NBA • Precocious young center is opening eyes with his talent, work ethic.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
This is the Jazz's big, bright hope in the middle: Silly, goofy, childish, inexperienced, immature, untested, unproven and unpredictable.
This is the same hope: Raw power, brute strength, smooth footwork, soft touch, quick reflexes, killer instinct, All-Star potential, franchise center.
No wonder Utah veterans gave Enes Kanter such a hard time during his rookie season. And no player better represents the allure and uncertainty of the 2012-13 Jazz than the big, little kid from Turkey.
During his first 66 games in the NBA, Kanter was anything but a rookie. He refused to bow down to Al Jefferson, standing his ground and jokingly for the most part going head to head with Utah's starting center. Kanter talked back, gave as good as he got, and proudly swore two-thirds through his initial season he was no longer a first-year player.
Despite never hitting the hardwood at Kentucky. Despite widely being known as an international mystery man when the Jazz selected him with the No. 3 overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft.
Kanter's final average line from his rookie run: 4.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 49.6 percent field-goal shooting and 66.7 percent from the line in 66 games (13.2 minutes).
Nothing there screamed future All-Star. Nothing there even begged for All-Rookie. But for a then-19-year-old who didn't regularly play basketball until he was midway through his teenage years, it was all the Jazz needed to see to believe their first-round gamble could soon pay off big.
"Last year, for a guy coming in at his age, with no Summer League, no, really, preseason and the way he adjusted to the game … it shows you he understands not only what it takes to get to the league, but to stay in the league," Jefferson said.
Even more impressive: Kanter mostly did it on his own. While daily work with then-player development coach Michael Sanders made an impact, the majority of Kanter's progress stemmed from offseason activities with trainer Tim Grover. The trend continued last summer, when Kanter alternated Chicago-based workouts led by Grover with a two-week run under the tutelage of former New York star forward Kiki Vandeweghe.
"I feel so much better. Even my knees feel so much better," said Kanter, whose weight loss tipped off last summer after he looked at himself in the mirror and was awed by his overwhelming body mass. "When I was 293 [pounds], there was so much pressure on my knees."
Kanter entered training camp slimmed and chiseled, showing off muscle definition in his arms and a quicker step that allowed him to explode off the high and low block. During the second day of camp, he teamed with assistants Sidney Lowe and Brad Jones, alternating powerful one-handed slams with soft mid-range hook shots. At times, Kanter collected alley-oops from Jazz vice president of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor, receiving passes in the middle of the paint and quickly leaping upward for thunderous dunks.
Then there was laughter, smiles. The joking, light-hearted Kanter returned. The kid who's fascinated with "professional" wrestling and took in several matches last year during off days. The always-growing young man who bragged last season about outeating Derrick Favors downing sandwich after sandwich during game days only to tout an unorthodox seafood-and-salad diet this year.
Somewhere between the killer and the goofball there's a player. Potentially an All-Star. Possibly a game-changer. Perhaps the deadly, relentless center the Jazz have long searched for but never found.
"My personal goal is just helping my teammates," Kanter said. "Just put my effort 100 percent. Just focus on every game and just compete every night. … It doesn't matter: five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes. I just want to go out there and just make the fans happy."
Kanter could become the best Utah big man since Mark Eaton. He just has to keep his Kyrylo Fesenko side at bay.
"There's no doubt in my mind he's going to keep it going. Because when you work your tail off in the summertime like he did, that's what you look forward to: the season," Jefferson said.
He added: "I think we've got the best set of bigs in the league and no team will get a break."
Especially not Kanter.
Enes Kanter file
Position • Center
Year • 2
Vitals • 6-foot-11, 240 pounds
2011-12 Stats • 4.4 pts, 4.2 reb
Draft • No. 3 overall by Utah in 2011
College • Kentucky (did not play)
Born • Switzerland