Earlier this week, Utah Jazz shooting guard Alec Burks had something to say to assistant coach Sidney Lowe after a game at the Orlando Pro Summer League.
"Coach, did you see that defense?"
Lowe had seen it.
"That's exciting for us," Lowe said.
It wasn't just exciting to see that the third-year pro played defense.
It was also exciting for the Jazz coaching staff that Burks listened to its advice and then returned with a positive self-report.
That's progress in action.
"We know that he can score the basketball. He can get to the basket," Lowe said. "But I saw him trying to really defend a little better here this summer, really trying to get after people better."
Burks has shown an improvement in the angles he takes on opposing shooting guards, Lowe said. He's pressuring the ball better. He's being more aggressive.
"He's certainly got to get better," Lowe said, "but he's working at it."
Burks didn't play in the Jazz's 79-73 loss to Indiana on Thursday — it was known coming in he'd get some time off — but fine-tuning his defensive game was a summer goal for the 6-foot-6 athletic guard.
In a sense, doing that brings him another step closer to earning his way into the Jazz's regular rotation.
That's one of the reasons Burks was glad to participate in the summer league even while a majority of players involved are rookies or NBA roster hopefuls.
It's also why he was excited to remind his coach that he'd followed orders.
"Anytime I do something good," he said, "I'm going to let you know about it."
Burks has done more good, more consistently, than any other Jazz player at summer league. He had a rough shooting outing against Houston (5 for 15), but he's averaged 14 points while playing an average of just 19 minutes a game.
While younger players have struggled finding their comfort zone — including highly touted point guard Trey Burke — Burks has simply looked like an NBA player among wannabes.
"I feel like I'm a vet," said Burks, who has two seasons of NBA experience. "It should show different. I should play different than everybody else. That’s why I feel like I have."
Another thing Burks is feeling?
That he should take Denver-bound Randy Foye's old job.
"That's what I come into the NBA every year to do — start," Burks said. "So I'm not going to set my goals any lower. I want to start."
Burks will certainly get that opportunity. For now, the only other candidates are newcomer Brandon Rush, who's rehabbing from ACL surgery, and perhaps Gordon Hayward if Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin decides to go with a different veteran small forward like Richard Jefferson or Marvin Williams (after his return from Achilles tendon surgery).
Two years after leaving Colorado following his sophomore season, Burks believes now is the time for his pro career to really blossom. He's eager for the challenge and opportunity of a steady role in the rotation.
Three months after his exit meeting with Jazz brass following the end of the 2012-13 season, Burks continues to take to heart the message given to him: "Just come back a better player and a better man at the same time."
“We know that he can score the basketball. He can get to the basket. But I saw him trying to really defend a little better here this summer, really trying to get after people better.”
Sidney Lowe, Utah Jazz assistant coach
Since then, Burks has bounced around from his hometown of Kansas City, Mo., Utah and the P3 training facility in Santa Barbara, Calif., trying to work toward that offseason goal.
Burks, the 12th pick of the 2011 draft, believes he's taken strides since his second NBA season ended.
"I felt like I grew up. I'm about to turn 22 (on July 20). As a man, I feel I'm growing up," he said. "As a basketball player my game's getting complete. My jumper's getting better. I'm getting stronger. I'm just learning the game better."
Lowe smiled when told about Burks talking about his maturity.
"I told him, 'Your generation, you guys are really cool,'" Lowe recalled from a previous conversation. "I said, 'It's not cool to be cool.' I said, 'You're a professional.'"
More and more, Burks is acting that part.
Offensively, Burks credits his improved jumper to time spent with former Jazz assistant coach Jeff Hornacek — now the Phoenix Suns' bench boss — and player development coach Johnnie Bryant. They corrected his mechanics and got him to put more arch on his shot.
"Both of those together have helped me out a lot," Burks said. "I feel like from my first year I've made a lot of improvement."
Burke noticed something right away about Burks, which could be needed in what might be a roller-coaster season for the Jazz in 2013-14.
"He's a very positive type of person. I like that a lot," Burke said. "That was the first thing I noticed about him."
Burke also loves his new backcourt mate's offensive game.
"He's a pure shooter. He's a guy that can knock down shots, knock down contested shots," Burke said of Burks. "One of his strengths, he gets to the rim better than a lot of people that I've (seen). … It's always good having another guard in the backcourt like Alec, who can make plays."
Especially when he does it on both ends, as Burks might remind you.
