SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Jazz wing Alec Burks is nearly healthy after two-plus years of injuries and he has started to look like the player Utah signed to a four-year, $42 million extension in 2014.
Burks has scored in double digits in five straight games, including a season-high 15 Saturday against the Grizzlies. He’s shown flashes of that unique athletic ability around the rim and shot an efficient 60.5 percent during this stretch.
To the delight of coach Quin Snyder, Burks has also played well on the defensive end and is being used in a three-wing lineup without a point guard.
“It’s a different lineup,” Snyder said Monday. “I like the efficiency. What Alec does for us, he comes in and gives us a boost off the bench. I think he’s done a very good job defending the ball. That’s also a point of emphasis. If we can defend the ball with his size and athleticism, that can be a strength and an important thing for us.”
It’s taken a while for Burks to get back to this point.
Burks missed 50 games with a fractured left fibula last season and returned, possibly too early, to play three of the final four games of the 2015-16 season. He then missed the first 34 games of this season dealing with ankle issues, including arthroscopic surgery and rehab from left ankle debridement.
Snyder and Burks said it’s just a matter of time before he’s fully back from the ankle surgery in November. Now he needs on-court time to get his timing back and to get used to teammates who joined the franchise during the summer. The team even assigned him to the D-League Salt Lake City Stars for a practice and game.
“I think I’m taking a step every game,” Burks said. “I don’t think I’m all the way back yet to where I was preinjury. But that’s a long process and I’ll get there. I’m making some passes I’m not used to making. Turnovers. Just the overall comfort with my teammates, chemistry because you know we’ve got new teammates. … It’s great. With the type of injury I had, you never know if you’re going to be back to who you were before the injury. It’s great to see that I’m close to where I was.”
Burks said that’s why it took him so long to return. He’s an above-the-rim player near the basket and they wanted to make sure the leg was stable after missing those 50 games last season.
Those flashy midair moments are what let everyone know Burks is nearly back to his normal self, but those moments can also get him in trouble with turnovers or bad shot attempts.
“Sometimes when he’s under control, he doesn’t look it because he’s so dynamic,” Snyder said. “There’s no question there’s been times where we’d like the degree of difficulty to be a little bit less with some of the things he does. But he is who he is, too, and he’s effective.
“You don’t want to change something that’s a strength. You want to kind of mold it and modify it. I think he’s continuing to understand how he can best be effective.”
Burks laughed when asked about that unique style of play. He acknowledged he’s still working off some rust and said he’ll improve from a five-turnover game in the loss to the Grizzlies on Saturday.
“(General manager) Dennis (Lindsey), Quin, everybody’s on me about my finishing,” Burks said. “But that’s what everybody likes me doing. I’m trying to simplify as much as I can, but I just react off of instinct.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the Jazz continue to work on Derrick Favors‘ health. He missed 13 games with a left knee bone contusion in November and December and hasn’t shown the light-footed athleticism that made him one of the league’s better big men last season. The Jazz held Favors out to rest Saturday and he didn’t participate in the contact portion of practice Monday.
Snyder didn’t know if Favors would ever be completely healthy this season.
“It’s hard to define 100 percent,” Snyder said. “I’m not 100 percent of what I was. He’s approaching that, absolutely. It’s just a process for him. A lot of that just comes through having a chance to be out there and be healthy and continue to play. Even though you physically feel great, now you’re kind of weaving in the skills and the timing and all those things. My hope is yes, and he’s pretty close right now.”