Utah Jazz are giddy over their plethora of post players
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Need a quick tip on how to make Tyrone Corbin grin?
Simply mention the bevy of big men the Utah Jazz coach has at his disposal now that his team's training camp has finally arrived.
Al Jefferson. Paul Millsap. Mehmet Okur. Derrick Favors. Enes Kanter.
Stack 'em up, and that's 34-feet-2-inches and 1,270 pounds of post power packed with potential and proven play.
That's why a wide smile joined the sweat beads on Corbin's face Friday afternoon in the team's warm practice facility when that subject was brought up.
Excitement gleamed in the second-year coach's eyes while he thought about the prospects of his talented and versatile post patrol.
"Practice," Corbin said, "is going to be fun."
He couldn't help but break out into laughter while saying that. It should be noted that his definition of fun might differ from others, too.
"It's going to be fun watching them compete," Corbin said. "If you're a player, I've always thought that I wanted to play against the best guys. I wanted to have to fight and work for everything that I get.
"That group of guys, they're all extremely talented cats," he added. "They're going to work hard. It's going to make some interesting practices."
In other words, Corbin expects to see more sweat than smiles on the faces of his bigs the next few weeks.
The battle for rotation positioning down low — perhaps the Jazz's biggest strength, so to speak — should be as intense as it is interesting.
Just how Corbin (enter evil laughter) wants it to be.
The guys looking to get the inside track feel the same.
"We got a lot of 'em (bigs)," 6-10 Big Al said. "It's going to be good for training camp. I know that."
Added Okur: "It's going to be a good challenge for all big guys."
When it comes to starting spots, Corbin revealed before camp started that, "Everything's wide open."
That means Jefferson, Okur or, heck, even Kanter could be inside the circle for the opening tip, while Millsap or Favors could be starting alongside as the power forward.
Rotations are likely to be fluid depending on match-ups, player progression (or the opposite) and game flow. Jeremy Evans could even be thrown in the mix to give the Jazz a quick, athletic, springy power forward option.
Corbin's eyes lit up when the word "versatility" came out of his mouth regarding the bigs.
"We've got some guys that can go in different positions," Jefferson added. "I'm looking forward to it."
So are smaller teammates, who view inside depth as a bigger blessing than curse despite limited playing time.
"I've never been on a team where you have so many great bigs and wings. That's impressive," re-signed Jazz point guard Earl Watson said.
"Even when we had amazing runs in Memphis, we only had Pau Gasol at the big position. … But there was no Derrick Favors coming off the bench. There was no Enes Kanter or Paul Millsap, Okur or Al Jefferson. That's tough. As a point guard, for me, it takes the pressure off. The shot clock goes down, you dump into the post."
Heeding advice from Utah brass last spring, Jefferson spent the offseason toning up his body and skills at a Jazz-recommended performance facility in Santa Barbara.
"I worked real hard, man," Jefferson said. "It's just time now to show it on the court."
Now with a leaner, more muscular physique, and a renewed emphasis on fitness and defensive effort, the 280-pounder has the edge on the starting center position.
"That," Jefferson said, "was the only good thing about the offseason going longer was that it was just more time for me to work and get better."
The Jazz's only big man with an All-Star Game on his resume echoed that statement.
The 6-11 Okur, Utah's starting center before an Achilles tendon rupture in April 2010, spent his summer rehabbing and playing professional basketball in his native Turkey.
Okur returns to Utah confident and 100 percent healthy.
"I was one of those guys who benefited during the lockout," Okur said. "I was able to play. … I'm glad I did it. It was a good decision for me, and I'm back."
He's eager to contribute for a whole lot more than he was able to during a 13-game, injury-riddled 2010-11 season.
Corbin wants him — and all Jazz players — to fight for a starting job. Honestly, Okur said he'll be satisfied logging five or 20 minutes off the bench to help the Jazz with his diverse set of skills, including nice inside moves and a dangerous outside touch.
"I just want to go out there and play because I feel like I owe this team because I couldn't play last year," Okur said. "So I just want to go out there and make it up for my teammates and my team."
The 6-8 Millsap also reported back to camp in prime physical condition, having gained muscle mass and worked on quickness. That could help him slide down to the small forward position — like he successfully did while playing alongside Jefferson and Favors during lineup experimentation last season.
Millsap's offseason training, he said, was based on "trying to evolve my whole game."
Coming off a season in which he nicely replaced All-Star Carlos Boozer with his spunkiness and work ethic trumping a size disadvantage, the 26-year-old Millsap is cognizant he will be counted on to provide leadership.
"Lead by example" will be a motto of sorts.
Millsap made it clear he has no intentions on becoming a Sixth Man Award candidate, even if some believe he'd help the Jazz more off the bench.
"I'm a starter. I'm going to start," Millsap insisted. "I'm going to go out there and give everything I've got."
Not surprisingly, the high-ceiling guy who could threaten to win the starting 4-spot has the same attitude.
"I believe I'll earn a good chunk of minutes," said 20-year-old Favors, the No. 3 pick of the 2010 draft. "Because I'm going to come out here in training camp and work as hard as I can and just show improvement, just go as hard as I can."
Favors also returns with a bulkier build and said he "worked on basically everything: strength conditioning, post skills, my whole game."
Earning minutes is more important to him than starting this season.
"It's going to be hard," Favors predicted of practices. "I'm just going to come out here and work hard and just let coach deal with it. I can't control that. I can just control how I play."
As for Kanter, he's not quite sure what to expect now that he's going to play after sitting out last year at Kentucky because of eligibility issues.
The Jazz's No. 3 pick from this past June's draft will give full effort, though.
"I'm just going to try to do my best, do what coach tell me to do," the 6-11, 259-pounder said. "I'm just trying to work hard."
The Jazz's interior depth could help him be taught and brought along gradually, although his reputation for rebounding could make him a valuable asset as well. Kanter welcomes competition and mentoring from veteran bigs.
"I think they're going to help me a lot … Al Jefferson and Mehmet Okur, because they've got lots of experience," he said. "I'm just rookie, so I can learn lots of things from them."
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