Utah Jazz: Young big men Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors aim to live up to big expectations
Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz are convinced that, given time, their two young big guys are gonna come up, well, very big indeed.
As in mind-boggling big. As in game-changing gigantic. As in difference-making monstrous.
As of now, though, 6-foot-11, 248-pound center Enes Kanter and 6-10, 263-pound forward/center Derrick Favors are both still a work that's very much in progress.
And that work will likely continue in earnest for many more months to come.
Sure, Kanter came up with a huge first-quarter showing in last Wednesday's preseason loss to Portland. He poured in 16 points in the opening period on his way to a team-leading 23-point night.
But don't forget that the third-year big man from Turkey was forced to miss several months of court time after dislocating his left shoulder late last season, an injury that required surgery and subsequent rehabilitation. He has averaged just 12 points and five rebounds through Utah's first four preseason games.
With his mentor, former Jazz center Al Jefferson, having signed in the offseason with the Charlotte Bobcats, Kanter becomes Utah's main presence in the paint along with Favors.
"I think he's coming along," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said of Kanter. "One of the things we have to consider with him is he missed a good six months from last year through the summer, being on the floor and being able to (work out) with the guys, so he's working his way back into basketball shape. And I think he's making great strides.
"You see the intrasquad game, he had a good night, and then he kind of fell off from there and then the first couple of preseason games were maybe not his best games. And then he had a good game the other night. So as he gets himself back into basketball shape, I think his play will become more consistent on the offensive end."
Corbin said Kanter's biggest issues right now are his "conditioning and basketball feel with bodies (banging around in the paint), and trusting his shoulder is completely healed and not being apprehensive there. And I think he's getting better every day."
The 21-year-old Kanter admitted that, prior to Wednesday night's preseason game against the Trail Blazers, Coach Corbin and Co. gave him a pep talk that helped get him fired up and ready to play.
He responded by hitting his first eight shots and scoring 16 points in what was essentially a first-quarter layup drill for the guy they call "Big Turkey."
"Before the game, my coaches gave me lot of confidence, you know," he said. "They say, 'It's OK that you didn't play last few months and have usual summer.' And I felt really good about it and I feel that when Coach give me this kind of confidence and when my teammates give me that confidence, I went out there and I was like, 'I've got to do this. I've got to help my teammates to win and I've got to put myself 100 percent and focus on what I need to focus on.' So that's how I went out there."
Asked if he subconsciously worries about reinjuring his surgically repaired shoulder, Kanter said, "Not really. I'm going out there with 100 percent. I'm not even thinking about my shoulder. My shoulder feels really good."
Favors, meanwhile, has had a couple of strong rebounding performances thus far in the preseason. He had 14 boards, along with 10 points, in Utah's preseason-opening win against Golden State, and he pulled down 17 rebounds to go along with 10 points in Wednesday's loss to Portland.
The 22-year-old Favors, who will start and play the majority of minutes at power forward with longtime Jazzman Paul Millsap's offseason departure to Atlanta, has also swatted away three enemy shots twice thus far in the preseason.
Coach Corbin likes what he sees from Favors on the defensive end, although the big kid's offense — he's averaging just 7.8 points through Utah's first four preseason games — still has a long way to go.
"I like his ability, his quickness off the floor, the range that he has with his body and the way he can cover an area from point A to point B," Corbin said of Favors' defensive effort. "His communication is getting better at directing guys from the back.
"I think that he has an opportunity to be one of the best big-men defenders in the league this year, and we're looking forward to him growing in that area for us to be good defensively as a team."
Of Favors' offense, Corbin said, "It's growing.
"We have to find ways to get him the ball when he has an advantage," the Jazz coach said. "We have to move him around a little bit because he's so quick and so mobile for a big man. As we work on it and he gets better with his one-on-one, low-post moves, he can score in different ways for us through his movement."
Favors admitted that his focus has always been on playing defense and rebounding, and that the offensive part of his game has never been his primary concern.
"I feel I'm doing good," he said prior to Friday morning's practice at Zions Bank Basketball Center. "That's what I am — I'm a rebounder and a defensive player first — and I just let the offense come to me. But overall I think I'm doing good."
For Favors to improve his scoring numbers, he said it's essential for him to "just get into the flow of the game early, get into a rhythm, get myself going early in games. I'm just working on little touch shots around the basket, baseline jumpers, just things like that just to get myself going."
So is he enjoying his new-found role as one of the cornerstones of this young and rebuilding Jazz team?
"Of course, of course, I'm loving it right now," he said. "I know it's a lot of pressure, but I'm not opposed to it. I'm just going out there and playing my game."
Right now, he says his responsibility is to "just anchor the defense because I see everything because I'm in the paint most of the time, so just really anchor the defense, rebound, and just help guys out.
"I've always been good at defense; I like playing defense, and it's just something I've always been good at, and that's something the coaches want me to do now.
"I go out there and I do what I need to do," he said. "If I get the job done, you know, the coaches love it; the front office loves it, and that's the only thing that matters."
He'd love to pattern his game after what he saw out of Dwight Howard when the big man was a mainstay for the Orlando Magic. But not, as he laughed with the media, the disgruntled Howard that fans saw struggle last season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
"Coming out there, being aggressive from the jump ball ... imitate how Dwight was in Orlando — affect the shot, block the shot, get the rebound and start the fast break, beat your man down the court and get a dunk," Favors said of Howard and some of the league's other defensive-dominating big men.
"Those are the type of things those guys do and I try to watch them and just learn from them — not the Dwight in L.A.," he smiled. "The Dwight in Orlando was a monster; hopefully, he'll get back to that."
And if the Jazz can get Favors and Kanter to play like monsters someday soon, too, then this whole rebuilding project may very well turn out to be a prizewinner.
INJURY UPDATE: Forward Jeremy Evans missed Friday's practice with a strain of his right rotator cuff. He will travel with the team but is doubtful for Sunday's preseason game at Oklahoma City. Guard Lester Hudson, battling a sprained left ankle, also sat out Friday's practice and will be a game-time decision Sunday. Rookie center Rudy Gobert also missed Friday's practice so he could go see a doctor about his sore left shoulder.
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