SALT LAKE CITY — As the 2017-18 Utah Jazz season came to a close earlier this week, Alec Burks proclaimed he was as healthy as he’s been at the end of a season in several years.
“It’s a blessing I got through the season healthy,” said Burks, who missed significant portions of the previous three seasons with an assortment of injuries.
Ironically, now that he’s finally 100 percent, Burks’ future with the team may be as tenuous as it’s been since he joined the Jazz as a rookie seven years ago.
Burks, who was taken with the No. 12 pick of the 2011 NBA draft, has played with the Jazz for seven seasons and has been a starter at times and key contributor off the bench. However, this year he ended the regular season as one of the last men off the bench. And now he’s entering the final year of a four-year contract.
The 6-foot-6 wing from the University of Colorado was basically Utah’s 10th or 11th man after rookie Royce O’Neale surpassed him in the rotation in January. He never left the bench in 12 of Utah’s final 20 games when he averaged just 1.5 points in the games he did play.
Then suddenly in the playoffs Burks was given an opportunity because of an injury to Ricky Rubio and he made the most of it with some solid performances for the Jazz.
In the last game of the season, the Game 5 loss in Houston, Burks played a season-high 32 minutes and scored 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range with five assists, three rebounds and a steal. He also had 14 points in Game 3 with 3 of 4 from long range and 17 points in the Game 2 win in Houston when he also had six assists and four rebounds in 22 minutes.
Burks played a key role in Utah’s Game 6 victory over Oklahoma City when he came in from cold storage for Rubio when the point guard went out with a hamstring injury in the first quarter.
After that game, coach Quin Snyder went so far as to say the Jazz wouldn’t have won without the contributions of Burks.
“It’s easy for a coach to say, ‘Stay ready, you never know when your number’s going to be called’ — that’s coach-speak, but he stayed ready,” said Snyder. “I’m unbelievably proud of him. He’s a reflection of what our group has been about all year.”
Burks has never been one to brag about himself — or to say much, period — and he didn’t complain about not getting more of a chance to play before the playoffs.
“I just pride myself on being ready,” he said. “I know I had the ability and I got the opportunity so I did what I had to do. I just want everybody to be great, want everybody to succeed and the team to be great. I have no problem with knowing my role.”
Burks has an uncanny ability to drive to the basket at full speed and make some circus shots at times and he’s always been a decent 3-point shooter (35.3 percent for his career). However, his decision-making has come into question and he’s never been known as a great defender.
Jazz officials haven’t commented on Burks’ future with the team with one year left on his contract, which will pay him $11.5 million next year. The question going into next year, is where will he fit in when everybody’s healthy?
Burks plays the same position as sensational rookie Donovan Mitchell, who will be playing 35 minutes a night for years to come. O’Neale moved ahead of him and doesn’t show any a signs of falling back after a solid postseason when he started four games and averaged 24 minutes per game. Another wing player, Thabo Sefolosha, should also be back after sitting out for three months with a knee injury.
The Jazz could use Burks in a similar role next year as an insurance policy in case some regulars get injured or they could trade him in the offseason.
“I’ve been here a long time, since I was 19, and hopefully it keeps going,” Burks said. “I’ve seen a lot in seven years. There’s been high times, low times and even-keel times. Hopefully there’ll be more good times in the in the future.”
While Burks’ Jazz future may be a little bit up in the air, he’s happy that he’s at least fully healthy for a change.
“I’m never going to take that for granted again,” he said. “This summer is going to be big, the first summer in a couple of summers where I don’t have to rehab. I’m just going to work on my game and play anytime I want to. I don’t need to ask nobody, see nobody, I can just hoop and have fun. I can’t wait for that — I haven’t had that for a long time.”