Monson: For Jazz to thrive, Favors and Kanter must play together
NBA • Team’s current tag-team approach not sustainable over long haul
Published: January 24, 2014 09:53AM
Updated: January 25, 2014 12:57PM
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Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert, right, defends against Utah Jazz's Enes Kanter, left, of Turkey, in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

For all the promising talk about the Jazz’s future with their core of talented young players, there’s a snag that hasn’t yet been smoothed, a puzzle that hasn’t yet been solved.

The Jazz have a compatibility problem.

A compatibility problem in the low post.

On the one hand, there’s Derrick Favors. On the other, there’s Enes Kanter. On the third hand — how many hands are there? — there’s Rudy Gobert.

Can’t we all just get along?

Kanter likes Favors — “When I miss my man on defense,” he says, “I know Derrick’s there to help” — and Favors likes Kanter. It’s not a personal issue, it’s a personnel issue. It has nothing to do with likability. It has everything to do with playability. Each of the big men has bumped and skidded and grown in more prominent roles through the first half of this season, with Kanter doing a lot more of the bumping and skidding.

Each has become a better player, revealing the kind of ability that suggests they’ll play in the NBA for a long, long time.

The question is: Will they play together?

Another one: Can they play together?

There have been stretches over the first half where Favors and Kanter looked horrible when they were on the floor at the same time. One was Fric, the other Frac. One looked lost, the other ineffective. One took up space on the block, the other got in the way.

It reached a point where Tyrone Corbin pulled the plug and started rotating the bigs. It wasn’t uncommon for Favors to start and for Kanter to spell him when Favors got in foul trouble or needed a blow. Against Detroit last week, they were on the court together for only a few minutes. Each of them played well, each helped the Jazz win. But they did it in a your-turn-my-turn sort of way.

That’s not exactly what the Jazz beamed up on the big screens in their brains when they acquired Favors and drafted Kanter. What they saw was a front line of the future that would be simultaneously formidable and fierce, with Favors and Kanter taking up the five and the four spots, doing their business, scoring and defending, hand in hand.

They did not see a tag-team approach. They did not see Sergeant Slaughter and Don Kernoodle. They did not see Mr. Fuji and Mr. Saito. They did not see Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan. They did not see the Rock and Roll Express.

Here’s what they did see: an athletic and long shot-blocker and rebounder who could score down low playing in tandem with a skilled power forward wielding a bulky body and a nice touch from distance. They envisioned a combo capable of sharing space on the floor at the offensive end and playing physical, tall-wall defense at the other.

They’re still waiting for the fulfillment of that vision.

It’s come in short spurts, but not yet over the long haul.

Corbin knows his team can’t get by with the youngsters clogging the middle, and he says they know it, too. It’s a matter of finding effective spacing and familiar patterns between the two. He also says it’s a matter of time: “As we go forward, it will be an opportunity for us to get better … the spacing they have to have when they’re on the floor, understanding how and when to cut when the other guy is posting up. Those things we are understanding better.”

Room for improvement is as large as the court is long.

Kanter isn’t fretting it, though.

“When I’m with [Derrick] on the floor,” he says, “I feel comfortable. He knows I like the right block and he likes the other. I go to one block, he goes to the other. We have the skills to do a lot of things.”

Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward concur.

“I definitely think they can play together,” Burke says. “With the offensive rebounding abilities they both have and with their abilities to play on the block, teams will have to start scratching down on them, and that’s when they can kick it out. It’s up to the rest of us to make plays from there. Enes can hit the outside shot and that’s the shot we try to get for him coming off the screen. He can knock that down. Those guys know where they’re supposed to be. It’s the point guard’s job to make the right read. We’ll all figure it out.”

Says Hayward: “They’re obviously young players, learning to be on the floor at the same time. They haven’t done it a lot. When they are, we have some big weapons, especially down low. They’re a lot to deal with. When Enes is able to hit the outside shot, they complement each other well. He is more finesse and can step out a little. Favs is good at rolling to the basket, catching and dunking. I can see it working.”

It has to work.

If it doesn’t, the Jazz’s plan must be altered, meaning somebody will have to be moved. Throw into that picture Gobert, who is a project, but a project with tantalizing upside, and the long-term outlook gets more complicated, more crowded. Part of the Jazz’s overall mantra is to stockpile valuable assets, currency they can use via trades to adjust whatever needs adjusting.

Right now, that view is cloudy, the adjusting in neutral.

That’s what this season is good for — clearing the fog. Corbin will have to play Favors and Kanter together more, perhaps at the expense of the win-loss record, to see what evolution comes, what progress is made. He should be building a front-line front line with staying power, not a your-turn-my-turn tag team like the Headbangers or Edge and Christian or the Brothers of Destruction.

If Kanter has to come off the bench, the Jazz eventually will have to go another way.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.

Tale of the tape

Player PPG FG% FT% RPG BPG

Derrick Favors 13.5 51.8 66.0 9.1 1.35

Enes Kanter 11.2 48.0 75.0 6.1 0.67