Utah Jazz: Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter living up to NBA's 'Big Things Are Coming' theme
SALT LAKE CITY —
Early in training camp, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin witnessed an example of the competitive nature that burns inside a couple of his youngest and biggest players.
It was a sneak peek into what he could expect from Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter this season.
The Jazz were running a routine drill in which the ball is thrown off the backboard, the rebounder makes an outlet pass and a fast break play is executed.
Favors and Kanter both wanted the basketball in their hands.
Glass. Crash. Clash.
"They were fighting each other just for the rebound to get out into transition," Corbin said, smiling about the good problem. "I was excited about it from that day."
The second-year coach didn't say who won that particular boarding battle, but, heck, Corbin could be considered the clear winner.
The Jazz, too.
The powerful pups have continued to demonstrate an unrelenting desire to pound the boards — or anyone that gets in their way — while contributing toughness on defense and sharing an occasional glimpse of offensive promise.
It almost seems the league marketing staff had the 6-foot-10, 248-pound Favors and the 6-foot-11, 267-pound Kanter in mind when concocting a "Big Things Are Coming" motto for the 2011-12 NBA season.
"They're two big guys that's playing big," Corbin said.
Real big at times.
As you'd expect from the NBA's last two No. 3 picks.
Kanter began his NBA career with an 11-board effort against the Lakers, and the 19-year-old has banged bodies around in the block like a bruiser ever since. He also had a key put-back dunk late in Monday's win over New Orleans.
"Big Turkey (is) really responding well as far as learning a new offense, learning a new defense, might be learning a new language," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "But he (is) coming in and responding real well."
If Kanter is Big Turkey and Jefferson is Big Al, Atlanta-bred Favors could be called Big South.
Favors swatted five Milwaukee shots in Tuesday's win, showed his preseason monster game in Portland was no fluke by amassing a 20-point, 11-rebound performance in Utah's first win of the season against the 76ers last Friday, and has provided a powerful punch off the bench since struggling as the starting power forward the first two contests.
The potential-packed 20-year-old even had his name listed on the 2012 All-Star starters ballot along with teammates Devin Harris, Paul Millsap and Jefferson.
But Favors doesn't have stars in his eyes right now. He even humbly shrugged off the honor of being voted onto the candidate list.
"I don't look into all of that stuff," Favors said. "I just go out there and keep playing basketball."
Someday he'd love to make an All-Star team. He would even be thrilled to make the midseason sophomore team in February.
But Favors' mind is more set on the following: "Defense, rebounding, scoring when I get an opportunity, just playing."
Add punishing the rim and sending opponents' shots into the seventh row to that list.
That's precisely what Favors is doing when he gets in. His playing time hasn't increased dramatically from last season — he's averaging 23.5 minutes — because the Jazz have proven big guys like Jefferson and Paul Millsap who demand a lot of action.
But Favors' rebounding has gone way up (7.7 rpg) and his scoring has increased (8.7 ppg).
"He's learning where his advantages are, how much quicker he is than most big guys," Corbin said. "He's a sure-hand guy too."
The closer to the hoop the athletic and physically imposing Favors is, the better.
"One dribble and he's on top of the basket," Corbin said. "Or he can just explode and be right where he needs to be to finish."
"It's not really surprising with Derrick," Jefferson said. "You could see it in Derrick last year. He's just got the confidence this year."
Both Junior Jazz players are earning their coach's confidence as well. Sure, they're raw. They make mistakes and occasionally silly fouls. Corbin wants to see them get out in the open court more on transition, and continue to learn how to play together (which he says they've been improving on).
"They're coming along," Corbin said.
It helps that effort and physical play have accompanied Favors and Kanter onto the court every night so far.
"They're bringing a lot of toughness and a lot of energy. Their defensive presence has been good," Jefferson said. "Their rebounding has been real good, blocked shots have been wonderful. They're giving us a big lift off the bench, especially in times that we start slow. They're coming in and showing us how it's supposed to be done."
Kanter has showed this year's crop of NBA rookies how rebounding should be done. The kid with vice grips for hands leads all newcomers with an average of 5.5 boards a night. Most impressive: Kanter averages one rebound every 2.7 minutes, which puts him in the top 15 for all players.
Corbin credits Kanter's positioning and astute sense of anticipation for his knack of rebounding.
"He reads where the shot's coming from and he does his work early," Corbin said. "He starts getting closer to the basket when he thinks a shot is going, so he's engaging guys trying to get the advantage of trying to get into position early."
Then there's the brute force aspect of Kanter's style.
"He is physical. He's a big young guy who can take a pounding and deliver it, too," Corbin said. "He wants the ball, so if it's in his area he really does a good job of trying to attack where the ball is."
Favors, Millsap and Jefferson know that from first-hand experience in practice.
"He's going after every ball," Jefferson said of Kanter. "I hate guarding him because I've got to block him out, and it's hard because he's moving nonstop."
Though very raw still, Kanter has shown offensive moves in the past few games. His soft touch from the free-throw line suggests a mid-range game could be in his future arsenal.
"We're holding that back," Corbin joked. "He wants to make guys pay by trying to stop him in the paint, and he can certainly do that."
Corbin doesn't mind at all if Kanter's jumpshots are introduced later, but he wants him doing damage down low for now.
"That's where big guys make their name in this league," the former 16-year NBA player said.
The soft-spoken rookie, who sat out last season at Kentucky, doesn't mind focusing on the dirty work now.
"I want to do just defense and rebound," Kanter said. "That's what coach tell me to do, just go touch every rebound and have a good defense, so I'm just trying to do my best … and that's what my teammates need."
Kanter specifically credited veterans Jamaal Tinsley, Earl Watson, Raja Bell and Jefferson for filling in the mentoring role in the aftermath of his Turkish compatriot, Mehmet Okur, being traded to New Jersey.
"They're helping me out a lot," he said. "They're telling me what to do. I feel so comfortable."
Jefferson has been willing to impart the wisdom he's gleaned over his first seven seasons with Favors and Kanter, and he's been impressed by the way it's been received.
"I'll be in their ear all the time. They listen, they ask questions and they're performing well," Jefferson said. "I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing to help them."
Funny. The bigs with bright futures will tell you they'll just keep doing what they can to help their teammates, too.
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