Brett Brown often talks about quiet tournaments. Sixers fans have taken it upon themselves to scream quite loudly for an explanation as to why Raul Neto, not Alex Burks, seems to be the point guard that Brown trusts more to steady the team when it’s struggling. Cliff Jackson from the Si6 pod sums up the zeitgeist in a smart and funny way here.
Hey Brett Cliff Jackson here from the Twitter Timeline…can you explain this!?— CliffNotez (@_YoCliff) August 4, 2020
*shows picture of Neto on the court and Burks on the bench*
And let’s face it, that’s a fair question.
Brown’s first reference to the “quiet tournament” came in early 2019 when looking for a bench wing to prep for a deep rotation slot on the playoff team. At the time, the tournament was between Furkan Korkmaz, James Ennis, and Jonathon Simmons for a spot for a player who could shoot corner threes, and provide minutes on a thin bench. Ultimately James Ennis won that tournament heading into the playoffs, but Korkmaz has been the player who has taken that role this year. Ennis was traded this February for a second-round pick when the team was able to pick up Glenn Robinson III at the trade deadline in a deal that involved Alec Burks.
However, the debate between Burks and Neto is more stylistic than qualitative. Unlike the GRIII and Ennis role, these two players are fundamentally different “horses for courses.” Neto will execute the base scheme that Brown runs, maintain the structure of the gameplan. This will not be a qualitative debate about which journeyman player to build a team around. Burks will absolutely look like a better player in a vacuum. But Basketball is a team game, and the NBA remains organized Basketball at its highest level. Every non-superstar player must play in a manner that is consistent with the expectations of his teammates and coaches. Freelancers will look better and more talented, but they also may exacerbate chaos amongst teammates.
It’s pretty simple. When the team needs organization and scheme, it’s Neto.— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) August 2, 2020
When it needs someone to try getting hot and microwave some freelanced scoring, it’s Burks https://t.co/9LjSqS4RaS
Burks was long-rumored/ speculated to be a 76ers target since the beginning of the season. Adam Aaronson first brought up his name to me at a game in the fall. And on 12/15 Adam went on record pushing for the trade to acquire the capable 6’5″ combo guard. The idea at the time was simply the team needed more long ball handlers. It made perfect sense at the time. Kudos for Adam for his prescience.
It’s December 15. Go get Alec Burks.— adam aaronson #BLM (@SixersAdam) December 15, 2019
On January 28th, Burks and the Warriors came to Philadelphia for a game. Burks was clearly the player on my radar because of the logic and potential fit. The key difference between watching a game on TV and watching it as media in the arena is able to ignore the camera and really watch closely on what players do off-ball, in warmups, etc. Burks was my focus as the deadline approached.
Here were my initial up-close observations. At the time, he was the Warriors 6th man and scoring 16 points per game. Burks is not a “short neck” guy, as Elton Brand would say. Burks is listed as 6’5″ without shoes with a 6’10” wingspan. The Wingspan is more important as a defender, but Burks’s size is a bit overblown. Additionally, what I noticed was a likely poor scheme fit for a team that wants quick decisions and ball movement. Burks is more of a freelance offensive player who has talent but needs time and usage to add a scoring punch. There is a utility in this, but not nearly as much in the NBA than in the YMCA. But we will get back to this.
Now I wrote a game story that night. And you won’t find a mention of Burks in the game story even though he was my primary focus of the evening. FYI this night really had other major storylines such as a tribute for Kobe Bryant.
Ok for a very odd note, but maybe not so odd, Raul Neto was absolutely cooking in the first half of that Warriors game. He scored 19 points in the first half and had the second-best game of his career that night. That detail is mostly irrelevant unless you want to read into this as a statement game where Neto knew he was playing against a player who might be coming to Philly to take his job. Mostly this is an odd quirk, but it starts to show an overlooked part of this debate.
Apples and Oranges
Alec Burks is someone you have to invest several possessions into and hope he gets hot. You have to say, “go freelance and make some plays.” And those are the kind of players that can bail you out sometimes where nothing else is working. But Raul Neto would be the guy that coaches look at and say, “we believe in the scheme and the game plan. We need somebody to go not go on tilt”. So Shake Milton went on Tilt against Indiana’s aggressive guards. He turned the ball over and got into foul trouble. But Sixers coaches believed in their game plan and stuck with Raul Neto.
Success equals, clean, that may not be as much coach-speak as you want.
clean on offense, clean defense. You know, an understanding of our words [terminology].You know, this is the easiest way to get Joel the ball, this is the easiest way to put the defense into Pick and Roll and we hope they switch, and he ends up with somebody small on him. Anything that’s clean, tighten that up. That is what’s most on my mind – Brett Brown July 27, 2020
So let’s look at that premise and ask if the numbers bear that story out. We will look at the players from a couple of different dimensions. The dimensions are as an overall player versus a point guard.
All stats normalized over 100 possessions.
Burks by the numbers is the more productive scorer. He gets to the line far more often than Neto. But what it also shows is that Burks requires more usage, more time and more shots to produce those raw numbers. When it comes to efficiency, the eye test starts to break down. Neto is the more efficient scorer by a fairly wide margin. Neto is slightly above league average in effective field goal % whereas Burks is well below at just 48% eFG%
So as a scoring guard? Burks will get buckets and is big enough to play shooting guard with another point guard in the game. But as a point guard, Neto is the player who will space the floor, play within the scheme and make other players better. So let’s look at these players from a pure Point Guard standpoint in the simplest way possible.
Assist to Turnover Ratio
Assist to Turnover (A:T) is the most basic metric you can use for the floor-general aspect of a point guards job. An elite Point Guard tends to average three assists to every turnover. A starting-caliber point guard is at least 2:1. Lacking those numbers, the player must be outstanding in some other way to make up for this. A look at Burks and Neto for their career tells a very clear story.
“It’s a function of being able to make plays for others, And it’s taking care of the basketball. You have to do those two things.” – Tad Boyle to Denver Post