Corbin likes that Burks got some experience last year at point guard, which will come in handy when the Jazz try to match up against bigger playmakers.
The Jazz coach doesn't disagree with Burks' view that he's ready to get a shot at starting. Corbin said he expects "an expanded role" for both Burks and fourth-year forward Jeremy Evans.
"That opportunity's there," Corbin added of Burks. "It's still early in the process. He had a good year for us last year."
Of course, there were 18 games in which Burks didn't even get his name called for a minute. And he only averaged 17.8 minutes in the other 64 games.
Burks, who's scored 7.1 points per game on 42.4 percent shooting in two seasons, wants more than that.
That's why he's also excited about the roster changes that have cleared the way for the next generation of Jazz players, including Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
"That's what we all work for. We all dream of it to get the time to show our talent," Burks said. "The sky's the limit. We're all talented. It's going to be fun to watch."
Unfortunately for the rookie point guard, his poor shooting didn't.
Though he made three shots in a row in the first half, the national player of the year missed his final 11 field goals in a 79-73 loss to Indiana at the Orlando Pro Summer League.
Burke, acquired in a draft-day trade after being picked No. 9 by Minnesota, has now only hit 9 of 42 shots (21.4 percent) in a Jazz uniform.
The 20-year-old said he felt rested after Jazz coaches had him sit out Wednesday's win over Brooklyn, but he's mystified by his continued inaccuracy.
"I know I can play much better than what I've been showing," Burke said.
According to the Jazz, those poor offensive numbers don't tell the full story.
Assistant Sidney Lowe credited him for being livelier Thursday.
"He went to the basket a couple of times and was able to get up and get the shot off," Lowe said of Burke, who had one particularly nice move when he went left and floated in a driving shot off the backboard.
"His defense was a little better; his movement was better," Lowe added. "I think the rest really helped him."
As coaches hoped, Burke did a better job of pushing the pace. That was one of the things he was instructed to do while sitting next to Jazz assistant Brad Jones during his one-game rest.
"The coaches said I played good, just my shot is flat. I've got to get some arch on my shot," Burke said. "That's just an adjustment I've got to make as well as playing through mistakes. Sometimes I make the wrong pass and I'm getting down on myself. I'm just trying to get comfortable out there."
Burke did finish with a plus-minus rating of plus-1 in a loss despite his 3-for-15 shooting. He had eight points, four assists, four rebounds and just one turnover in 26 minutes.
CHAMPIONSHIP DAY: Call off the parade preparations. The Jazz were eliminated from playing for the OPSL title with their loss Thursday. Utah is one of six teams that finished with a 2-2 record, but the Jazz and Pacers will have an early rematch Friday (8 a.m. MDT, NBA-TV) in the third/fourth-place game. Both teams finished with 16 points (three for victories, one for winning quarters).
Houston and Oklahoma City, both 4-0, will square off for the first championship in this new tournament format.
GAME RECAP: Former Bradley standout Chris Roberts, starting for Alec Burks, continued his solid play for the Jazz, leading the team with 18 points in Thursday's setback. The 6-4 shooting guard, who played for Austin in the D-League last season, leads the Jazz in scoring with 14.7 ppg this week.
Rookie center Rudy Gobert, the 27th pick in last month's draft, had another solid game with 11 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Guard Jerel McNeal, who has a non-guaranteed contract with Utah, scored 11 points.
When Rudy Gobert stands underneath a regulation basket and extends his arms as high as they will go, he is separated from the rim by less than the length of an average ballpoint pen.
To dunk, he doesn’t have to jump so much as stretch. But when he does jump — look out below.
In the first half of the Jazz’s 79-73 loss to Indiana on Thursday at the Orlando Pro Summer League, a shot went off the back iron and the 7-foot-1 Gobert elevated. At his peak, Gobert’s fingertips were more than a foot higher than Pacers 6-foot-11 center Miles Plumlee. He tapped the ball in for the most impressive, non-dunk putback the game allows.
"I saw the picture," Gobert said after one began circulating on Twitter. "I did not know I was so high. Originally, I wanted to dunk it."
"He looked like me up there," 6-foot-6 guard Alec Burks joked.
The Jazz traded for Gobert on draft night — giving up the No. 46 pick and cash — no doubt because of his length. But general manager Dennis Lindsey said that night that the team saw more in Gobert than his height, reach (9 feet, 7 inches) and wingspan (7-foot-9).
