Utah Jazz: Surprising as it sounds, Alec Burks should be moved into starting lineup

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 7: Alec Burks #10 of the Utah Jazz reacts to a foul called against the Houston Rockets in the second half of the 112-101 win by the Rockets at Vivint Smart Home Arena on December 7, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 7: Alec Burks #10 of the Utah Jazz reacts to a foul called against the Houston Rockets in the second half of the 112-101 win by the Rockets at Vivint Smart Home Arena on December 7, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images) /
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Following three straight disappointing losses and some poor play from the starting lineup, the Utah Jazz should look to shake things up by playing Alec Burks with the first unit.

After a fun stretch that saw the Utah Jazz win seven of eight games including six blowout wins, the team has seemingly reverted to its woeful ways as they’ve now dropped three straight. Granted, these three games have been against overall stiffer competition in less favorable circumstances than during the win streak, but still there’s little justification for how uninspired and flat-footed the Jazz have played of late.

There’s been plenty of fingers pointed as some feel the majority of the blame rests on the shoulders of Ricky Rubio, others on the big-man tandem of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors not functioning well together and still others on the fact that Rodney Hood simply can’t stay healthy and has missed an unexpectedly high number of games with something as minor as “ankle soreness.”

Quite frankly, I think the root of the Jazz’s struggles is likely somewhat of a combination of all those factors, among others. The energy and ball movement on offense have taken a significant dip of late and Utah’s defense has nowhere resembled that of a year ago by any stretch of the imagination.

Thus, under those circumstances, the Jazz find themselves in the midst of a three-game losing streak which has dropped them to 13-14 on the season with little hope for redemption on the horizon save for a game against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. Following that contest, the Jazz will play six straight games in which they’ll be the heavy underdogs.

Therefore, if the Jazz are to have any hope of staying afloat in a month of December that we all knew was going to be brutal, they’re going to need to change things up from their recent poor stretch. And while there’s lots of things that could be experimented with and changed, in my mind one of the first problems that I’ve already discussed that has to be addressed is to reduce Ricky Rubio’s role.

To say that Rubio has had a disappointing season would be a vast understatement as he has simply looked like a shell of his former self. We all were well aware of his shooting woes, but his terrible passing, high turnover rate, poor defense and lackluster effort have caught essentially all of Jazz Nation off guard. With so much working against him and considering the overwhelmingly negative impact he’s had when on the court, the Jazz desperately need to reduce his playing time.

However, in a lot of ways that’s easier said than done. Sure, Donovan Mitchell may turn out to be best suited as a point guard in this league, but starting at that position is a lot to ask of a young rookie. Meanwhile, Raul Neto, who’s been quite steady overall, has been dealing with injury woes and is likely to be sidelined once again after experiencing concussion-like symptoms after receiving a blow to the head from Thon Maker in Saturday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

To be frank, the fact of the matter is that the Utah Jazz desperately miss Dante Exum right now. He and Mitchell looked incredible together in Summer League and his vast improvements over the summer may have very well made him the optimal candidate to serve as Utah’s starting point guard in place of the struggling Ricky Rubio. However, as he continues to recover from the shoulder injury sustained in preseason, it’s perfectly clear that such is not an option whatsoever.

So, unfortunately, it could potentially appear that the Jazz are left with few options other than to continue to give Ricky Rubio the run at the starting point guard spot. However, as outlandish as it might sound, I suggest the Jazz try a pretty substantially different approach, namely start Alec Burks in place of Ricky Rubio.

In this scenario, Burks wouldn’t necessarily be the point guard, per se, but he and Mitchell would serve as a position-less backcourt tandem that would share the ball-handling and offensive-initiating duties. Despite the fact that for quite some time Burks was mired with injuries and his inconsistent play had caused him to fall out of the graces of Jazz fans, he’s been absolutely spectacular of late.

Over the course of the past six games, Burks is averaging 21.2 points on 56.8 percent shooting from the field and 44.4 percent from deep. To go along with that, he’s been getting to the free throw line relatively well during that stretch where he’s converting at an 82.1 percent clip and has also added 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

He’s been much more reliable from three this season (44.4 percent during the last six games and 40.8 percent on the season), so he would help improve Utah’s poor spacing to start out games right off the bat. With both he and Donovan Mitchell in the starting backcourt, it would help insert some much-needed scoring into a lineup that has been otherwise easy for opposing teams to guard as the trio of Rubio, Favors and Gobert allows teams to simply pack the paint to stop them.

Not to mention, although they haven’t logged all that many minutes together, the two-man lineup of Burks and Mitchell has had a positive net rating and a positive plus/minus, which is more than most Rubio lineups can say. Furthermore, over the last six games, the tandem of Burks and Mitchell have posted a net rating of 11.2 despite two of those six games being blowout losses.

Some might say that pulling Burks from the second unit could be detrimental to its scoring ability, but once Rodney Hood returns (which hopefully will be soon), it could potentially make both units even better. Hood is Utah’s leading scorer and in most ways has looked better than Burks overall this season, but he has also played far and above his best basketball off the bench. Thus, starting Burks and continuing to bring Hood off the bench could help provide both scoring and spacing to both the first and second units that desperately need both characteristics.

Therefore, while it is a risk and perhaps placing the oft-erratic Burks into the starting lineup could potentially blow up in Utah’s faces, it’s absolutely worth a shot. The worst thing the Jazz can do at this point is to continue to roll out a starting group that simply doesn’t function together and keep getting off to slow starts which result in bad losses.

Although Ricky Rubio is known as a starting point guard in this league, he certainly hasn’t lived up to that reputation and it’s time that the Jazz look for an alternative. Doing so could potentially light a fire under Rubio and spark him into improved play, but even if it doesn’t, it’s clear that making some sort of change there is still worth it if it can make the team better as a result.

While starting Neto or Exum would potentially seem like a more fitting option, obviously with both dealing with injury woes (especially Exum whose return this season is still an unknown), that’s simply not possible. Nevertheless, since Alec Burks has been playing surprisingly well of late and is appearing to slowly but surely finally be winning back the trust of Quin Snyder with more controlled play, better decisions and tougher defense, he undoubtedly deserves the chance to show what he can do as part of the starting lineup.

After seeing how that group has played of late, it’s hard to imagine Burks making them much worse and with how electrifying he can be offensively, it’s entirely possible that he could actually make them much better.

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While I don’t believe Rubio is entirely to blame for Utah’s woes and regardless of who starts in the backcourt for Utah, the Gobert-Favors pairing may simply have to be broken up, I believe giving Burks some run as a starter could be just the spark the Jazz need to boost their offense from the game’s onset and improve both units on both ends of the floor.

The Jazz have three days off to prepare for their next bout against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, so we’ll see if during that time Quin Snyder decides to make that, or any other much-needed adjustment, leading up to that game. Regardless of what he opts to do, it’s quite clear that the Utah Jazz are in need of a change from what they’ve done during their three-game losing streak and I think making Burks the starter could be just the trick.