FanPost

Projecting Alec Burks

Alec Burks

 

SG

6'6"

200lbs

19 years old

 

142908_web_011510-cu-alec-burks1_medium

via thebig12basketballblog.files.wordpress.com

Burks was an unheralded 3-star recruit out of high school in Missouri.  He wasn't included in Rivals' top 150 in a class that included current NBA guards John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Avery Bradley, and Xavier Henry.  He subsequently grew about three inches and put up, in my opinion, a better freshman season than all four of them.  Fortunately,  for Colorado Burks' excellent first year didn't raise his stock enough to warrant jumping to the NBA.  Burks' second season proved he wasn't a fluke, improved on his freshman numbers, and guaranteed him a top-10 slot in a draft bereft of quality wings.

Burks is a scoring oriented player, that handled the majority of Colorado's possessions in college.  His offense relies heavily on attacking the rim, and getting to the line.  Burks isn't necessarily a poor shooter as is evidenced by his 82.5% free-throw shooting.  However, he has recorded abysmal shooting statistics from mid-range and out.  According to Draft Express, this is due to poor shot selection and a tendency to take shots off-balance.  Scouts like his defense, although he struggles in isolation situations (bottom 30% [1]) and gives up a lot of fouls.  He remains productive even when he doesn't have the ball in his hands, especially in terms of rebounding.

Physically, Burks moves smoothly, has a quick first-step, and good top-end speed.  He also finishes at the rim aggressively and with impressive leaping ability.  Burks is tall and long enough to be a prototypical shooting guard in the NBA, but he will need to put on quite a bit of bulk.  That said, scouts claim he has the frame to do so.

With no competition at the shooting guard position in this draft-class, it is difficult to identify Alec Burks's real value.  Is he a true upper-echelon prospect, or simply the best of a bad lot?  The goal of this analysis is to determine whether Burks really is deserving of the Timberwolves' top 4 pick in the draft. 

 

NBA Projection:

                               pnts/40    TS%     rbs/40    asts/40    PF/40     FTA/FGA        PER        WS/40   % tm  poss         

Burks (soph)        26.1          58          8.3           3.8           3.0          0.56              29.1          10              25.5

Alec Burks is clearly one of the best shooting-guards in the NCAA.  He is an excellent offensive weapon (4th highest scoring SG in the league), and rebounder (4th best among SGs), as well as a serviceable distributor.  Both draft express and NBAdraft.net rate him as a good but limited defender with potential to improve, and claim he is a team-player with a high Basketball IQ.  Burks also scores really high on the composite metrics, posting the second highest PER and the 7th highest WS/40 among college shooting guards.  The biggest knock on Burks is his lack of a perimeter game.  This is evident in his 21 for 69 from 3 this season, as well as his dismal 29% on jumpers generally [1].  While he isn't a bad shooter when he gets his feet set, concerns about his ability to hit from range are legitimate.   

To  get a sense of what kind of a prospect we have in Alec Burks, I'm going to compare him to the last draft's top shooting guard, Evan Turner.  Turner and Burks are relatively similar physically.  Evan Turner is about an inch and 15-20lbs bigger and Burks is a bit quicker and springier, but they are at least in the same range physically (especially if Burks puts on the 30lbs some scouts have projected onto his frame [2]).  In terms of their role in college, Burks and Turner have quite a bit in common.  Both proved to be excellent scorers attacking the rim and getting to the line at the collegiate level.  Neither will set the NBA on fire with their jumper, especially from distance.  Both spent some time at the point in college and handled the majority of their teams possessions no matter where they played.  In terms of production, Turner and Burks actually come out surprisingly similar.  Burks definitely had better numbers than Turner in their respective freshman seasons, but as sophomores it is tough to tell the two apart.     

