Emerging Okur: Memo finds redemption
Two early fouls, some wild shots, a little pouting and a lot of benchwarming. That about sums up Mehmet Okur's last outing against the New Jersey Nets.
Monday night? Utah's center-turned-forward was more like the guy his teammates hope earns a trip to Houston in a few weeks for the NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 19.
"He needs to be there," said teammate Devin Brown. "That would be something to be proud of, to get a chance to go. His numbers are consistent and I know as long as we're winning he's happy, but I hope he has a lot more to look forward to."
After a ragged start, Okur helped the Jazz down the Nets 89-78 by finishing with 18 points, 13 rebounds and three assists.
His biggest plays came in a five-minute stretch after the Nets cut Utah's lead to 63-56 with 10:38 remaining. Okur got two defensive rebounds, made a three-pointer, hit a 12-foot jumper and followed it up with a 13-footer.
That last play gave the Jazz an 80-63 lead with 5:12 left.
"That three-pointer was huge," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "He took some tough shots around the basket and stayed with it and worked through some things."
The "things" Sloan refers to was the first half, which was more like the Okur of last year, and the one that had just two points in 15 minutes the last time the teams met, a 91-83 New Jersey win on Nov. 9. On Monday, he was just 1-for-8 in what was a miserable first half for both teams.
But unlike that first meeting, and so many games last year, Okur didn't turn into a pile of self-pity. This time, he played the second half like it was a different game, going 5-for-9 for 15 points.
"I didn't have a chance the last time we played with the fouls," Okur said. "Tonight, the first half, I missed a lot, but I got into a rhythm in the second half. I didn't give up and I was wide-open and my teammates did a great job of passing me the ball."
Okur was guarded for much of the second half by Clifford Robinson, his former teammate in Detroit. Okur called Robinson a "good guy," but his teammates had another description, one the Jazz were more than happy to exploit.
"Their big guys were a little slow, and he was able to rotate and get outside for some shots," Brown said. "We made some adjustments, and he did a great job owning the floor."
New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank tabbed both Okur and Andrei Kirilenko as potential all-stars. Kirilenko has some of the flashier stats, but Okur has been steadier. Starters for the upcoming game are announced Feb. 2 and the reserves are announced on Feb. 9.
"He's having an unbelievable year, and he should be an all-star," Kirilenko said.