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Utah Jazz: Enes Kanter taking lumps and steps forward

Published April 3, 2014 10:26 pm

Jazz • Third-year center has struggled to meet expectations, but is making progress.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

He's heard the instruction barked at him from the sideline, to hurry up the floor, to rotate quicker on defense. And more than once this season, Enes Kanter has been pulled aside for some fiery advice and criticism from his coach.

"He expects me to do more things," the Jazz center says. "That's why."

For Kanter and the Jazz's young foundation, this season has been about more: more minutes, more responsibility and, ultimately, more losses.

"It's harder than I thought," said Kanter, who came into the season looking for a starting job and a chance to prove the team's critiques wrong. "I have more responsibility. They're looking at you. They expect you to do more things. It's definitely harder than I thought."

Heading into Friday night's tilt with the New Orleans Pelicans, the Jazz have racked up a record of 23-52. And Kanter, the third-year center out from Turkey, has only recently re-emerged in the team's starting lineup.

But while the season has been frustrating at times, there have been rewards.

Kanter is averaging career-highs in minutes, points and rebounds.

And while his coach has been frustrated at times with Kanter — particularly his focus and defense — Ty Corbin believes the former No. 3 overall draft pick has taken another step forward.

"When we first got him, I mean, he was so raw. He was a big kid who was used to being the biggest guy, the strongest guy on the floor. He didn't play that year at Kentucky [because he was ruled ineligible], so I didn't know what to expect once he got on the floor."

But over the years, Kanter has proven he can be a low-post scorer, emulating some of the moves he learned studying under Al Jefferson. He's averaging just over 12 points a game, in about 24 minutes a night.

And, especially of late, Corbin said, he's flashed signs of defensive improvement.

With just seven games remaining in the season, Kanter said he's feeling the wear. He's played in 74 games, logging 1,954 minutes — three more than his first two seasons combined.

This summer, he will be eligible for a contract extension. Though he said, "I haven't thought about it at all," Kanter believes he can be part of an improved Jazz team next year and beyond.

"This team is getting better every day," he said. "There are a lot of talented players. I think this team's going to be good in the future. The future is bright."

After the Jazz let Jefferson and forward Paul Millsap go in the offseason, Kanter promised a more serious version of himself.

"More focus, more concentration," he said. "The Jazz made a lot of changes this last summer and I respect that a lot."

It's a change of which Corbin has taken notice.

"He's still a young, young guy," Corbin said. "And young guys want to have some fun. They don't realize at times it's work and it's a job. But I think he has a better understanding now than he did a year ago of what it takes."

afalk@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribjazz —

Big man's bigger minutes

Jazz center Enes Kanter has had an increased role: He's already played three more minutes this season than in his first two seasons combined:

Season Min Pts Reb Blk FG%

2011-12 13.2 4.6 4.2 0.3 49.6

2012-13 15.4 7.2 4.3 0.5 54.4

2013-14 26.4 12.1 7.0 0.5 49.0 —

Pelicans at Jazz

P At EnergySolutions Arena

Tipoff • Friday, 7 p.m.

TV • ROOT Sports. Radio • 97.5 FM, 1280 AM

Records • Jazz 23-52; Pelicans 32-43

About the Jazz • Beat the Pelicans in Salt Lake City in November to snap an 0-8 start to the year, but have dropped two games in New Orleans. … Gordon Hayward's shot has struggled this year, but he's topped 40 percent in 16 of his last 19 games. … 33-year-old forward Richard Jefferson is the only Jazz player to start every game this year.

About the Pelicans • Coming off a 30-point blowout loss in Denver. … Budding superstar Anthony Davis missed the second half with back spasms. … Tyreke Evans is averaging nearly 20 points and six assists over his last 10 games.