                                pnts/40   TS%     rbs/40    asts/40    PF/40     FTA/FGA        PER        WS/40   % tm  poss

Burks (soph)         26.1         58          8.3           3.8           3.0               0.56          29.1          10          25.5

Turner (soph)        19            59          7.8           4.0           3.2               0.58          25.7          9.4         25.7

Both were excellent rebounding guards, both got to the line at an impressive rate, and both were above average with respect to scoring efficiency and distributing the ball.  The only real difference is that Burks managed to score 5 more points per 40 minutes than Turner, resulting in a better PER.  So if Burks was the better sophomore, should we assume he would have also been the better player as a junior? 

Not necessarily.  Turner made a big jump in production between his sophomore and junior years.  In fact, Turner made a big jump every year in college.

                                pnts/40  TS%     rbs/40    asts/40    PF/40     FTA/FGA        PER        WS/40   % tm  poss         

Turner (fresh)     12.5          56         6.5            3.9           3.6               0.44          15.5          6.2           13.8

Turner (soph)      19             59         7.8            4.0           3.2               0.58          25.7          9.4           25.7

Turner (junior)     22.8         58         10.2          6.7           3.1               0.40          30.4        12.6          29.6                    

Turner's improvement was pretty much across the board, and at first glance can't be attributed to the development of any single skill.  Turner improved his scoring, distributing, and rebounding to a significant degree every season. 

Burks on the other hand didn't make a very big jump between his freshman and sophomore year.

                                pnts/ 40   TS%     rbs/40    asts/40    PF/40     FTA/FGA        PER        WS/40   % tm  poss         

Burks (fresh)        22.6          62         6.6            2.3           3.3               0.6             26.2          9.6          19.8

Burks (soph)        26.1          58          8.3           3.8           3.0               0.56           29.1          10           25.5

Sure he got a little bit better, but nothing outside of the expected freshman to sophomore development.  Evan Turners' developmental trajectory looks to be unusually steep, and much steeper than Burks'.  It is tempting to attribute these differential growth trajectories to some important underlying factor.  Maybe Turner has an exceptional work-ethic, while Burks is just average in that regard.  Maybe Turner has a uniquely high basketball IQ which allows him to acquire skills at a faster rate than other players.  Whatever your reasoning, if you assume that these growth trajectories are a function of some underlying attribute, Burks likely would have fallen short of Turner in their respective junior seasons.  Not only that, you may also assume that Turner will continue to improve more quickly as a pro, and thus Turner is clearly the superior prospect. 

However, I have a different interpretation of Turner and Burks' "developmental" trends.  Each year Turner tallied more points, assists, and turnovers, while his TS%, blocks, steals, personal fouls, and per possession statistics remained static.  Over this time Turner's percent of team possessions went from 13.8% to 25.7% to 29.6%. 

                                pnts/pos   asts/pos   fga/pos  TS%  TO/pos           % of teams possessions        

Turner (fresh)         0.94          0.29         0.69      56       0.3                       13.8

Turner (soph)         1.07          0.24         0.72      59       0.22                     25.7

Turner (junior)       1.05          0.31         0.76      58       0.23                      29.6

Turner did make some slight per possession changes.  Between years 1 and 2 he passed less, shot more, and held onto the ball better.  Between years 2 and 3 he managed to increase his passing, but failed to increase his scoring in spite of an increase in shooting.  There was some real improvement, but for the most part, Turner didn't necessarily get better, he just got more.  This same interpretation explains nearly all of the difference between Burks' freshman and sophomore production. 

                                pnts/pos   asts/pos   fga/pos  TS%  TO/pos           % of teams possessions        

Burks (fresh)           1.24          0.13         0.77      62       0.14                     19.8

Burks (soph)           1.15          0.17         0.79      58       0.15                     25.5

Neither Burks nor Turner significantly improved their use of possessions throughout their collegiate career.  They didn't expand their repetoire of offensive moves and thus create more shots.  Their shot attempts and points per possession stayed relatively static.  They didn't significantly alter their play style in terms of pass vs. shoot, and their efficiency in both stayed the same.  Neither player got much "better" at making things happen when the ball was in their hands, they just had the ball in their hands more often.  While first blush implies that Turner has a steeper developmental trajectory than Burks, in reality, Burks simply received more touches his freshman year. 

