CLEVELAND — In multiple ways, this has been a rebound season for Enes Kanter.
Not only is the Utah Jazz center on the rebound from being forced to take a year off at Kentucky because of NCAA eligibility issues, but he's also seemingly gotten his hands on just about every rebound that comes his way.
The 6-foot-11 big man is sixth in the NBA in rebounding rate (16.7 boards per 48 minutes). He's also the third-leading rookie rebounder (5.0 per game) despite only averaging 14.5 minutes.
With that in mind, Kanter did something — rather, didn't do something — last week for the first time in his life.
In Wednesday's win over the Houston Rockets, Kanter logged just over 10 minutes but didn't get any boards.
"I think," he said with a grin, "it was the first game I didn't get any rebounds."
Ever. Including all of those games growing up in Turkey, his short prep career in California and his fledgling pro career.
"I wasn't feeling good," Kanter explained. "I was feeling sick. I'm still not used to that (Utah) weather yet. I was still a little bit cold."
Some energy drinks and medicine helped Kanter — hopefully a good coat will be in his future — and he was back to crashing the glass Friday against Miami.
Kanter's mindset against the Heat was: "Last game, I didn't have any rebounds. Now this game I have to get rebounds and try to help my teammates like that."
In other words, like he always does. Except once. Ever.
While grabbing six rebounds, Kanter also did something in Friday's game that made one of his Jazz mentors very happy. Center Al Jefferson has been harping on the youngster to not bring the ball down when he grabs offensive boards.
"In my opinion," Jefferson said, "that's his only major default is just making himself small."
Guilty, as charged, Kanter admitted.
"After offensive rebounds, I always bring it down. I know I'm not supposed to bring it down; I was just bringing it down," Kanter said. "As soon as I bring it down, people were just stealing it. I was looking at the bench, I was like, 'Don't do it again, don't do it again.' (Jefferson) just started to tell me if you bring it down the guards are going to slap it and going to try to steal it."
Jazz coaches have also tried to help Kanter, already a strong defensive presence, go up strong for putback buckets to take full advantage of his hard work.
"I (have been) working out with Coach (Mike) Sanders. He has big pads," Kanter said. "When I got the rebound, he punched me with pads."
One of the Jazz's smallest and oldest players has also continued to be a big source of help for Kanter. Jamaal Tinsley even listened in on part of this Kanter interview to see what the rookie was saying. Sharing his knowledge is one way the rarely used veteran has made himself a valuable asset to the Jazz.
"It's just me trying to help him out and letting him know basketball is a position sport," Tinsley said. "Sometime you don't got to worry about being so athletic. You can get angles and position on the court. (I'm) just letting him know this is a tough game, just trying to teach him what the NBA (is) about."
Tinsley has another role when it comes to Kanter, who's still learning English. Kanter's father told him how to say his name and "hello" when they moved to the U.S. from Turkey in 2009. His communication skills have come a long way since then — they've improved since training camp, too — but he relies on his buddy from Brooklyn.
"He's translator for me," Kanter said. "He's helping me a lot."
That's not to say Tinsley talks Turkish.
"He's talking slow English," Kanter said, chuckling.
"If that's what you want to call it," Tinsley said.
Added Kanter: "He knows my English isn't that good. If I don't understand coaches or players, I'm always asking him, 'What does that mean?' He's always telling me."
Jefferson said Kanter has been receptive to his pointers — usually.
"He don't have no other choice," Jefferson said, matter-of-factly. "You get on him. You tell him something, he listens. You can tell he try to improve in it and learn from his mistakes."
"He act like he don't hear sometimes when you get on him," he said. "But he understands."
Kanter flashed a smile when told his teammate is on to him.
"Sometimes I'm using that excuse. It's my second language. If I don't want to hear something I'm saying, 'I didn't understand. What did you say?'" he said. "Yeah, I'm getting so much better. ... I'm just learning a lot. It's just helping me on the court, off the court."
Jefferson said Kanter's confidence is booming, especially when it comes to putting up mid-range jumpers. That 15-16-foot shot and face-up game remains an area of focus for Kanter, who has a nice soft touch.
Tinsley has noticed an improvement in the Turkish teen's mental toughness.
"He don't whine. He don't complain about certain things. Young guys they can tend to complain and worry about things," Tinsley said. "Every night he just go out there and play his minutes no matter if it's five, 10 minutes, and that's real good."
Coach Ty Corbin likes that Kanter is doing a better job of "being big" and using his massive frame to his advantage. But the rookie is learning that his size won't always allow him to push around NBA players who are often similar in stature and strength.
The Jazz coach still wants to see improvement in the way Kanter times his low-post moves. Progression has been made, but Kanter can't rely on trying to get a foul called instead of just pushing through and trying to finish with force.
"But, you know what man," Corbin added, "from the beginning of the year and training camp, he's making tremendous strides."
Kanter is quick to thank teammates and coaches for his wide-ranging improvement, including in the communication department.
"He should learn more English. He do a lot of talking," Tinsley joked. "He's a great guy and a good teammate. Everybody wants him to do good."
Jazz at Cavaliers
Tonight, 5 p.m.
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