Enes Kanter wouldn’t dance.
No prodding from Jazz teammate Gordon Hayward, no pleas from thousands of fans and no degree of obligation to join the rookies once again in the dance-off preceding the annual scrimmage at EnergySolutions Arena could pull Kanter out of his chair.
And then he went out and performed well on the court Saturday, making a nice impression in his return from shoulder surgery by scoring 15 points in the Blue team’s 44-43 victory. So it would make a good story if Kanter’s unwillingness to dance reflected his new, more serious demeanor. Or would it?
Turns out, Kanter just was unprepared for the invitation by Hayward, the dance-off host, with no material in mind. Otherwise? Absolutely.
“I killed it last year, by the way,” he said, in case anyone needed reminding.
There’s always a takeaway from this exercise, amid the danger of overreaction to a practice session. The story last October was Hayward’s improved shooting, and that development proved to be valid. So history suggests there’s nothing wrong with finding hope in Kanter’s growth.
Saturday’s event offered more than 7,000 fans a first glimpse of the new-look Jazz, a team created by the departures of several veterans. As Kanter said, “A lot of the guys left, so it’s just us left.”
First impressions? These guys are bigger, bolder and more colorful. That’s what a stunning, new video display system will do for you. The center-hung boards are spectacular, which means the mistakes the Jazz make this season will be magnified.
The organization wants to enhance the fan experience, while making the entire system fully operational by Opening Night, Oct. 30 vs. Oklahoma City. The actual score was displayed only with a TV-style graphic at the bottom of the screens Saturday. That fails to explain why guard Alec Burks drove for a layup in the last few seconds with the White team trailing by three points.
Played in two 20-minute halves with a running clock, the session was entertaining, in its own way. The Blue produced a 17-0 run spanning the brief halftime, then the White immediately responded with a 16-0 burst, and the teams played about evenly to the anticlimactic finish.
Then again, nobody wanted to play overtime after a long, tough week of training camp.
“Guys are tired and their legs are pretty far gone,” Hayward said, “but I thought it was a solid week, for sure.”
The players were energized by the crowd, as the newcomers were appearing at ESA for the first time in advance of Tuesday’s preseason opener vs. Golden State.
“We were surprised by how many people showed up,” rookie point guard Trey Burke said.
Jazz president Randy Rigby told the fans, “Thank you … for believing in us.”
Well, admission was free. A further check of the marketplace’s interest level in February or March is recommended, but who knows? This team might be worth watching, even then.
“They understand the opportunity that’s in front of them,” coach Tyrone Corbin said before a recent practice, citing the battle for roster spots, rotation minutes and priority in the offensive scheme. Kanter is one of them. Kanter is positioned to become the starting center now that Al Jefferson is gone to Charlotte. He’s likely to remain the team’s flashiest dresser and a playful jokester in interviews, but he just might be able to mix that personality with on-court determination.
“He’s been working his butt off,” Corbin said.
Kanter’s second Jazz season ended March 27, when he dislocated his shoulder in a home game against Phoenix. Surgery led to a summer of rehabilitation, so he’s just now getting back into basketball. That made for some struggles in the first week of camp, but the results of Kanter’s work with Jazz legend Karl Malone already are showing.
“When time goes on, it’s going to be better,” Kanter said.
With his big body and a series of moves in the low post, Hayward said, “He should own that block.”
Kanter also could have owned the dance-off (won by Burke), but backed off, surprisingly. The fans booed. Apparently, they’ll tolerate some deficiencies of this young team, but not a lack of effort.