Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter both were selected in the lottery of their respective drafts, but this year marks the first time both will notch a starting role. Stuck behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap for the last two years Jazz Nation will finally be able to see what Favors and Kanter can do with big time minutes. But it will be a process before the two develop consistent performances in an NBA rotation like what Utah had with last year’s starters.
To start, Kanter has been a project since coming to the United States to play basketball. Enrolling at the University of Kentucky but never seeing the court because of ineligibility, Kanter got his first taste of basketball in America after being drafted third by the Jazz in 2011.
Kanter has a tremendous ability to turn on a beast mode switch. Last season which was the first in which he started getting consistent minutes he had several games in which he’d drop a huge double-double. Like for example last season when he scored 23 points and 22 rebounds in game against Charlotte and then followed it up going 18 and 10 the night after against Milwaukee. What’s promising is in both of those games Kanter had two of his three highest minute totals of the season, at 41 and 32, which leads one to believe he could continue production like that in a starting role.
Kanter is already a very skilled inside offensive player. He has an uncanny ability to obtain perfect inside position which leads to easy baskets. His efficiency speaks for itself with a 55% field goal average last season. One thing Jazz fans will like with seeing more Kanter is less, out-of-flow midrange jumpers that Al Jefferson enjoyed taking. Kanter can still step out and hit a 15 footer, but it’s not a shot he’s going to look to get. His defense may not be elite level but surely it will be an upgrade from Jefferson, one of the worst all-around defensive big men in the NBA. His ceiling as an overall player is sky high.
Despite the upside Kanter is still weak in terms of basketball IQ and he’s relatively untested guarding the starting center on a team. Granted it’s nearly impossible for any new player to successfully come in and contain players like Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol successfully without a year or two under the belt, so expect Kanter to get pounded this year simply because it’s the only way he’ll learn. A theme that relates to much of the jazz roster this season is inexperience. With Gordon Hayward now as the longest tenured Jazz player, (yikes) the Jazz lack veterans who can help soften the blow that will be hands on, learn-as-you-go play. Jefferson treated Kanter like a little brother so hopefully he was able to soak up what one of the best post centers in the league had to teach him, but much of the season Kanter will have games where he’ll really struggle, and his growth will depend on how he manages and learns from those struggles.
Favors is clearly the most talented starter on this year’s squad and can capitalize on his talents on both ends. Favor’s 7’4” wingspan has earned him recognition as part of Matt Harpring’s “Swat Lake City.” Favors averaged an impressive 1.7 blocks a game last season, having 5 games with 5 or more blocks and 12 games with 3. Along with his defensive presence Favors can express dominance on the attacking end as well, such as his high flying hammer on Matt Bonner last season to go along with several other highlight dunks. Favors has proven that he can make big time plays and now as the starter he’ll be expected to deliver.
Taking the spot of arguably the Jazz’s best player of the last 3 years, Favors is more proven than Kanter, but he still has some concerns that stick out. The major glaring stat is Favors tendency to foul last year. Favors finished 8th in the entire league in total fouls at 247 while only averaging 23 minutes a game. Marking him the second lowest in minutes in the top 20 players with most personal fouls. Clearly something like this could pose a problem for a team when he’s really only the true power forward on the roster.
Although the Jazz may acquire a minimum value guy to come in, the Jazz at times may have to experiment with the lineup if Favors is forced to hit the bench early in games. This could lead to maybe Kanter sliding over to PF giving Rudy Gobert and Andres Biedrins time at the 5. Favors also doesn’t have any bread and butter, go to post moves. Surely this season he needs to play smarter and define his offensive game. Millsap possessed the bullheaded, grind-it-out style of play that the Jazz relied on. Favors still has a way to go to reach that level of impact.
To add to the youth of the Jazz rookie center Rudy Gobert is poised to step in and take on a small role. The 7’2” Frenchman is freakish in size, with a 9’7” standing reach, an inch more than Yao Ming’s. Gobert is as raw as they come, because of his length and size he’ll be able to step in and fill a role defensively with the potential of becoming a real pest for offenses when it comes to blocks and deflections. At the other end Gobert still has a lot to learn to produce individually in the NBA as he really has no developed post game and no ability to hit a jump shot. Despite his size he’s not an elite post defender by any means either. Gobert isn’t a thick, which leads to him getting easily backed down and thrown around while rebounding.
One bright side is the potential for a pick and roll match made in heaven between Gobert and rookie Trey Burke, as both are quick guys with good pick and roll instincts who come from a good P&R background. Much of his success overseas stemmed from the ability to catch the lob. Gobert is arguably the Jazz biggest project. The best case scenario is that he can rise to become a player the caliber of a Roy Hibbert, a player who overcame questions of strength and toughness that Gobert faces. Worst case is that he follows the path of someone more like Hasheem Thabeet.
This year’s Jazz won’t be the hardnosed, veteran-like team of last year. The team’s big men have promising upside but lack a lot of experience, nearly the opposite of last year. The youth will lead to unpredictable successes and failures this season as the team tries to fill the shoes left behind by Millsap and Big Al.