Risk-less Management: Why Won’t Corbin Start Burks?

When I first heard the news that Sloan was leaving and Tyrone Corbin was in as head coach, my initial reaction was sadness, then concern, then intrigue, until finally I reached a vague optimism: Maybe Sloan had lost his touch. Maybe the players need fresh blood. Maybe a shake-up in the status quo is exactly what this team needs to make a leap. Maybe Tyrone Corbin is a better fit for these players. Maybe this is a good thing.

Now the jury’s still out on Corbin. Sure, his expressions are usually a pleasant combination of veiled terror, unbridled rage, and dogged hopelessness, and sure he continues to dole out consistently big minutes to C.J. Miles (who shoots a glorious 34% from the field; seriously, how close are we to dubbing a well-guarded, 20-foot, fadeaway jump shot that clangs off the rim a “C.J.”?). Those things are forgivable. He’s a new coach. He’s been given an inexperienced and underachieving team. But there is at least one unforgivable about Tyrone Corbin’s recent coaching.

Jerry Sloan was old. He was stuck in his ways. When the Jazz drafted an exciting young player, I knew that player was only going to get garbage minutes for his first few seasons, and I was all right with that. Sloan had experience and he had a methodical system that would not be interrupted by unnecessary risks on unproven players. So when I reached that vague optimism in the post-Sloan retirement, it was because I thought the Jazz finally had a coach that would take those risks. I believed Hemingway when he told me that the younger you are, the more gambles you’ll make. And thank goodness, I thought, because this is a team if there’s ever been one that needs to gamble on some young players.

Alec Burks needs more minutes. This is obvious to everyone. I have searched the web, and there is no response movement to #freeAlecBurks. No one is clamoring to defend Raja Bell. There is no popular or even unpopular support for Raja’s 20 MPG. The general consensus is that the 35 year-old Bell’s only purpose on the Jazz roster is to steal Alec Burks from his minutes. Even Corbin himself has yet to offer a reasonable defense for Bell’s continued use.

So what’s the hold-up? Why does Raja continue to start and Burks continue to grow restless on the bench? Because so far, Corbin has not been the fresh, untainted, risk-taking coach the Jazz needed. What I overlooked was that Corbin is a Sloan man, and Sloan men believe in veterans. Whether he realizes it or not,  Corbin was deeply indoctrinated by Sloan, and not just in their affinity for half-court, pick-and-roll offensive sets. Corbin won’t start Burks, or even give Burks consistent minutes, because Corbin takes no risks. He doesn’t overhaul the offense even though the personnel is built to run. He doesn’t ride the second team even when they’re playing better. He doesn’t get in anyone’s face for taking bad shots (yeah, I’m talking about you Al Jefferson), and he certainly, isn’t going to play Alec Burks until he is absolutely sure Burks won’t make him look bad.

At 2-3, the Jazz are mimicking the style of their coach: low risk, low reward. The Jazz will continue to beat bad teams at home and lose on the road unless Coach Corbin starts gambling on the team’s young talent. Sure Utah won last night, and the Jazz can keep beating the New Orleanses and Philadelphias of this league with this line-up. But the playoffs are a pipe dream without some shake-up, and that requires risk. Corbin can hesitate, brood, mull it over, and eventually have enough statistical and visual evidence to justify starting Burks, and then enjoy the benefits of an athletic wing who scores; or he can start him now and at least have a chance at something special.

Roll the dice, Corbin. You’re not Jerry Sloan, and until these last five games, I was grateful for that.


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