It’s frustrating. My (latest) injury was way more serious than I thought. But I’m a soldier and I learned a lot about my body and the game of basketball during the time out. —Alec Burks
SALT LAKE CITY — Over the past three seasons, Alec Burks has barely played one season worth of games. He’s played exactly 100 games in all since 2014. That’s just seven more games total than Joe Ingles, the only Jazz player not to miss a game this year, who played in 82 regular-season games and 11 playoff games in 2016-17.
For Burks it has been a tough three years because of the various injuries he’s endured and not being able to overcome them in a timely fashion.
“It’s frustrating,” Burks said. “My (latest) injury was way more serious than I thought. But I’m a soldier and I learned a lot about my body and the game of basketball during the time out.”
The latest injury came the day after Christmas in 2015 when he was undercut by the Clippers’ Paul Pierce while driving to the hoop. Burks broke his left fibula, but the injury affected both his ankle and knee and the combination has seriously limited his play since.
The Jazz announced in January of 2016 that he was having a special procedure that would speed up the recovery process and get him back in action perhaps within a few weeks. But the weeks turned into months and after sitting out most of the rest of the season, he was finally cleared to play in April when the Jazz were making a playoff run. But he clearly wasn’t ready and after playing a couple of games was shut down for the season.
Burks had another surgical procedure early in the summer and he didn’t start working out until August and didn’t play the first two months of the season.
“I needed the summer,” he said. “Then because I started the season so late, I was 45 games in and trying to catch the rhythm.”
He had had another “clean-out” procedure in early November and finally came back during the week-long Eastern road trip in early January, starting off very carefully.
He played three minutes against Brooklyn, then sat out a game before playing four, seven, two, and five minutes in his next four games. Later in the month he had a stretch of five straight games scoring in double figures and averaged close to 20 minutes a game over the next two months, capped by a 21-point performance at Oklahoma City on March 11.
However, he hit double figures only once the rest of the season as his minutes diminished. Then after not playing in the first two games of the playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers, it was announced Burks would miss the next game because he was undergoing a platelet-rich plasma injection in his left knee. That turned out to keep him out for the remainder of the Jazz’s nine playoff games.
“I knew coming into it, starting the season so late, I wasn’t going to get back to my old self,” Burks said. “I played a little bit in January and February but I was still dealing with things, coming back from being out so long. Towards the end, my leg wasn’t all the way right . . . I was in pain.”
Burks joined the Jazz in 2011 as the No. 12 pick of the draft out of Colorado. He didn’t start his first two years, when he averaged 7.2 and 7.0 points per game, respectively, hitting just over 42 percent of his shots.
In 2013-14, he had his best overall and only full season, averaging 14.0 points per game on 45.7 percent shooting and 35 percent from 3-point range in 78 games, 12 of which he started.
The following year, he earned a starting spot and was off to a good start, averaging 33 minutes per game through 27 games, when he went down with a shoulder injury that kept him out the rest of the season. Then came the leg injury almost a year to the day after his 2014 injury.
When asked about another possible surgery after having four in three years, he was emphatic, saying “No, I’m not going under the knife."
Burks is actually quite positive about the future, saying it’s mostly about strengthening his leg right now.
“I was so explosive before I hurt my ankle,” he said. “I’m used to blowing by people, going over people, around people. I’m just not there right now. I need to work on more things to get back to the explosive athlete that I was. That’s what I’m working towards.”
Burks is signed through the 2018-19 season and will make just under $11 million this coming season. When coach Quin Snyder was asked what he thought of Burks’ future with the team, he was vague, yet positive.
“The primary thing for Alec and what we all want is for him to be healthy,” Snyder said. “It’s been a lengthy process for Alec and one he’s handled with unbelievable professionalism and courage. We know who Alec is and what he’s done, but as his health continues to improve and eventually he becomes 100 percent, we’ll look at him as would any other player see what his impact would be to help the team.”
Burks said he plans to keep rehabbing his knee this summer and playing a lot of pickup games.
“Last summer I couldn’t jump and do all those things until August,” he said. “I think the summer will be big for me.”
While Burks has exhibited a ton of patience for the past three years, he still sees a bright future for himself in the NBA.
“I know I’m only 25, I’m young,” he said. “I’ll get back to my old self. I’m not worried. It’s just taking more time that I thought when I first got hurt.”