Los Angeles • It is easy to understand, all at once, both the hope and the concern.
There was Derrick Favors, the 6-foot-10 forward, pulling down 17 rebounds earlier this month against the Portland Trail Blazers, blocking shots and finishing at the rim. There was Enes Kanter, barrel chested and barely 21 years old, backing down defenders, and hitting jump shots en route to 23 points.
But if the duo starts for the Utah Jazz opening night as is expected, it will be just the second time in the regular season the two big men have been in the same starting five.
The Jazz have invested — some may say gambled — much on the young frontcourt, letting proven veterans Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson walk to give Favors and Kanter a chance.
Jazz small forward Richard Jefferson cautions: It will take some time.
“They’re going to need more time playing together,” he said Monday in Los Angeles. “You look at [the Clippers’] DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin; these guys have played together for four years now. Those are things where you learn and you grown from each other. [The pairing of Favors and Kanter] is something that’s great for the future and right now you have to kind of work with them and help them improve.”
There are certainly reasons for optimism.
Through five preseason games, Favors leads the league in rebounding with 10.6 boards a game. Jazz coach Ty Corbin believes the 22-year-old from Georgia Tech has “an opportunity to be one of the best big men defenders in the league this year.”
The Jazz risked plenty for Favors, the centerpiece of the package Utah got in return for All-Star point guard Deron Williams, and the Jazz front office doubled down on Favors last week, announcing a multi-year contract extension worth a reported $49 million.
General manager Dennis Lindsey said Favors represents the future of post defenders.
“The way the NBA is going, the bigs have to be mobile enough to cover in pick and roll, but they have to be big enough to deny a spot and hopefully have enough length and lift to block a shot,” Lindsey said. “Does that describe who we have? I think it does.”
And where Favors’ offensive game struggles, Kanter seems willing to pick up the slack.
Kanter, by far the better offensive player at this juncture, is second on the team in scoring this preseason, averaging 12.6 points a night.
On one possession Sunday night in Oklahoma City, the 6-11 Turk faced the basket, dribbled into the post, pivoted and spun for a basket. On the next possession, he hit a running hook shot in the lane.
Corbin, meanwhile, says Kanter’s game should improve as he continues to work his way back from a shoulder surgery that cut his season short last year.
“He missed a good six months last year and this summer of being on the floor and being able to move around with guys,” the coach said. “He’s working his way back to basketball shape.”
There have been questions about which position each is best suited for, but Corbin sees Favors and Kanter interchangeable depending on the matchup.
“Right now, we’re moving both around and playing different opponents in different positions,” he said. “Offensively, they’ll play both high and they’ll both play low, some.”
Favors and Kanter played 706 minutes together on the floor last year. In that time, they showed signs of the defensive improvement Corbin and the Jazz hope to see this year. Favors and Kanter allowed 98.3 points per 100 possessions. Utah’s primary frontcourt of Millsap and Jefferson allowed 107.6.
With each game, Kanter said he and Favors are developing better chemistry.
“I’ve been playing with Derrick, this is going to be my third year,” Kanter said. “I just feel real comfortable with him. I know he’s got my back and he knows I got his back.”
But after Sunday’s 88-82 loss to the Thunder, Favors acknowledged there’s a ways yet to go.
“We’re still working,” he said. “Still have a lot of stuff we have to work on.”
Jazz at Lakers
P At Staples Center (Los Angeles)
Tipoff • Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
About the Jazz • After opening the preseason with a blowout win over Golden State, the Jazz have lost four straight. … Swingman Gordon Hayward leads the team in scoring at 15 ppg. … Forward Derrick Favors just signed a multi-year extension, reportedly worth $49 million over four years. He leads the league in rebounding (10.6 rpg) in the preseason. … The Jazz have been held below 39 percent shooting in each of their last two games.
About the Lakers • Kobe Bryant is still rehabbing from an achilles injury suffered late last season. … Forward Pau Gasol leads the team with 14.2 ppg. … Added former Clippers center Chris Kaman to the frontcourt after losing Dwight Howard to Houston. … Point guard Steven Nash is dealing with a left ankle injury but is expected to play Tuesday.
Here’s how different Jazz frontcourts stacked up last season. The offensive rating shows points scored per 100 possessions. Defensive rating shows points allowed per 100 possessions.
Pairing Offensive rating Defensive rating Minutes played together
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap 105.1 107.6 1,858
Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors 102.7 108.5 725
Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter 99.4 98.3 706
Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter 107.4 93.6 445
Derrick Favors and Paul Millsap 107.3 102.7 169