Jazz begin NBA education of Enes Kanter
Jazz General Manager Kevin O'Connor spent 30 minutes Saturday discussing everything from Raja Bell's place on the team to Derrick Favors' All-Star potential.
O'Connor was an open book, and only two questions made the longtime GM pause before answering.
No. 1: Revisiting the Deron Williams trade.
No. 2: Enes Kanter.
The sudden development of Favors and Gordon Hayward could take Utah to the next level. The return of Mehmet Okur and continued improvement from Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson could be the keys to the Jazz's 2011-12 season. But what will ultimately define Utah's impending campaign is how much progress the No. 3 overall pick of the 2011 draft makes if any.
Four days into training camp, Kanter's NBA education has begun.
The mundane: Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin pulling the 6-foot-11, 259-pound Kanter aside before practice, reminding him to eat a nutritious breakfast.
The essential: Okur becoming Kanter's big brother-like mentor just six days after meeting a rare, friendly face from Turkey now living in Salt Lake City.
"I've got to show him what he can do and what he should do the best to stay in the league a long time even do a better job than I did," Okur said. "I have a lot of responsibility if you look at him and compare me and him."
O'Connor said everything Kanter absorbs, aces and screws up will be part of the education process.
Do the Jazz have lofty expectations? Unquestionably. Prior to Kanter, Utah had only three draft picks No. 3 or higher in franchise history. Darrell Griffith won Rookie of the Year and had his number retired by the organization. Dominique Wilkins was traded, then wound up in the NBA Hall of Fame. Williams, the No. 3 selection in 2005, became the face of the franchise before being dealt to New Jersey last season.
Most top-three picks are instantly weighed down by public pressure and a produce-for-us-now mentality. Everything about Kanter points toward long-term project. Millsap, Jefferson, Favors and Okur will share the initial burden. Kanter will be free to watch, learn and react.
"This is going to be great for him. We explained to him that it's a journey, that there's a destination that we'd like him to get to and there's going to be a lot of stops on the way," O'Connor said. "He's going to run over himself, he's going to run over other people. But he's willing to work, and that's the key thing."
Utah's responsibility is to ensure Kanter keeps improving. Everyone from Corbin and assistant coach Sidney Lowe to Okur and player development manager Michael Sanders are charged with the task.
Sanders said Kanter's willingness to learn and receptiveness to hard work are early positives. Some young big men must be pushed and provoked just to perform. Kanter has already shown that ego and a negative attitude won't be a concern.
Lowe sees the same openness, highlighting Kanter's ability to play off his natural talent, rather than force the agenda and attempt to be something he's not.
"He works his ass off, and he's hungry," Okur said. "Obviously he's a good talent."
Still, immediate obstacles remain. Kanter's being given just 18 days to learn NBA rules and the Jazz's system before Utah's season tips off. Once it does, he'll consistently match up against athletes bigger and stronger than anyone he's ever faced, requiring his childlike enthusiasm to be replaced with a mean streak.
"In college or high school, you can be the best. But here, everybody's the best," Kanter said. "So you have to work more harder and you have to go harder."
Okur will help lift the rookie up.
When Kanter was a teenager, he regularly awoke at 4 a.m. to watch NBA games on Turkish TV. His favorite Jazz player: Memo.
The fandom has come full-circle.
Okur remembers his 2002-03 debut with Detroit. The NBA was great. The loneliness was not. International-born Pistons Zeljko Rebraca and Pepe Sanchez helped get him through the change.
"I was living by myself," Okur said. "I had nobody with me, no family members, nobody."
The nine-year veteran will show the rookie the way.
"Memo said if you don't understand anything like language or defense or offense, you can ask me anytime," Kanter said. "He's helped me a lot."
Enes Kanter file
Position • Center
Vitals • 6-foot-11, 259 pounds
Year • Rookie
Age • 19
College • Kentucky (did not play)
Draft • No. 3 overall pick in 2011
Home country • Turkey
P Jazz at Lakers, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 8:30 p.m. MST
TV • TNT