Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The limitless future of Alec Burks

Because of the increased NBA scout presence this season, especially at the Kansas game Saturday afternoon, there has been a plenty of speculation over the last few days about the future of Alec Burks.  Will he go pro?  Will he stay?  Is he good enough to go pro early?  If you read the tea leaves there are a few answers, but needless to say his future seems to be paved with gold no matter what his draft decision is after the season concludes.  Today I'll be taking a close look at his skill set, how it translates to the next level, and what realistic expectations should be for draft day.  The answers might surprise you.

Click below for my lengthy evaluation

-- Is he good enough to go Pro? --

Burks is much better than any other CU basketball player I've been able to watch over the past few years.  He's comparatively better than former big man David Harrison, who often got by based on size rather than true skill.  He's better than Harrison's teammate "Frenchy" Michel Morandais, who's silky-smooth moves ran up against a competition ceiling.  And he's better than the last CU NBA hopeful, the artful Richard Roby who ended his Buff career as CU's all-time leading scorer.  From that perspective he's kind of hard to project simply because I'm not used to seeing his caliber of player in black and gold.

The thing that sets Burks apart from the last decade of Buffs talent is his superior athleticism.  In my estimation, he has been the best pure athlete on the court for every game played this season.  He can out jump whoever he wants to, and has the size to put his speed and range on any scoring guard or forward the opponent can throw at the Buffs.  Additionally, I think of him as an intelligent, coachable player; he has a good sense of the game, and plays hard (signified by his 6 rebounds per game).  His game of slashing to the rim and drawing contact (top-20 nationally in FT attempts) will easily translate to the NBA and his shot is better than many would have you believe.  This is why, when considering the NBA who covets potential and athleticism, I am confident about Burks pro future.
Burks can outright fly through the air better than just about anyone I've seen.  From: the BDC

Let me assure you, Burks warrants the attention.  There was some discussion on Allbuffs over the past week about whether or not Burks is "overrated."  It's true that Alec's shooting averages have dropped since his freshman year (8% from the field, 4% from 3), and I think it's fair to say that he's experiencing an adjustment period to being the go-to Buffs player.  But that doesn't mean he's not a superior talent.  Hell, he leads the conference in points-per-40 minutes of action (25.3).  He's not overrated; he gets as much attention as he deserves being the best scorer in the 2nd best basketball conference in the country.
Alec has been hounded this season, yet is still able to score in bunches.

Overall, Alec can play good defense (that pick of Jacob Pullen in the K-State game was one of the best single defensive efforts from a Buffs player all season), jumps out of the gym, grabs a good amount of rebounds for a guard (6/game), and knows how to get to the rim and draw contact.  These are all skills that set him apart from similarly sized 2-guards.  Whoever eventually drafts Alec will be getting a solid contributor, who should have a long and relatively productive NBA career.  He likens his game to Atlanta Hawks guard Jamal Crawford, and I see no reason who he can't be the same type of player, with a few more rebounds, in the NBA.

-- Will he leave early? --

Alec mentioned in this interview that if he's projected as a top-10/lottery pick he'll leave.  The flip-side, of course, is if he's seen as falling into the lower half of the 1st round he'd probably stay to work on his game and work to get that top-third billing.

So, what exactly are his prospects of him getting that top-10/lottery pick status?

Currently, ESPN's Chad Ford has Burks listed as his 21st best prospect (incidentally, just ahead of KU's Morris twins), with a projection of mid-late first round.  The caveat is that he's the top-slotted SG is a class devoid of other talented true shooting guards.  That fact alone has lead to the speculation by that Burks will be taken with the 11th pick; right at the self-imposed stay/go line. 
Circumstances have put Burks into a interesting hole in the draft chart; there's no one close to him at his position.  From: the BDC

Conversely, it certainly doesn't help his stock that the team has failed to meet lofty expectations.  While I feel that this is in no way reflective of Alec's performance or talent this season (it's a combination of overly-hyped possibilities, and the injury to center Harris-Tunks), it does adds an asterisk to his draft profile that his team will miss the Tourney.

To further cloud the discussion, the scouts present at the KU game on Saturday were interviewed by the Camera, and seemed to intimate that Burks would be better served by an additional year in college.  Saying that teams prefer players to develop in college (a lie, or at least an obfuscation of reality) they said "I don't know of too many players who haven't benefited from staying an extra year." 

If I was Burks I would be really torn.  He's the premier player at his position eligible for the draft this year, and I'm not entirely sure what another year would really help him improve.  However, with painful NBA labor negotiations on the radar, now might not be the best time to be jumping to the pros.  But would this create a back-log of talent for next year's draft, further clouding his draft prospects?  It's damn complicated.

The thing about this upcoming draft class is that there are no sure things (Although I really like Arizona's Derrick Williams).  There's not a single player that I would say is a "can't miss" prospect, and, while the class may become lost in the labor dispute shuffle, I think it's a great opportunity for Alec to jump up the board on draft day.  The draft process offers Alec plenty of opportunities to properly assess his realistic draft prospects.  Individual workouts, consultations with NBA executives, and 3rd-party analysis (ESPN, etc) should give a comprehensive look at his chances.  At the very least, regardless of how the final 4 games shake out, I expect him to fully explore his options (initially declare for the draft), and dangle his feet as long as the NCAA will allow him without making a final decision. 

My gut feeling?  He's as good as gone, and will be in "the Association" this fall.  The paucity of competing SG's makes it a better than even proposition that he'll get taken by someone earlier than "he should."  Just looking at his athleticism would tell anyone that he has the potential to play at a real high level, and potential is key in the draft process. 
Alec will sneak into the lottery and get his money.  From: the BDC


The long and short of it is that regardless of what happens over the next 121 days before the NBA draft, I feel that Alec will eventually hit the NBA by storm and become a viable NBA player.  He's definitely bound to be the first Buff drafted since David Harrison in 2004.  Alec's story up to this point is one of him being a diamond-in-the-rough.  Had Coach Bz not gone to a secondary, non-air conditioned back gym at a summer camp, CU may not have landed/discovered the lanky swing guard from Missouri.  He wasn't even well regarded as a major conference talent before his senior season in high school.  Essentially he's been proving everyone wrong this whole time, and I expect nothing but the same in the future.  

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