My friends Andy Larsen, Austin Horton, and Daniel Tate did a nice job dissecting this particular topic on last week’s Salt City Hoops Saturday Show. I too think there is little debate here: my guess is Trey Burke will show that he is the guy from the get-go. We can delve into history, but it really is a new day and mindset (while Jerry Sloan did opt for Keith McLeod and Milt Palacio over Deron Williams, he has since admitted that he should’ve gone with DWill from the start). With the emphasis on youth, Burke will be given the keys from day one and Tyrone Corbin and company will see what they have in their high profile rookie point guard. Side note: I love hearing about Burke’s (and Alec Burks’) time with legend John Stockton. That tutoring seems to be impactful already.
Prediction: Trey Burke
He did go with Deron at the start and later benched him for the 2 scrubs. Sounds like the ball will be in G's hands a lot more and Burks should probably be their #2 ball handler at this stage rather it's off the bench or as a starter. Clark might make more sense as a starter? He's got more experience and can shoot, score and defend. Burke and or Burks might be better off the bench where they can run the show more? I think people put too much emphasis on starting or coming off the bench. What's the best combinations? Who finishes games? What's best for the team?
STARTING SHOOTING GUARD
Candidates: Alec Burks, Brandon Rush, Gordon Hayward
This could be the most intriguing and suspenseful battle going forward. By many accounts, Alec Burks has been one of the most impressive guys this off-season, including his hard work at P3. That bodes well for Burks, who could potentially see the biggest boosts in on-court production this season (seeing as he has proven the least thus far in his career of the young players). If he can come in and show his improvement in defense, ballhandling, and shooting, this spot may be his for the taking. Brandon Rush brings a lot to the table. A self-stated “3-and-D” guy, Rush’s combination of perimeter prowess and defensive effort could be a big boon for the Jazz. While he is cleared for full contact, the Jazz will probably (and wisely so) be cautious. One of Gordon Hayward’s biggest strengths is his versatility. While I personally prefer him at shooting guard, given the personnel at each spot, it makes more sense at the three. I see Corbin starting out with Burks in the opening five, but continually analyzing things as the season progresses. There may come a time where Burks’ offense might be more needed off the bench, while Rush’s skills could compliment the starters.
Prediction: Alec Burks
See above. G might be best here if they had another answer at the 3 other than Marvin when he returns.
STARTING SMALL FORWARD
Candidates: Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson
Again, there seems little to question here. Gordon Hayward is the leader of the team now and should be the opening day small forward starter. The only scenario where this doesn’t happen is if the aforementioned prediction does not occur and Corbin slots Hayward in at shooting guard. If that happened, it would be a curious competition between two vets in Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson. Both can shoot from the outside, but if his health is there, Williams’ defense and familiarity would probably give him the edge.
Prediction: Gordon Hayward
This is the one choice that I really can't see going any other way with the current roster.
STARTING POWER FORWARD and STARTING CENTER
Candidates: Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter
The decisions to not bring back Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap clearly paved the way for the Favors and Kanter show. There will be times where these two will be interchangeable at the power positions. It will be exciting to see how they can mesh together, given how relatively little they’ve been paired up in the their young careers. Defensively, they could be formidable. The offense, however, will be something to watch carefully. Can Favors become more consistent? Will Kanter’s offensively elite play as a reserve translate in a much more prominent role? One thing that will be a delight: these two should dominate the boards.
By the way, how wonderful was it to see images of Karl Malone working with not only this duo, but Jeremy Evans, Rudy Gobert, and Andris Biedrins? It gets me giddy.
Predictions: Derrick Favors at PF and Enes Kanter at C
Can Favors numbers translate as a starter? Will they dominate the defensive boards? That's been a problem. Lots of guys hitting the offensive glass. I'd still consider bringing one of these guys off the bench. Kanter with Biedrins or Favors with Cook maybe? No reason they can't still get big minutes regardless. Could have if they'd kept Millsap. The problem was Jefferson!
The youth movement is officially underway.
Stay tuned for the second installment, covering the positional battles off the bench.
If the NBA season started today, it’s likely the Utah Jazz’s first lineup would include rookie Trey Burke, inexperienced starters Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks, and the comparatively well-seasoned Gordon Hayward.
Whether that remains the same on Oct. 30 is a mystery.
“It’s too early to tell,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “We’ll see. We’ll go through training camp here, go through some exhibition games, figure out what gives us the best chance going forward.
