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Utah Jazz: Burks eager to embrace expanded role with ballclub this season

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 1 2013 5:45 p.m. MDT

Utah Jazz point guard Alec Burks (10) drives by Boston Celtics power forward Brandon Bass (30) as the Utah Jazz are defeated by the Boston Celtics 110-107 in overtime as they play NBA basketball Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah Jazz point guard Alec Burks (10) drives by Boston Celtics power forward Brandon Bass (30) as the Utah Jazz are defeated by the Boston Celtics 110-107 in overtime as they play NBA basketball Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — For the last couple of years, Alec Burks has been patiently biding his time, hoping for an opportunity to someday shed his role as a bit player and become a full-fledged NBA performer, one who's in the Utah Jazz rotation playing major minutes every night.

Well, young man, your time has come.

With a rebuilt roster in which Utah's front office shed its older, more experienced players in favor of a much-publicized youth movement, the 22-year-old Burks now stands to step into the Jazz lineup, most likely as their starting shooting guard, and make key contributions on a nightly basis.

It would mark a much more expanded role for the 6-foot-6, third-year guard, but he feels like he's prepared to play such a vital role for the team.

Now, it appears, preparation is about to meet opportunity, and Burks is ready to embrace his new-found role and responsibility with the franchise.

"I take the same approach," Burks said after Tuesday's opening session of training camp. "I feel like I was ready for the role my first two years, but now I'm getting the opportunity so I'm going to take advantage of it.

"I'm excited to play the game of basketball, you know."

Burks' goal this season is to "just get better, improve, get in tip-top shape for the grind, the 82-game grind, and just help my team as much as I can."

Utah coach Tyrone Corbin certainly thinks Burks has worked hard for this opportunity and is ready to seize it along with the other members of the CCKC (Coach Corbin's Kiddie Corps) — Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and rookie point guard Trey Burke.

Hayward is the oldest member of that group, projected to possibly be the Jazz starting five, at the ripe old age of 23.

"I'm excited for him, I really am," Corbin said of Burks. "He along with some of the other young guys, I'm really excited for them being able to be in an expanded role here.

"(Burks) worked his tail off this summer. I thought he made some good strides last year, especially having to put him in the point-guard role some and he started for us at times at the point.

"He's a 2-man naturally, but he's a basketball player," Corbin said. "He's been willing to work this summer, he's worked on his body, his conditioning is up and his IQ basketball-wise has increased, so we're really looking forward to him having a good year."

Over his first two years in the league, there were nights when Burks would find himself buried on the end of Utah's bench and he would barely see the floor. He played sporadically at times and seemed unsure of what his role was.

Then there were those nights when he'd come out and, given an opportunity to display his quickness and athleticism, he'd step into the spotlight and shine brightly.

There were nights like last March in San Antonio, when he scored 14 points in 22 minutes against the Spurs, or that night last season at Milwaukee, when he played a career-high 36 minutes and responded by putting up 19 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals.

Corbin said Burks' biggest improvement may be the mental side of his game.

"Confidence, positive confidence," the Jazz coach said. "You come out of college and you have a chip on your shoulder. He certainly had a chip on his shoulder because he had a lot to prove. He still has a lot to prove to himself and to everybody in this league.

"But he knows better now what he's getting ready to face. And he's working smarter at getting himself ready on both ends of the floor. His body has gotten better from the standpoint of how he can move and use his hands on the defensive end and get over screens and get small at times and stay wide and big at times on smaller guys. His knowledge of the different things he can use that he has against different opponents is increasing.

"I think, along with his physical play, I think the mental aspect of thinking the game — there's still another level that he has to grow there on — is where he's made strides there," Corbin said.

Burks was taken by Utah with the 12th overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft out of the University of Colorado, where the former Missouri high school player of the year spent two seasons, averaging 19 points per game, and was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2010.

He has averaged a little more than 7 points, 2 rebounds and an assist per game in his first two NBA seasons, shooting around 42 percent from the field, 35 percent from 3-point range and 72 percent from the foul line.

But those scoring, rebounding and assist numbers are expected to take a dramatic jump this season with his expanded role and increased playing time.

Most folks figure the young Jazz are going to struggle to find wins this season, but Burks — never one to lack confidence — thinks they could surprise some people if they continue to stay after it and don't get discouraged.

"We're gonna work hard," he said. "It doesn't matter what everybody's talking about us. We're going to work hard and we know what type of team we have, so we're just going to keep getting better every day.

"We're young, of course, young and skilled with athleticism. We're hard workers, we've got great chemistry and we play hard, that's the main thing.

"We just have to play hard every night," Burks said. "If we do that, you know, a lot of things could fall in our favor. … You never know what can happen over the course of a season."

One thing we do know, however, is that Alec Burks is going to play a lot, probably every night, and now that he's going to get this opportunity, he's not backing down from anybody.

EMAIL: rhollis@desnews.com

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