There was something different about Enes Kanter.
He snarled. His easy, joking manner was absent. The silly postgame grin was Audi Five-Thou. The goofiness was gone, too, most of it. He was pug-lipped and long-faced. He was as serious as a county two-lane head-on. He was exactly what the Jazz hope he will be after a loss this season, and maybe even after a win. He was dissatisfied and … hungry.
"I’m pissed," he said.
Man. You turn around twice and the kids are on the other side of a threshold you didn’t even know they’d crossed.
Kanter is all grown up and getting angry now. It seems like just yesterday he was a bit of a wag, "a clown in the locker room" as he characterized himself, acting like a big puppy dog after games and, between them, like a hound dog, sitting at a Salt Lake City restaurant tweeting invitations for any lonely women out there to come join him.
No, this was the opposite of that — a changed man on a divergent path, a driven man with significant big-boy business to attend to.
Even after leading his team in scoring (23 points), hitting his first eight shots — jumpers, spinners, layups — in that loss to Portland on Wednesday night, after being named the player of the game, the 21-year-old Turk expected a whole lot more. He reproved the one person he was most disappointed in — himself.
"It’s making me down and frustrated that I cannot play like how I want to play," he said.
That’s been a theme this preseason: Kanter, coming off offseason shoulder surgery and rehab, beating himself up for not yet having his complete game. He said he’s getting there. His shoulder has no pain, but his movements on the floor and around the basket are "not 100 percent."
"That’s why I have to work on my game more," he said. "More conditioning. Running. I’m going to start running after practices."
There were moments of brilliance on Wednesday night — the Jazz would have been dead without him in the first half — and moments of boneheadedness.
Over one sequence, Kanter got called for an illegal screen, took a pass in the post, made a sweet move, banking in a leaner, squibbed up a teardrop over Robin Lopez, drew a foul against Lopez, allowed Lopez to spin around him as though Kanter had stone feet, committed a dumb offensive foul and shanked a jumper from the elbow.
"I got five fouls," he said, shaking his head in disgust, ignoring his early eight straight makes. "I have to be more careful. … It was my fault. I didn’t do my job good."
Accountability, apparently, isn’t going to be much of a problem for Kanter this time around. He said he feels the weight the Jazz have put upon him and he owes them his full attention and effort.
"I have to respect what Utah Jazz have done this summer. I cannot do whatever I was doing last year, you know, be the clown in the locker room and just laugh, whatever. I have to take this seriously and help the other young guys get better. … Utah Jazz made a lot of changes not just for me, but for us. The young guys need to step up and show our talents."
Gordon Hayward nodded in agreement, saying: "This is Enes’ third year, so he’s definitely capable of being a leader. Leading by example is something he should do."
Still, Ty Corbin said there will be two steps up, one step back, one step up, two steps back in the months ahead for Kanter:
"It’s a new role for him to be in, being a starter and being a go-to guy. Learning how to carry that, how to continue when you’re going good, how not to relax and take shortcuts, setting the right screen and staying close to the basket and being in the right position, how aggressive to be defensively, even if your offense is going, playing the complete game and having a great game and not just a good game.
"He’s young. There’s a lot of stuff we’re throwing at him. There’s a lot of responsibility being put on him to be a guy we can count on every night."
With the aforementioned snarl, Kanter said he’s happy to take on all of that. But not happy like a clown.
"I can laugh," he said. "But I’m pissed that we lost the game, so I don’t want to laugh right now."
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM..
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