Jazz General Manager Kevin O’Connor believes it takes three years to truly evaluate an NBA draft pick, and a Utah organization that prides itself on smooth consistency rarely makes snap judgements.
Forty-five games into the Jazz’s 2011-12 season, though, the initial results are in for first- and second-year players Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors: ahead of schedule and topping the charts.
Kanter, 19, was supposed to be a tedious project after the Jazz selected him with the No. 3 overall pick during the 2011 draft. He’s recently been a monster, racking up 21 points and 21 rebounds in Utah’s last two games, making the most of every minute he receives.
Burks was initially viewed as a reach when Utah picked him at No. 12 last summer, with many saying the 20-year-old from Colorado hit the lottery only because of a watered-down draft. After burning the Los Angeles Lakers for a season-high 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting Sunday during a 103-99 Jazz victory, the fearless slasher whom Kobe Bryant called “that young kid” only added to his name.
“I’m getting in a consistent rhythm because I’m getting consistent minutes now,” Burks said.
He added: “I already had [my game]. I couldn’t show nobody because I was on the sideline.”
Hayward poured in a season-high 26 points last Thursday during a win against Minnesota. A classic O’Connor gamble at No. 9 in the 2010 draft — viciously booed by Jazz fans on selection night — the soon-to-be 22-year-old is the only player besides Kanter to have played in all 45 of Utah’s games this season, and he ranks fourth on the team in average points (10) and third in assists (2.9).
Favors? The painfully shy young adult the Jazz acquired last season in the Deron Williams trade might be the best young talent Utah possesses. He has the potential to be an annual All-Star. And his beastly 23-point, 17-rebound outing Saturday during a victory against Golden State was followed by a 12-10 performance Sunday at Staples Center — his fifth double-double of the season.
“I’m loving every part of it,” Favors said.
It’s been a long time since the Jazz have stockpiled this much potential. So long that Utah lifer C.J. Miles can’t remember anything like this during his six-plus seasons in Salt Lake City.
Miles teamed with Williams, played with Wesley Matthews and helped form the bridge that linked the D-Will and Carlos Boozer years with the John Stockton and Karl Malone era.
But Kanter, Burks, Hayward and Favors are a collective, brimming with talent and lacking ego. They’re not just on schedule but also exceeding all initial expectations, and that’s created a whole new world. One few teams ever experience, and a scenario more associated with franchises such as Oklahoma City, Portland and Philadelphia that were forced to experience several seasons of pain just to see the light.
“It was never a group of guys, and they weren’t this young. ... It hasn’t been anything like this. Not even close,” Miles said.
The Jazz’s youth and depth have been crucial to the team’s success during a lockout-shortened season. Now, it’s become Utah’s biggest asset with a Western Conference playoff spot back in sight.
Before watching his team fall to a relentless late-game attack led by Burks and Kanter, Lakers coach Mike Brown acknowledged the Jazz’s young core is becoming impossible to ignore.
“Coach [Tyrone] Corbin’s done a nice job with the young group. … They do have a nice team,” Brown said.
Check The Tribune’s Jazz Notes blog at sltrib.com/Blogs/jazznotes for exclusive news, interviews, video and analysis.
Thunder vs. Jazz
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • 7 p.m., Tuesday
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records • Thunder 34-11, Jazz 23-22
Last meeting • Thunder, 111-85 (Feb. 14)
About the Thunder • Oklahoma City entered Monday with the second-best record in the NBA, trailing only Chicago. The Thunder are just 3-3 in their past six games, though. … Kevin Durant leads OKC in average points (27.7) and rebounds (7.9), while Russell Westbrook is tops in assists (5.5) and steals (1.7).
About the Jazz • Utah has won four of five and entered Monday tied with Phoenix for ninth place in the Western Conference, just a half-game behind eighth-place Houston. … After relying on Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap most of the season, the Jazz have four players averaging at least 10 points. Devin Harris (10.1) and Gordon Hayward (10) recently broke the barrier. … Utah ranks ninth out 30 teams in scoring (97.7) and rebounds (43.1), and 12th in assists (21.2).