The big question: Can Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter anchor the Utah Jazz's frontcourt together?
Despite the positive statements, the Favors-Kanter duo had the second-worst plus/minus scoring differential rating of the Jazz's top 20 two-man combos: minus-12.1 points per 48 minutes. (Kanter and Jefferson were the worst of the main pairings at -12.8, according to NBA.com/stats.)
Lindsey blamed some of Kanter's early struggles on his shoulder-surgery rehabilitation. The center’s 2012-13 season ended prematurely after he suffered a dislocated left shoulder in late March, an injury that required a minor reattachment surgery in April. He was then unable to fully participate in basketball-related activities for six months, putting him behind physically when training camp began in October.
Kanter was quickly relegated to a reserve role and then slumped during an extended stretch in the middle of the season until breaking out with a strong finish for the final month and a half. The earlier struggles gave some cause to openly wonder if he's got what it takes to be a leading man in the middle. Even so, the 6-11 center capped off his third NBA season by averaging 13.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in March and April. He averaged 12.3 points and 7.5 rebounds over the course of the season.
“It took Enes a few months into the regular season to develop a good rhythm,” Lindsey said. “One of Enes’ best strengths is his rebounding ability. He has that natural ability. I thought even his rebounding, his timing and his rhythm suffered a little bit because of the inactivity (last) summer. The last two months specifically we saw a big uptick. You saw several Enes-like rebounding games.”
In that category, Kanter was especially impressive in April when he had five straight double-digit rebounding games, including a career-high 19 boards against Dallas.
The biggest knocks against Kanter were his defense and the lack of fluidity on offense during those inconsistent minutes with Favors.
“I think his post game is improving. The defense (issue) is well-documented. We’ll have those conversations,” Lindsey said. “The challenge to Enes is, ‘Be as physical on defense as you are on offense.’ Enes is very smart. He’s a very committed kid and I think he’ll accept the challenges to move forward defensively.”
While Kanter showed an improved mid-range game, Favors’ offensive improvement and all-around consistency were among the highlights in a Jazz season that didn’t include many highlights. The 6-10 center was rarely an offensive beast while averaging 13.3 points on 52.2 percent shooting. But his offensive contributions were fairly reliable, and he showed more moves than in previous years when he was backing up Millsap. Combine that offensive increase with his defensive prowess, and Favors was arguably the team’s MVP for the 2013-14 campaign.
Despite hopes for the future, Favors seemed to function better when he was paired up with a big man who could (or was allowed to) stretch the floor with outside shooting. Williams was usually that man charged with hanging out on the perimeter, allowing the 22-year-old to roam freer in the paint.
The Jazz want — and need — even more from Favors in the future.
“(We) posed a strong challenge to Derrick Favors. He’s playing off his ability. Derrick’s a very intelligent player, an instinctive player. We think there’s two more levels that he can hit as he improves his conditioning, his activity level, his intensity level,” Lindsey said. “I think there are a couple of more steps that he can take, that (he) could be our franchise piece if there’s internal growth.”
Kanter, who hopes to extend his green-light area beyond the 3-point line next season, is optimistic the Jazz will get that development and improvement from both guys going ahead.
“I think we can play together," Kanter said. "It’s my third year now with him and I feel so much more comfortable with him on the court — offensively, defensively, both sides on the court — because he’s helping me know what he’s going to do and he knows what I’m going to do on defense and offense.
"The people out there that thinks that (we can’t play together) is wrong," he added. "I don’t care. People’s going to talk. People can say whatever they want to say. In the end, it’s me and him playing out there.”
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