Burks was already seeing 19.8% of his teams possessions as a freshman, while Turner had to earn his way up from 13.8%.  In their sophomore years, both players saw almost the exact same percent of possession and were similarly productive based on the composite metrics (PER and WS/40).  Burks scored more points, and Turner tallied more assists, but this is consistent with the different way that each player uses his possessions.

There is good reason to believe that you can't simply increase any player's possessions and expect his efficiency to stay the same [6].  Their is considerable debate over the trade-off between usage and efficiency [7, 8], but at least at the extremes, it seems obvious that certain players have the capacity to handle more possessions than others before their efficiency declines.  Tyson Chandler may have the highest TS% in the NBA, but he isn't going to stay there if you ask him to be the focal-point of your offense.  The problem with applying this concept to assessing Burks vs. Turner is that we don't know where either players point of diminishing returns is.  In both cases, their teams increased their possessions and they performed at almost the exact same efficiency.  Would Burks' numbers have looked the same as junior Turner's if Colorado gave him 4% more of the teams' possessions?  Burks' efficiency may start to decrease as he uses 27% or 28% of Colorado's possessions, but we really don't know.  Ohio State had to contort their offensive scheme to give Turner the third highest percentage of possessions in the NCAA.  Focusing the majority of offensive possessions on one player may have hidden negative effects on team performance, even if the primary scorer maintains his efficiency.  Basketball quant Brian Skinner has a theory using Braess' paradox (originally used to understand the optimization of traffic flow) for how this may happen [4].  While I'm sure few college basketball coaches care about Braess' paradox, conventional wisdom seems to keep them leery of leaning too heavily on any one player.  Coach Boyle at Colorado may not want to increase Burks' usage in order to avoid incurring this cost.  If that is the case, Burks is wise to leave college before his "development" is cut short.

One important caveat to this discussion is rebounds.  Rebounds increased at a steady rate for both Turner and Burks, but have no obvious connection to usage.  One theory is that their increasing rebounds are a function of routine physical development.  Burks was the stronger rebounder as a sophomore, but Turner's rebounding his junior year was higher than either player's sophomore production (10.2/40min).  We don't know how Burks would have rebounded as a junior, but both players proved to be very strong college rebounders, and we can expect both to continue to be solid rebounding guards in the NBA (Rebounding NCAA to NBA r^2=0.83).

Ultimately the only real difference between Burks and Turner as prospects is that we know Turner can maintain his efficiency at an extreme usage in college.  Given that neither player is likely to see 29% of their teams' possession in the NBA, and that the skills that lead to scoring efficiency in college don't necessarily lead to scoring efficiency in the NBA (eFG% NCAA to NBA r=0.24 [4]), this might not be that important.  Some may argue that Burks' game, which relies more on a quick first-step, will transfer better to the NBA than Turner's greater reliance on upper-body strength to get into the lane.  Others might argue that Turner's superior mid-range shot will allow his offensive game to translate better to the NBA.  I have no idea which player's game translates better to the pros, but I would love to see any numbers that speak to this question.  My conclusion on the Turner-Burks comparison is that, unless you know something I don't, if you liked Turner as a prospect, you should like Burks as well.  

