current Jazz team is that it doesn’t have a No. 1 scorer or a player that can become one in the future. Burks didn’t hesitate when asked it he could become such a player.
“I definitely feel like I can,’’ he said. “I’ve got the talent to be. I’ve got the competitiveness to be. I feel like I can become a great player in this league with my athletic ability and potential. I think I can be real good in this league.’’
When asked about what he needs to improve on most, Burks said, “Probably shooting. Everybody can improve on that.’’
Still, Burks shot better than every other perimeter player on the Jazz, and only inside men Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Jeremy Evans shot better.
Lindsey says the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Burks needs to improve his strength.
“As he gets stronger, he’ll improve his productivity at the rim and the free-throw line,’’ he said.
As he heads into his fourth year, Burks is in a similar position Hayward and Derrick Favors were a year ago with his rookie contract to end after the season. He could sign a new contract as Favors did or wait until after the season and become a restricted free agent like Hayward. He wouldn’t say which way he was leaning.
“I can’t talk about extensions, that’s up in the air,’’ he said. “The Jazz are a great organization and my agent’s good so they’ll work all that out. I feel like I’m going to have another great summer and take my game to the next level. I feel I proved what I can do and I improved a lot over the year and got better over the summer.”
For Burks, the future looks bright, whether it’s with the Jazz or another NBA team.
“I’m 22. I’m still young — most people are just getting out of college at my age,’’ he said. “I’m playing in the NBA, just getting better, improving as a man off the court and maturing. It’s all about self-growth.’’
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