"You know how big guys can sometimes make the league and not put in the time and effort," Lindsey said, "and Rudy’s a serious pro already and you guys will soon see that."
It was apparent in Gobert’s 11-point, eight-rebound, three-block performance against the Pacers. In addition to the tip-in, he had two putback dunks, a fadeaway baseline jumper, a dribble-and-kick assist to Jeremy Evans, and a polished spin move punctuated with a hook shot — which hit a spot on the backboard out of even Gobert’s reach.
"He did a few more things today," Jazz assistant Sidney Lowe said.
Gobert will return to France after summer league to have minor toe surgery for what has been termed an in-grown nail in media reports but Gobert said was a result of his shoes being too short. He said he will be out two to three weeks after surgery.
With a small language barrier, the Jazz have boiled the game down to its simplest terms.
"The language barrier certainly is going to be a factor," Lowe said. "There are a couple of key words that we’ll get from him, like ‘cours.’ That means run. So, I’ve got that one down, that’s the one I know for sure."
But no language is as universal as rejection, and in basketball terms, that’s something to love.
With a frontline that already includes young stalwarts Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, the Jazz hope adding Gobert gives them the league’s best young frontline. On Wednesday, they officially added veteran center Andris Biedrins, a clumsy offensive player but a capable shot blocker.
"What you can see already," Lowe said, "is he’s got an effect on the game from the defensive end. … People are starting to look for him now when they go to the basket."
Gobert is still unrefined, something that likely cost him several spots in the draft order. His agent, Bouna Ndiaye, said he expected Gobert to be drafted in the top 10 before a run of less-than-stellar showings at pre-draft workouts.
Gobert, too, heard concerns about himself, namely that he wasn’t athletic enough to play in the NBA.
"I know I’m athletic," he said, "and when I get stronger in my legs, I can get more and more athletic. … I was frustrated, but I was upbeat to fall in Utah."
"I thought all the guys played well, played hard," Corbin said.
Some shot better than others.
Although Jazz coaches aren't acting overly concerned about Burke's offensive debut, the shooting struggles of the national player of the year will probably be the lasting memory of this summer session.
Only three months after leading Michigan to the NCAA championship game, Burke just couldn't find his groove — or the bottom of the net — in his first NBA experience.
In four games, the 6-1 point guard missed 18 of 19 3-pointers and only shot 24.1 percent in four shaky outings. He also spent one game sitting next to Jazz assistant Brad Jones, getting coach-prescribed rest and a tutorial from the bench.
"I learned a lot. I think my performance was poor … that's just me being honest with myself," Burke said after dishing out five assists and scoring eight points on 4-of-12 shooting Friday. "But I think that's just because my shot wasn't falling. I think everything else I did pretty well."
Burke's new head coach feels the same way.
Corbin defended the 20-year-old, who's been through a "whirlwind" with the exhaustive pre-draft process followed by a packed practice and playing schedule for summer league.
"He's a little tired, but it's a growing process for us," Corbin said. "We have a good feel for who he is. We know where we have to get him better in some situations."
"He can score the ball. His ball was flat because he was shooting it with tired legs, I think," Corbin said. "We'll get him better there. He's going to be a good player in this league for us."
Burke said he'll spend the rest of the summer working out in Salt Lake City, Santa Barbara, Calif. (at the Jazz-recommended P3 performance center), and in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. The No. 9 pick wants to be able to mesh with his new team as soon as possible when training camp begins in early October.
"It'll definitely be a grind time when I get back home," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."
His biggest emphasis between now and then?
"Just consistency," said Burke, who averaged 9.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists during the Jazz's summer league games. "Consistency on my shot, consistency on making the right reads, the defensive end, getting better in the pick-and-roll defense. I think if I just polish up those areas, then I'll be a much better player."
As for Gobert and Neto, their performances reconfirmed why the Jazz were so excited that they were able to make deals on draft night to get them on the team.
Neto (5.0 ppg, 2.5 apg) was the first person Corbin mentioned when he was asked Friday to cite things he'd learned from summer league.
"We got a chance to look at Raul," he said. "We got a chance to see him on the floor around our guys and see how his game has grown."
The crazy part about Neto's strong showing was how he was only able to observe the Jazz practice and play from Wednesday through Tuesday when his FIBA clearance for summer league finally arrived.
It still remains uncertain whether the 6-1 point guard from Brazil will play pro ball in Spain or in the NBA this season. The way he effectively ran the Jazz offense — despite not practicing — certainly gave Utah brass a lot to think about when it comes to having him stay overseas or join the team this fall.
