Utah Jazz: Kanter leads youth-heavy win over Charlotte Bobcats
By Bill Oram
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 01 2013 11:07PM
Enes Kanter peered down over a gaggle of reporters — more than he is used to seeing in front of his corner locker — and asked a Utah Jazz public relations staffer if he could wear his hat for interviews that would be broadcast around the world.
The response was negative. Not for interviews, he was told. But Kanter narrowed his eyes, and tugged the gray fedora with the black band tightly over his head, so it sat slightly askew, and said, defiantly, "I look good, man."
And on Friday, for the first time in his career, the Jazz’s most fashion-forward player had the game to match. He earned his second career start in place of Al Jefferson, who sprained his left ankle two nights earlier. Armed with an opportunity and machismo, the second-year Turkish center notched career highs with 23 points and 22 rebounds in 44 minutes as the Jazz (32-27) rolled to a 98-68 win over the Charlotte Bobcats.
"We’ll get on him about the five turnovers that he had," coach Tyrone Corbin said, "but he played a great game, and he was big inside. He made some great moves on the post."
First, there were two dribbles followed by a shoulder fake. Spin move, layup. A missed 3-pointer from a teammate followed. Kanter tapped it with one hand, grabbed it off the backboard with two. A putback before his feet touched the floor.
"I wasn’t trying to get my career high or anything," Kanter said, fedora and all. "I was trying to win the game because Paul [Millsap] and Big Al was hurt. So I was just trying to help my team."
The Jazz won for the first time in a week, breaking a three-game losing streak before heading out on a four-game road trip through the Eastern Conference. They did it without Jefferson and Millsap, both nursing sprains to a left ankle.
In practice Thursday, the Jazz had only nine fully healthy players, and were forced, at one point, to play Gordon Hayward at center. That practice, Corbin said, prepared the Jazz for Friday.
"Guys came in and they had an idea that we may be short-handed today," he said, "and they were really focused on what they needed to do. Guys knew they would be on the floor more, and they responded very well tonight."
Friday marked the first time Kanter and Derrick Favors, No. 3 picks in back-to-back drafts, started alongside each other. Some say it’s the future. Those who watched Friday could imagine worse nows.
No player older than 26 scored more than nine points for the Jazz as this game, whether by misfortune or good luck, was handed over to the young guys early. Favors finished with eight points and seven rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Hayward finished with a modest 14 points, but nine of those came in the first half that saw the Jazz jump out to a 23-point halftime lead, their largest of the season.
The Jazz held Charlotte, record-wise the NBA’s worst team, to a season-low nine points in the first quarter.
"We go out and play against whoever’s on the schedule," Corbin said. "Take nothing away from Charlotte — they’re going through some growing pains, and that’s where they are."
Despite the opponent, Kanter’s performance doesn’t come with an asterisk. The center has seen his opportunities fluctuate this season. Entering Friday, he averaged 6.4 points and four rebounds in 14 minutes per game.
He’s become known for his flamboyant attire, rigid diet and intense workout regimens. He said Friday he arrives three hours early to Jazz practices to get time in the weight room.
And while no one expects him to steal the starting spot from his mentor, Corbin said the experience was critical to Kanter’s development.
"He’s growing a lot," he said. "After not playing in college and coming in on the lockout year, he’s making tremendous strides because he works and he studies."