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At his best, he is slashing to the basket, twirling through traffic and somehow finishing an awkward layup at the rim. At his best, he is the kind of instant offense off the bench that could put him in Sixth Man of the Year conversations. But after back-to-back campaigns beset by injury, Alec Burks is also a real question mark for the Utah Jazz.
Can he fit in an offense predicated on ball movement?
Can he find minutes off a suddenly deep bench?
Can he safely maintain his aggressive nature on the court?
Burks believes he's ready to provide some answers.
"I'm not worried," the shooting guard said. "… I know when I'm healthy, I know what I can do."
The question after the first day of practice, however, was when Burks would be fully healthy. Burks participated in drills Tuesday at the Zions Bank Basketball Center, head coach Quin Snyder said, but did not do contact activities.
"He's making really good progress," Snyder said. "We're doing the same thing with Alec as we did with Danté Exum [who is recovering from an ACL injury]. … Our focus is going to be on 12 years as opposed to 12 months. We just want to get him to where he's comfortable and confident. Now's the right time to do that."
Burks had surgery to repair his fractured left fibula on Dec. 29 and had outpatient arthroscopic surgery June 8 "to clean out debris from his left knee and ankle."
Asked if Burks would be ready for the start of the season, Snyder said, "I would think so."
"[The medical staff] will tell me," Snyder said. "But what I'm told, what I see, there's good progress, especially the last week or so. I think as he gets to a point we're going to see it go quicker."
The Jazz won't want to rush Burks, but missing any time this season would be a disappointment for the guard after what he has endured the past two years.
It was two years ago, on a drive to the basket, that Burks was fouled hard and came crashing to the floor. In the process, he aggravated a shoulder injury that he said had quietly been bothering him since college. After surgery to repair the damage, Burks swore he would be better than ever, truly feeling 100 percent healthy for the first time in his NBA career. And after logging just 27 games during the 2014-15 campaign, he was eager to move forward.
But Burks' comeback campaign was halted prematurely.
Last December, on another drive to the basket, Burks was fouled by Clippers forward Paul Pierce. Again, the Jazz slasher came crashing down. This time, he broke his ankle and missed 50 games, before trying to return for his team's playoff push, only to realize he wasn't yet ready to be back on the court.
"When I tried to come back, I really couldn't move like I'm used to moving," Burks said this week as the Jazz reconvened for training camp and a season filled with great expectations. "So I went to the offseason just to try to rehab and get better, get stronger, try to be the Alec I know I was before I got hurt. I feel like I am. It's just a process of working my way through it. But I'm getting right. I'm getting close."
Burks jokes the he has "burned" the medical scooter he needed to get around at the end of last season and said he feels "more explosive and athletic" than even before the Jazz signed him to a four-year, $42 million extension in 2014. But with his team eyeing a playoff appearance and more this season, Burks also appears to be focused on self-preservation, knowing his team is better with him out of slings and walking boots and in his No. 10 jersey.
"I feel like I'm going to evolve more. I feel like I'm going to shoot more. I shot the ball really well when I shot it last year," said Burks, who averaged 13.3 points per game and shot 40.5 percent from 3 during an abbreviated 2015-16 season.
Burks' role may be evolving, too. With a deeper bench, Burks will have to battle Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson, Joe Ingles and even point guards George Hill and Danté Exum for minutes on the wing.
"I'm not worried about it," he said. "Everybody's a great player, everybody's willing to sacrifice for the greater good."
For Burks, that might mean playing it safer, even a little.
"I'm still going to be fearless. I'm still going to do the same things I do," he said. "But I'm just going to pick my spots more, chose when to be aggressive and when not to be."
Alec Burks by the numbers
Year Games PPG APG RPG FG% 3P%
2013-14 78 14.0 2.7 3.3 45.7 40.3
2014-15 27 13.9 3.0 4.2 40.3 38.2
2015-16 31 13.3 2.0 3.5 41.0 40.5