Alec Burks has become used to bouncing around the country for business purposes. He’s played for five teams over the last two seasons.
Though he traveled from Kansas City to Camden, New Jersey, to participate in mandatory individual workouts at the Sixers’ practice facility and will head with the team to Orlando on Thursday for the planned resumption of the NBA season, he considered staying in one place for a little while longer. For a very good reason.
“I think when I found out my wife was pregnant, that’s when maybe I wouldn’t play,” Burks said Monday in a video conference call, “but she’s not due until December. I feel like if … the majority of the team (was) going to play, then I was going to play. If the majority of the team wasn’t going to play, then I probably would’ve thought more about it. I want to go to war with my teammates. Let’s just hope for the best and everybody stays safe.”
Burks and Glenn Robinson III, his former Warriors teammate, have had especially bizarre stints with the Sixers. Both players had been enjoying career-best seasons with Golden State. The Sixers agreed to acquire them early on a Thursday morning in February, and the pair learned about the trade on a red-eye flight from San Francisco to New York. Robinson didn’t play until Sunday, while Burks waited until the next Tuesday to make his Sixers debut as he attempted to ease into yet another career transition.
In late February, Robinson made comments in an interview with Basketball Insiders about not understanding his role, which he later said “got a little blown out of proportion.” A 40 percent three-point shooter this season with the Warriors, Robinson missed his first 10 threes after the trade, then made 6 of his next 11. Burks, who arrived with a reputation as a streaky player, scored in double figures six times off the bench but also had 2 for 7, 2 for 10 and 3 for 13 shooting performances.
Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson were all injured at one stage during Burks and Robinson’s initial spell with the team this season. With all starters available to play, where do the two fit in now?
“I don’t think I’ve played a game where everybody was healthy and playing,” Burks said. “So I don’t know. I guess we’ll just see how that goes. Coach has a lot of time, he’s going to game plan the rotations going into this. I guess we’ll all just see.”
Burks did mention that Brown “hinted” to him what his role might be. Brown employed Burks often as a primary ball handler before the league's hiatus, a job he did well. In 47 pick-and-roll possessions as a Sixer, Burks created 52 points. That level of production likely isn’t sustainable, but it’s not an extreme outlier either. He produced 0.92 points per pick-and-roll possession with Golden State, which is in the 68th percentile in the NBA.
Though Burks frequently started off the ball, Brown liked looping him up to the top of the key, giving him a high ball screen and letting him make something happen. Even in lineups where Shake Milton or Richardson bring the ball up the floor, Burks’ apparent comfort in that basic “Loop” action should mean he’s still viable as a ball handling option.
“I was used in a lot of different roles … because of injuries,” Burks said. “I still don’t know what’s going to happen with the playoffs. We’ve gotta get down there and get around each other, and see how it plays out in training camp and into the games. ... I think I built some chemistry up with a couple of the guys. I think that’s the most important thing I’m probably going to bring, because I only played 10, 11 games.”
Robinson talked with Brown on his journey from Gary, Indiana, back to Philadelphia and got an idea of where he stands.
I’m not a risky person at all, so I drove from Indiana back to Philly, nine hours,” he said last Thursday. “I gave Coach a call while I was riding back, while I was kind of listening to music and just thinking about some things. So I got a chance to catch up with him. It was good to have that talk. I think it was great for everyone to have a couple months where you watch film and we all got a chance to kind of reset and restructure.
“I watched a ton of myself from the time I was here. … What can I do to help the team get better? Talking to Brett, I obviously know that we have a lot of wings and we’re all going to come in competing, just like every other training camp. I’ll leave it to him to see what happens, but I’m definitely doing my job and going to be professional, and come in ready for training camp.”
Burks and Robinson will now try to impress at training camp — in Disney World, during a pandemic — play well in eight seeding games and, should everything still be running smoothly, help the Sixers win playoff games. If all goes well, they’ll likely accrue more experience in Orlando than their current combined 23 games as Sixers.
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