On the eve of the NBA’s annual free agency period, Troy Weaver and the Detroit Pistons front office agreed to terms on a ‘salary dump’ deal with the New York Knicks that netted the veteran duo of Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel, picks and cash.
While calling the move a salary dump is accurate, that might give some fans the impression that Burks and Noel are trash. Far from it. Instead, it allowed Detroit to net some assets and do a different form of free-agent shopping. It is certainly important that Pistons fans get to know these acquisitions a little better.
The term veteran guard is often deployed as a poisonous term of endearment similar to hearing a proper southern lady say, “bless her heart.” In the past decade, Detroiters have been submitted to basketball viewing trauma from a host of over-30 “veteran guards” who were well past their sell-by date. The ghosts of Steve Blake, Jameer Nelson, Jose Calderon, just to list a few, continue to haunt conversations amongst Piston faithful.
Enter 31-year-old veteran combo guard Alec Burks. Unlike the aforementioned trio of backcourt flops, Burks has played arguably his best basketball during the latter part of his career. The dynamic two-guard featured heavily in a successful Knicks rotation and last season played significant minutes as New York’s starting facilitator.
Burks has molded himself into a valuable piece that any team in the association would want on their roster. Hence, I teamed up with DBB’s Bryce Simon to provide insight into the type of player Alec Burks is and how he will fair alongside Detroit's young core.
Burks provides more than just spot-up shooting
Alec Burks has turned himself into quite the perimeter threat. Entering the league in 2011, the Colorado product was dubbed a lengthy shot-creating wing with a shaky jumper. After struggling as a rookie, Burks has consistently shot around 38% from distance. However, in recent years, the 11-year pro has evolved into a sniper from beyond the arc. In his two-year stint with the Knicks, Burks converted on 40.1% of threes at a decent volume, hoisting a shade under five (4.9) attempts a night.
As a shooter, Burks is most lethal in catch-and-shoot scenarios. Though he doesn’t exhibit picturesque form, when Burks was able to fire off a standstill triple last season, he converted at a searing 44.0%. While Tom Thibodeau’s offense rarely looked to aid the sharpshooter with off-ball screens, Burks readily made himself available via astute off-ball movement. The 31-year-old’s tendency to yield constant motion in the half-court appears to dovetail nicely with the gravity Cunningham provides off drives.
Burks’ spot-up shooting alone would be a significant addition to a Detroit team that finished 29th in efficiency in the most recent campaign. But there is more to Burks as a shooter.
Half Court Shooting Efficiency
|Catch & Shoot||44.0%||1.229||85th||Excellent|
|Off Dribble||36.0%||0.919||65th||Very Good|
|P&R Ball handler||35%||0.923||71st||Very Good|
In a primarily slow-paced, Julius Randle-focused offense, Burks displayed the capacity to knock down long-range triples off the bounce consistently. Per Synergy, the Missouri-native spent a third (33.7%) of his possessions operating as the pick-and-roll ball-handler. Burks made drop coverage defenses repeatedly pay by knocking down threes out of ball-screen actions. In a division featuring the likes of Jarret Allen, Brook Lopez and Nikola Vucevic, perimeter scoring from the ball handlers is a valuable asset.
Burks can facilitate enough to assist Detroit’s young guards
Don’t let Burks lowly assist rate of 15.8% fool you into thinking he is purely a gunner from the two-guard spot. While he’s far from a lead distributor, Burks has 11 years of experience operating as a perimeter ball handler in the NBA. Burks’ secondary handling nature provides a perfect complement to a Dwane Casey style of offense which often features a pair of ball handlers in the back-court.
Last season, we saw Casey open the year with a back-court featuring Killian Hayes and Cade Cunningham. Injuries to Hayes led to Cory Joseph and Cunningham manning the guard positions in the closing stages of the 2021-22 campaign. While Joseph’s addition wasn’t to the fans' liking, his 41% three-point stroke and playmaking provided a useful release valve for Cunningham offensively.
Although not a natural point guard, Burks offers a similar skill set to Joseph in a Cunningham-centric backcourt. In addition to floor spacing, Burks can take charge of facilitating the offense in spouts. The veteran guard has developed into a shifty pick and roll ball handler, capable of making a variety of reads when turning the corner off screens.
The low-usage nature of Burks’ game dismisses any concerns of reduced possessions for Detroit's young floor generals. The 31-year-old possesses a certain malleability to his game, making him a valuable complementary piece to various ball-handling types. More often than not, Burks is looking to move the ball quickly and efficiently.
On nights where Cunningham, Hayes or Ivey need assistance handling the pill, Burks is a more than able sidekick and has the size at 6-foot-6 to play at small forward. If Detroit’s young guards are playing confidently, Burks provides elite spacing with his shooting gravity.
Burks’ savvy can help instill consistent defensive effort
At the ripe age of 31, it should come to the surprise of none that Burks has faults defensively. The 11-year veteran is susceptible to poor screen navigation, as well as his fair share of blow-bys. With that said, the Colorado product still has plenty to render a young Piston team in the midst of establishing a defensive identity.
Firstly, Burks is an excellent communicator. He does a great of realizing the opposition's concepts and pointing them out to his fellow teammates. In a switch-heavy Detroit defense, Burks' willingness to relay directions to his less experienced running mates becomes invaluable to Coach Casey and staff.
On top of the communication aspect, Burks 6-foot-6 frame provides an added layer of versatility to Detroit’s defensive scheme.
Can't say I expected Alec Burks to be THIS prolific at the 3.— Jack Kelly (@jack_kelly_313) July 22, 2022
In 462 mins last season, the Knicks were +17.2 (!) with Burks at the 3.
Could we end up with a starting 5 of Cade-Ivey-Burks-Bey-Stewart ➡️ Nice blend of playmaking, spacing and self creation.
(via @cleantheglass) pic.twitter.com/FzFWL0YpA9
The lengthy guard’s 6-foot-10 wingspan allows him to switch positions one through to three. Per Cleaning the Glass, with Burks positioned at the three, New York scored +17.2 points per 100 possessions. While it would be unwise to think Burks can play at the three full-time, the optionality he affords the coaching staff is welcomed.
Overall, Burks shapes up to be a staple in the Detroit rotation, a valuable stop-gap player who will be able to fill any voids at the guard position for the upcoming season.
Thanks to Motor City Hoops, Bryce Simon for the in-depth film breakdown, be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel HERE.