"I don't know," Neto said when asked about his future, which would require a buyout for him to play for the Jazz in 2013-14. "I just did my job, just play like I play and my teammates do well. Now I have to wait and see what's going to happen."
In the meantime, Neto will return to Brazil. He'll spend a couple of days with his family — most of which hasn't seen him since he was drafted — before beginning his training with his country's national team ahead of the America Cup qualifications for next summer's World Cup.
Gobert will also head home to France, where he'll undergo a minor surgery on his foot (equivalent of an ingrown toenail procedure), rest and rehab for two weeks, procure his work visa and then return to Utah in August to train for his first NBA season.
With his defensive presence and nimble offensive moves, the 7-foot-1 center (5.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.3 bpg) might have been the most impressive Jazz surprise of the summer league.
"We got a chance to look at Rudy, and his size and different things he can do on the floor, clogging up the middle and where we have to get his body stronger and the positions that we can put him," Corbin said. "Surprised or not, I was just happy with the way he played."
Gobert said he became more comfortable as the week progressed, but the 21-year-old knows he has room for improvement, especially on the offensive end.
"I know I've got some moves. I know I can finish," he said. "But I've just got to get more aggressive and don't be scared to take the shot. That's hard to just get used to take the shots and be aggressive."
Corbin also left pleased with the way Evans (fourth season) and Burks (third season) played like established veterans.
On offense, Corbin said he wanted Evans' confidence to grow in shooting those mid-range jumpers and asserting himself offensively. Defensively, the coaching staff wanted to see the 6-9 forward (10.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg) try to guard bigger bodies in the post.
The Jazz coach added that he wanted to see Burks (14.0 ppg) initiate the offense as a point guard and "be more aggressive for himself" when he's playing shooting guard. Corbin also wanted the possible starter to more effectively stay in front of guys on the defensive end and to learn how to properly control his body while stepping over screens.
"They showed themselves well," Corbin said.
The coach didn't want to single out non-roster guys who played well, but shooting guard Chris Roberts looked smooth while leading the Jazz in scoring (14.8 points per game on 55 percent shooting). Shooting guard Dionte Christmas gave hustle on defense with some offensive explosion, while big men Tony Gaffney, James Mays and Rasid Mahalbasic showed promise. Jerel McNeal, who has a non-guaranteed deal with Utah after ending last year with the Jazz, also played well in spurts.
It wouldn't be surprising to see any of them join the team at veterans camp this fall.
Sounds like Burks could be playing both guard spots again. Why not send Neto and Burke up to Spokane to work with John and see what he thinks? I'm guessing Neto won't be on the team because he's better than Burke. They would look bad. What about some Evans at the 3? That's been talked about in the past and with his new jump shot it makes more sense than ever.
Two weeks after the Utah Jazz boldly traded up in the NBA Draft to acquire Burke, the rookie’s assessment could only fit an overall sentiment. In four games, he averaged 8.8 points, 4 assists and 2.2 turnovers. He shot just 24 percent from the field and just 1 of 19 from 3. In Thursday’s game, he missed his final 11 shots. Friday, he missed five of his six attempts in the fourth quarter.
Throughout the summer league, the 6-foot Burke struggled with the speed of the NBA game, often looked lost among taller players, and consistently had his shot blocked. On Wednesday, he was held out of the lineup to watch with commentary from assistant coach Brad Jones.
The Jazz, who have preached patience in regard to their method for rebuilding, are now asking for the same when it comes to their most-studied rookie.
"People see the games and that’s all they see," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We were in three days of training camp, with two-a-days. ... It was a growing process for us. I have a good feel for who he is, we know where we have to get him better in some situations. He can score the ball."
Despite a rough first week, the Jazz point guard said he likes the system the franchise is asking him to run.
"I love how they want to push the ball," Burke said, "push it in transition. And I love the pick-and-roll action obviously and the high screen at the end of the shot clock — that kind of reminded me of Michigan."
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In college, Burke averaged 18.6 points as a sophomore, shooting 46 percent from the floor.
"I obviously knew coming into the summer league that I wasn’t going to put up the numbers I was putting up in Michigan," he said, "but I planned on coming in and just making an impact right away. My shot wasn’t falling, but besides that I felt like I played pretty well."
