SALT LAKE CITY — They aren’t in the same conversation, but one thing can be said of Karl Malone and his protégés: They’re on the same page.
Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are the new Jazz big men, slotted to fill the vacancy left by Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. That’s a sizable gap. But if you ask a certain big game-hunting hall of famer, they’re All-Star material.
“Without a doubt,” said Malone, who worked out with each during the off-season. “Let’s not smooth over the fact that there are great expectations here. I understand people want to bring them along slowly and they’re not superstars, but let’s not hide behind the fact that these guys are very talented.
“I’ll tell you straight up these guys have the talent to be as good or as great as they want to be.”
But that doesn’t mean there’s any pressure, just because a hall of famer says so.
OK, yes it does.
“I love pressure,” Kanter said, smiling.
“I have confidence in my game,” Favors said.
The Jazz kicked off camp on Monday with their annual media day. It included an assortment of hopefuls and veterans. But this year is different. Although Kanter and Favors are only 21 and 22, respectively, they’re already among the team’s best-known players. In bypassing Millsap and Jefferson, the Jazz gave a vote of confidence to their young low post players. Then the team recruited the Mailman to hone their skills.
No, he wasn’t there to teach them how to skin a bear. He flew to Salt Lake to work with both players and came away impressed and ebullient.
“It’s game time now. These guys have the talent. You might look up and see them getting double-doubles and it surprises everyone, but it won’t surprise me,” Malone said.
The Mailman has never been one to downplay expectations. This is the guy who once said he wanted to be Salt Lake’s mayor if the Jazz won the NBA title. Nor is he one to ignore a player’s work ethic. Remember his outbursts at Greg Ostertag? More than once he labeled the former Jazz center an out-of-shape so-and-so.
Meanwhile, Mr. Two Percent Body Fat never had much tolerance for casual training — and still doesn’t at age 50.
“Right now, I think (Malone) can play 20 minute easy,” Kanter said. “I would hate to play against him. He was just so strong, he was showing a couple moves and I was like bruised because he was real strong.”
Favors said Malone could play 10-15 minutes “before his knees start hurting.”
Yet to say Malone is browbeating the two young players into climbing Ensign Peak every morning is a misnomer. Malone said conditioning is in the hands of Jazz assistant Mark McKown.
“Mine’s all about court stuff and technique,” Malone said.
In that case, aspiring David Robinsons and Isiah Thomases better look out. There could be some Mail-elbows in the air.
“He taught me some secrets that I cannot say,” Kanter said.
“It was an unbelievable experience just being around him; he’s a Hall of Fame guy,” Favors said. “Everybody know him; he’s Karl Malone. Just those two-three hours spent with him is a moment I’ll never forget.”
Although both are 14 All-Star games away from Malone, he said they have ability he didn’t at that age. Malone was 24 when he made his first All-Star appearance.
“I’m not going to lie. I’m going to say these guys have a skill set that is pretty awesome,” Malone said.
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Coach Tyrone Corbin said he doesn’t like to put specific expectations on players. However, Malone has no such reservations.
“This is go time,” he said. “But I do feel these young men could carry the Utah Jazz franchise. Injuries and things can happen, but there’s no reason these kids can’t carry the franchise for years. I’m talking 10 years.”
No pressure. Really.
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