During this NBA season the Jazz have been on a road of discovery.
With only a handful of players under contract for next year, Utah’s biggest need going into the off-season might be as simple as knowing what they need.
The Jazz have learned one thing – Derrick Favors is worth the five year deal they’ve signed him to. Utah is 0-9 in games the center has missed this season While it’s his defense that is most obviously missed, Enes Kanter has been responsible for stepping up on the offensive end of the court.
Kanter, who is in his third season in the NBA after never playing a minute in college, has found a way to score as a starter during the last few games. He works in a plethora of moves from going up-and-under on the baseline to knocking down jump shots to boost his offensive numbers.
Perhaps the best offensive game of the third-overall pick’s career came on Saturday when he tied his own career high for the second straight game with 25 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Kanter shot 11-14 from the field and grabbed 7 boards in the match-up against Kevin Love. While his defense might even leave Mike D’antoni asking for more, Kevin Love had his first ever triple-double scoring 37 points in less than 33 minutes on the court, Kanter is figuring things out offensively.
On Friday for example, again filling in as the starter for Utah, Kanter had 25 points, 10 rebounds and a career high four assists. The recent boost in productivity is very encouraging for those hoping he can succeed.
“He scored,” head coach Tyrone Corbin said after Saturday’s game. “Especially when Derrick’s out we want to go to (Kanter) more in the block. I thought he did a good job of getting the ball in the block.”
While Kanter has always had soft hands with a clear ability to finish around the rim, lately he’s been able to do so on a regular basis. Watching him, it’s as if he has finally caught up to the speed of the NBA game.
Even though Kanter has matched his career high in back-to-back games and is shooting 64.8 percent from the field in his most recent three-game stretch as a starter, he’s got other fish to fry saying the losses outweigh any personal achievements he can manage.
“I’m not really worried about my scoring, my teammates are just trusting me, that’s it,” Kanter said.
“He was huge, He’s been playing really really well in Derrick’s absence,” Marvin Williams said. “Obviously he knows how to score the basketball so we’re going to keep going to him and he’ll continue to play well.”
While it’s easy to cherry-pick the last three games and say that Kanter has figured something out and will be a legitimate scoring threat going forward, it’s probably a little more fair to look at his performance in 20 game stretches.
In 15 of his last 20 games Kanter managed to score in double-figures. During the previous 20 game stretch he only broke into double-digits eight times. Raw scoring data isn’t scientifically the best to show his efficiency, but it does prove he’s learning how to put the ball in the basket which is a skill that ideally will work well alongside Favors defense in the future.
We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to see the young bigs work together but more will come up before the end of the season. Favors is already locked in as a Jazzman for years to come so if Kanter is going to stick around, they will have to learn to be effective playing together.
In the meantime, Kanter and Corbin’s next task is to solidify Kanter’s defense. At times it will be easy to point out his missed assignments on defense, but it helps to remember that he’s only in his third year with the team. His first season was shortened because of the lockout and last off-season he spent his time rehabbing a shoulder injury.
Before being too quick to lower the ceiling on Kanter’s career, let’s see how he finishes his third season.