The Jazz finished 2-3 in Orlando, closing the week with back-to-back losses to the Pacers. Asked what he liked about his team, Corbin said he was pleased to have a chance to see draft picks Raul Neto, Rudy Gobert and Burke play alongside veterans Alec Burks and Jeremy Evans.
Roster invitees such as Chris Roberts, who led the Jazz with 14.7 points per game, and Dionte Christmas could be candidates to rejoin the team for training camp in October.
Neto played in the Jazz’s final three games after getting FIBA clearance. He remains under contract with a professional team in Spain and said Friday he would return to Brazil for national team duty. Despite a better-than-expected showing from the 21-year-old, whether he will play in Utah next season remains uncertain.
Gobert will also be leaving the country, but unlike Neto is guaranteed to be back. The 7-foot-1 French center will have toe surgery, but said this week he only expects a two-to-three week recovery period.
One summer league ended Friday amid scuttlebutt that another could be starting back up.
Utah Jazz president Randy Rigby said Friday that he is gauging interest around the NBA of resurrecting the Rocky Mountain Revue, the popular summer league played in Salt Lake City for 24 years until 2008. At the time, more teams began flocking to the slate of games in Las Vegas, which is run by the NBA, and the Revue fizzled.
Now, Rigby believes the trend could be going the other way.
"There seems to be an interest from teams in bringing it back," Rigby said. "We have an interest, and I think we have a fan base that would support it."
Rigby said the Jazz would ideally start a six-team summer league next summer the week before Las Vegas — and potentially run concurrently to the Orlando Pro Summer League, in which the Jazz have competed since 2009.
"We have some ideas of how maybe a change in the format that would be more advantageous to teams in the development of their summer league program," Rigby said.
Rigby said he intends to extend a general offer across the league soliciting five teams to join. Rigby said he would prefer to see games played at Salt Lake Community College, as they were before the Rocky Mountain Revue’s demise. Previously, RMR games were played at Westminster College, East High School and the then-Delta Center.
The Jazz played five games in Orlando, finishing 2-3, including a 73-70 loss Friday to the Indiana Pacers. One advantage to a summer league back in Utah, Rigby said, would be that games would be open to the public — like in Las Vegas. At Orlando’s Amway Center, seating was limited to league personnel and media.
The Orlando Pro Summer League was established in 2002 and offers a more intimate alternative to Las Vegas, in which 22 teams participate at two venues on the UNLV campus over 10 days.
Without a veteran point guard on the roster, the Jazz remain interested in signing former Toronto Raptor John Lucas III, The Tribune has learned.
Earlier this week, the 31-year-old Lucas had as many as four suitors, including the Jazz, but in meetings with other teams, Lucas indicated a preference to sign with the Jazz, a league source said.
Lucas was flown by the Jazz to Orlando on Wednesday, where team executives were gathered for the Orlando Pro Summer League. He met with coach Tyrone Corbin and the two have continued to talk.
Jazz angling for another draft pick
Before signing a point guard, however, the Jazz appear intent on using their cap space in another way. One source said the Jazz are trying to use their remaining cap space, approximately $5 million, in a trade that would net them another draft pick.
The Jazz have already acquired five future draft picks this offseason, including first-rounders in 2014 and 2017.
Sounds like they are waiting on signing Lucas because they might take on someone else's pg for cap relief and a pick? Lucas wants the Jazz because he will be a back-up? Burke and Lucas? They may not win a game!
The Jazz got a "significant amount of cash" (Lindsey's words) for helping the Warriors clear enough salary space to obtain shooting guard Andre Iguodala from Denver. That undisclosed amount of money, the GM noted while thanking the Miller family, will be used for basketball-related facilities, to improve scouting and/or to sign and trade for other players.
"We're going to invest that money in ourselves," Lindsey said.
Lucas' signing would bring the Jazz's roster up to the league minimum of 13 players, including guard Jerel McNeal's nonguaranteed deal.
Though the Jazz have added six other players this offseason, Lucas is the first via free agency. Utah acquired Trey Burke, Rudy Gobert and Raul Neto in draft-day deals, while Andris Biedrins Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush all came from Golden State in a three-team trade with the Warriors and Nuggets.
It's possible the Jazz will still bring in another player via free agency or a trade. Last week, general manager Dennis Lindsey said he's more than willing to take on salaries from other teams to acquire future assets.
1 to 3 roster spaces open. I would think Lucas is a minimum wage guy but who knows. He had the Jazz at the top of the list. I'd think just because he could be playing but maybe for money reasons too?