Turner was the second pick in a stronger draft, which seems to indicate Burks might be an easy top pick this year.  However, Turner didn't perform all that well in his debut NBA season, so maybe Evan Turner is the player whose projection we should be reassessing.  I'm not of this opinion.  Turner was an excellent rebounder and distributor as well as scorer in college.  His rebound and assist numbers followed him into the NBA (assist/poss: NCAAµ=0.28 vs. NBA=0.26; reb/40: NCAAµ=6.9 vs. NBA=6.8) , as should be expected given that both stats translate well from college to the NBA (r^2=0.83 and 0.88 [3]).  Unfortunately, his collegiate scoring volume (pnts/40min: NCAAµ=18.1 vs. NBA=12.6) and efficiency (TS%: NCAAµ=58% vs. NBA=48%) have yet to find their way to the pros, as is not necessarily surprising given these stats' poor predictive power across leagues (pnts/40 r^2=0.34 [3]; and eFG r=0.24 [4]).  Turner was legitimately a top prospect, and still may pan out.  If his scoring efficiency starts to climb, and the 76ers respond by giving him more possessions, Turner could be filling up stat-sheets for years to come.  This may not happen, but I still think he was a smart risk at the time. 

Burks has good enough rebound and assist numbers that he doesn't need all of his scoring ability to translate in order to have a successful NBA career.  However, he will never get off the bench unless some of his offensive skills make the jump with him.  Burks' reliance on scoring vs. distributing does make him a slightly riskier prospect than Turner, but he still looks like a good dice-roll to me.  

 

Fit:

Burks would allow us to put an honest shooting guard on the court next season.  Something we desperately need.  Not only would he fill a clear position of need (clear to everyone but Kahn apparently), but he would also fill a vital role in the offense that currently lies vacant.  According to Jonathan Givony of Draft Express, Burks creates two thirds of his offense by himself [1].  Wolves fans have long been clamoring for a player who can score in isolation and create opportunities when the offense breaks down.  Burks may very likely be that player.   

There is some concern that Burks is not the ideal guard pairing with Ricky Rubio.  Primarily because neither player has much of a perimeter game.  This is a legitimate concern, but certainly not enough to take Burks-Rubio off the table as our back-court of the future.  Even if we get no range out of our top guards, we still have Love, Luke, Wes, Webster, and Beasley to space the floor for us.  Additionally, given that Rubio is the epitome of a pass-first point-guard, it may be best to pair him with a scoring focused 2-guard like Burks rather than someone who mixes scoring and distributing.

 

Conclusion:

Burks has shown in college that he knows how to play ball.  He's an excellent offensive force, who continues to make a difference on the court after the ball leaves his hands.  He has some key issues he needs to improve on to become a successful pro.  Burks needs to develop enough of a jumper to keep NBA defenders from playing off of him.  He also needs to put on some bulk if he wants to defend 2-guards and drive the lane at the next level.  Thankfully, scouts are optimistic about his potential to correct both of these flaws.  

I think this analysis demonstrates that, contrary to the opinion of most draft boards, scouts, and NBA experts, Burks is as good as any shooting guard prospect in the last 2 years.  Talent assesors are entitiled to their opinions regarding how his game will translate to the NBA, but Burks has the statistical credentials to be a quality pro player.  If his shot creation and scoring efficiency follow him to the NBA, Burks could be the perfect pick for the Wolves at 2-4.  

 

References:

1.  Draft Express  (http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Alec-Burks-5819/)

2.  NBAdraft.netet  (http://www.nbadraft.net/players/alec-burks)

3.  Basketball-Statistics (http://basketball-statistics.com/howdoncaastatisticstranslatetothenba.html)

4.  Courtside Analyst (http://courtsideanalyst.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/the-mystery-of-landry-fields-and-demarcus-cousins-the-weak-correlation-between-collegiate-effective-scoring-and-nba-effective-scoring/)

5.  Gravity and Levity " Braess’s Paradox and 'The Ewing Theory'" (http://gravityandlevity.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/braesss-paradox-and-the-ewing-theory/)

6.  Eli of Count the Basket " Diminishing Returns for Scoring - Usage vs. Efficiency" (http://www.countthebasket.com/blog/2008/03/06/diminishing-returns-for-scoring-usage-vs-efficiency/)

7.  Arturo Galletti "Whats the use" (http://arturogalletti.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/whats-the-use/)

8.  Kevin Pelton "The Value of Carmelo Anthony"  (http://www.basketballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=1412)

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