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Having just passed the midway point of the 2012 NBA season, I thought it a good time to offer a comprehensive look at some of the Jazz rookies and sophomores.

My focus of this piece will be centered on the development and future of Alec Burks.

Much has been made about the youngsters on the team this year. Never (at least in my memory) has a Jazz team featured four lottery picks on the team at the same time. And with the exception of Alec Burks, three of those picks are top ten. So it is fair to say there are some expectations regarding the development and learning curve for the youngsters.

Fans expectations this year center around playing time (PT). The feeling is with such a young team, playing time is needed to help with growth and development. So of course frustrations rise when the young guys aren’t getting playing time. Especially players like Burks who play at a position behind two veterans who’ve had their share of inconsistencies of late.

But from a coaching standpoint, especially with an organization like the Jazz, it isn’t just about growth and development, it’s about winning. A team that was a perennial playoff team for almost two decades, the Jazz can’t or don’t want to afford losing consecutive seasons in the name of development.

Minutes and playing time, don't always equate to development. It really comes down to the quality of those minutes. While I’m no statistician, I hope this will shed some light on the progression of the Jazz’ youngster and what the future may hold.

Notice of Disclaimer: I hate comparisons (though I am guilty sometimes). It is unfair to the player to compare. Kobe vs Jordan, Malone vs Griffin, Stockton vs CP3, Lebron vs Jordan or Magic or whatever. It builds false dreams and expectations for players. Sets them up for failure sometimes. With that in mind I will try to point this article more to a “Parallel” rather than “Comparison” of careers.



Vincent Laforet/AFP/Getty Images

Addressing the playing time fallacy, the best player of the last decade began his NBA career riding the pine on a playoff bound LA Lakers team. He averaged 15.5 minutes per game his rookie season, playing only 77 games of a possible 82 that year. In comparison Alec Burks is averaging 12.6 a game in 34 of a possible 39 games to this point in the season.

I’m not saying Burks is going to be the same caliber player that Kobe Bryant is. It stands to reason, however, that the minutes played in his very young career aren’t anything to get overworked about. Burks will have his time. Until then he will have to continue to make the most of what he is given. He will need to focus on watching the game unfold from the bench. Get to know the matchups or potential matchups he will have to face when in the game. And learn about where his spot on the floor needs to be. He is the rookie, after all. He has to pick and choose his moments when on the floor as well, play within the offensive sets that he is put in, and lean on the teachings Coach Corbin can provide. His time will come. It's up to him whether he's ready or not.

And his time could come sooner than later.

With recent events surrounding Raja Bell’s absence from the team on their trip to Chicago Saturday night, speculation is high. No official word has been given on why Bell did not make the trip. It was listed as an “internal matter” as reported by Jody Genessy (@DJJazzyJody)  of the Deseret News. But it stands to reason that it could be a matter of disciplinary nature.

It’s no secret that Raja Bell has been unhappy this season, especially surrounding his role on the team. It was reported in January by Brian T. Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune and then reemphasized a day later by SLAM Magazine that all was not happy in Jazz land regarding Raja Bell and his role as well as his relationship with Corbin:

“There’s already the making of a division on the team, with some of the more experienced players grumbling about their minutes, rotations, about coaching decisions. Raja Bell, an intelligent, articulate, strong-willed oldster, is frustrated with his role.” (SLAM Mag report)

When asked about it Raja’s response was: “...I'm not necessarily over-frustrated. I don't have a problem with anyone. I'm just not going to let myself be affected by the situation.” (Go here for comments from Bell and Corbin)

What problems exist?...well again that’s up to speculation, but it’s clear that Bell is not happy. And if there is grumblings concerning coaching and playing time that may not bode well for the veteran guard. The Jazz organization has a known history of backing up it’s coaching staff and brass.

For example Deshawn Stevenson was traded, after having a disagreement with Coach Sloan back in 2004 for Gordan Giricek. And then again in December of 2007, after multiple altercations with Jerry Sloan, Giricek was shipped off to Philly for Kyle Korver. And finally as recent as last February after an altercation involving Derron Williams and Sloan that ultimately saw Sloan step down, the Jazz traded Williams to New Jersey.

The Jazz are a tight knit organization that believe in loyalty. Loyalty to it’s coaching staff. A belief in backing the coaches in their decisions and supporting them on the road to success. It’s old school, but in a league dominated by the players the Jazz Front Office believes in the organization itself and the leadership that it can and will provide.

Speculation aside, if this proves to be the end of Raja Bell in a Jazz uniform, it could mean the beginnings for a young talented guard in Burks.

So what do we have to look forward to in Burks?

Some things that stand out with Burks in his very young career, is his uncanny ability to get to the FT line. He is aggressive, smart and extremely athletic. He has the skill and ability to put the ball on the floor and make spectacular plays. He carries himself with confidence and an air of arrogance. And from an NBA standpoint, that’s necessary. A quality that was very apparent in players like Kobe and even Michael Jordan. He’s a game changer.



(March 9, 2011 - Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)


@AllThatAmar recently stated: “Probably the first thing you notice is that he's a superior athlete...He's an advanced prototype for the type of high energy combo guard all NBA teams want...Burks appears to be the Gestalt Guard of all of our past drafts”
(I highly recommend reading the rest of his article at SLC Dunk)

While doing research for this piece I went back to draft day to see what was said about Burks coming in. After having watched him now for half a season and seeing what he can do, and now reading the initial analysis on him...it all fits together. And it is promising.
In case you didn’t catch it here is some of what was said last summer:

From Dimemag.com - Twitter: @DimeMag:

“Like a few others in this year’s draft, Burks has a great chance to be the best player in five years...”
“Historically, the Utah Jazz have been a point guard franchise. The current roster and 2011 Draft indicate that this may soon change. Never has the franchise had a wing who could create, score and take over a game – with Burks they may find their first. The way this team is assembled fits very nicely with Burks’ game and would allow him to step in from Day One and make an impact.”

From David Locke - Twitter: @Lockedonsports:

“He has all the skills to be an 18-20 point per game scorer in the NBA.   He will be very good on a late shot clock.  If his shooting from the outside improves, he will be deadly.”

“If he has it inside himself, he could be special.”



The Associated Press  2012-03-03

Now for the numbers. I gathered what I could from www.basketball-reference.com. For parallel reasons only, I have posted both Burk’s and Bryant’s Per Game Average and Advanced Averages. Notice their efficiency ratings. But as I pointed above, more importantly notice the minutes played and per game averages. Both coming off the bench in their rookie seasons. Both making slight but minimal impact on their respective teams.

Alec Burks Per Game Average:

AlecBurksPerGame2

Advanced:

AlecBurksAdvanced2


Kobe Bryant Per Game Average:

KobePerGame

Advanced:

KobeAdvanced

Additionally I pulled up some numbers on a few other guards of note with similar minutes per game and PER ratings. Head over to Basketball Reference for more stats and comparisons. Here are the list of a guards who fit in the Burks parallel:

Arron Afflalo
Jamal Crawford
Ronnie Brewer
Shannon Brown
Tony Allen

And for you old schoolers I went back a little further and found another guard who fit this scenario: Clyde “The Glide” Drexler.

Not a bad list to be on if you’re Alec Burks. A lot of young players who have had moderately successful careers to this point. And some (Bryant, Jordan, Drexler) who are or will be Hall of Famers. So where will Burks end up in the end? That’s up to him...and only him.

As a Jazz fan I’d love to see him in the same tier as the greats. Only time will tell.

See Additional thoughts on Alec Burks from Clint Peterson.