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Kragthorpe: Utah Jazz hope Enes Kanter's preseason showing is genuine

Published October 24, 2012 4:03 pm

NBA • Jazz big man has firmed up, is more focused on improvement.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When he returned from his native Turkey to join the Jazz's summer-league team, he was a bigger ­— but not necessarily better — Enes Kanter.

First stop: weigh-in. "The scale won't lie," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin.

Now that the 6-foot-11 Kanter is slimmed down by about 50 pounds from that high of 293 and appears toned to a stunning degree, the issue is whether his impressive October performance is completely valid. Through seven preseason games, he's averaging 12 points and nine rebounds in 20.7 minutes, shooting 57 percent.

Do those statistics lie? The Jazz want to believe otherwise.

"They're true numbers," Corbin said.

Those minutes may have come mostly against reserves and players who will populate the waiver wire next week, but Kanter's work is at least a sign of genuine improvement, the promise of what's to come from a second-year player who's only 20. He wants more, which is good.

"It's not where I want to be," Kanter said Wednesday, following a lengthy pre-practice session in the weight room. "I always want to get better."

He should. He must. Somehow, the expectations for Kanter seem lower than for Derrick Favors, even though each once was a No. 3 overall draft pick. Kanter is a year younger (and played no college basketball), which gives him more time to grow, but the standards eventually will be the same for him. He's performed better than Favors this month, a phenomenon that's equally encouraging and discouraging. The plus is that Kanter should give the Jazz's second unit some production at center — even if 12 points/nine rebounds is obviously too much to ask.

"I have so much confidence now for the regular season," Kanter said.

His performance has been reassuring, after he came into training camp facing more questions about his social media exploits than his basketball preparation. Instead of becoming another clown in the Kyrylo Fesenko tradition, Kanter has shown he's serious about improving.

The proof: "Paying attention," said Jazz center Al Jefferson, his mentor. "He's listening ­— to the coaches, to me. He's learning. He's going out and performing on the court."

So as the Jazz prepare for their final preseason game Thursday against Portland at EnergySolutions Arena, Kanter's reviews are good. The next issue is taking what's he done in October into the 82-game regular season, producing against genuine NBA players and making an impact in fewer minutes. Much like Favors, Gordon Hawyard and Alec Burks, Kanter can dictate the Jazz's future.

"I think what he's doing is real for him … and the improvement he's made," Corbin said.

Kanter is posting up strong, demanding the ball and passing when double-teamed. He's looking like the player who once dominated the smaller defender the Jazz sent him against in a pre-draft workout in 2011 — Corbin himself, using his 6-foot-6 frame and undisclosed weight.

"Just trying to resist him a little bit," Corbin said then. "I don't think I weigh enough to hold him back."

Since then, Kanter has weighed a lot more, and then a lot less. "He's a young guy, trying to figure out his body," Corbin said. "Next year, he may gain weight."

So that current number of 242 pounds may fluctuate. So, in all likelihood, will his number of points and rebounds. At this stage, the Jazz will take whatever they can get from Kanter. In the years to come, they'll want consistency.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com