“It may change,” he added, “through the course of the year.”
They'll be calling for his head again!
Veteran small forward Richard Jefferson, entering his 13th season, said a variable is not knowing what exactly you’re going to get from younger guys getting their first chance to shine with a lot of minutes and responsibilities.
“You don’t know what you’re going to see from that first group of guys,” Jefferson said. “Gordon is the leading scorer … (but) you don’t know if he’s going to be a 22- point scorer. You don’t know what you’re going to see from him. I think that’s the unknown.”
Yep. I don't think he should be their leading scorer but leading playmaker. Who knows how that plays out. Kanter, Burks and maybe Burke seem to be more of go to guys.
Adds to the excitement and anticipation, right?
“Everyone’s working hard. Everyone,” Jefferson said. “Derrick, Enes, you know the ability that they have, but you don’t know the ceiling that they can reach. You don’t know what the limit is for them. I think everybody has something to prove.”
NOTES: Former Jazz power forward Karl Malone spent time before Wednesday's practice working out with the bigs. The Mailman then sat next to his old coach, Jerry Sloan, the Jazz's senior basketball adviser, on the bleachers while the team did its stretching routine. ... Marvin Williams (heel) and Brandon Rush (knee) did a light workout but have not been cleared to practice yet. ... Corbin said “cohesiveness, learning each other and getting an identity” are among the points of emphasis early in camp. “We have all the boxes to check right now. We’re kind of starting over, so we have a lot of things to figure out.”
Marvin Williams continues rehabilitation after undergoing surgery on his right heel and Achilles tendon.
There is no time frame for his return, but he said, "I don’t think I will miss any significant time during the regular season. Hopefully I’ll take the preseason to get this thing going in the right direction."
Cool, can trade him before the season starts!
Acquired from Atlanta before the 2012-13 season, Williams came to Utah and averaged 7.2 points and 3.6 rebounds in 23.7 minutes.
His rehab so far includes only jogging and treadmill work — no cutting or jumping on the court.
Early in camp, Williams has participated in light shooting drills.
"… We’ll take it day-by-day [and] go pretty much on my feel," Williams said. "If things feel a little better every day, we’ll do a little more."
According to coach Tyrone Corbin, the Jazz will take a cautious approach with Williams.
"I’m going to listen to the trainers and the doctors and Marvin on that," Corbin said. "He’s coming along and we want to make sure we’re doing the right things by him so when, he’s back, he’s back for the long haul."
One thing is certain: Corbin values Williams’ presence on a young team.
"Who he is, how he conducts himself, the leadership ability that he has, the respect for
“I think it’s what’s best for me. I ended up at a place where there’s a great opportunity for a lot of playing time,” Rush said. “I’m happy where I’m at right now.”
Two other California transplants he still calls teammates — Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins — are probably even happier with their new situations.
News that they’d been dealt to Utah was anything but a vacation spoiler.
“I really like it here,” Biedrins said. “I like the weather. … I really like the snow.”
For Biedrins and Jefferson, the change of scenery sure beats the career fog they were experiencing in the Bay Area.
Last season, the 7-foot Biedrins scored a grand total of 24 points and averaged only 9.3 minutes in 53 appearances for the on-the-rise Warriors. He hasn’t scored more than 5.0 points per game since his double-double season of 2008-09 (11.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg).
“The last couple of years were bad for me and I didn’t play a lot. It’s been great that I’m here,” Biedrins said. “It’s a new chapter in my life. I will do anything what it takes, just to regain myself and be who I was."
Wouldn't that be great!
The recent drop-off has been even more considerable for Jefferson. The 6-7 small forward only averaged 3.1 points after tallying no less than a nine-points-per-game average in his previous 11 NBA seasons. The 33-year-old averaged a career-high 22.6 points for New Jersey in 2007-08.
On Monday, Jefferson joked that the rough season came about because he was forced to wear No. 44 instead of his preferred No. 24 (which he now sports in Paul Millsap’s absence).
More accurately, Jefferson pointed out that he entered training camp injured in 2012. When his health returned, up-and-comer Harrison Barnes had secured the lion’s share of minutes at their position, forcing the former prolific scorer to take on a mentoring role for playoff-bound Golden State.
“Last year,” Jefferson said, “was a tough year. … I received my first DNP (did not play) in 12 years.”
Be interesting to see if he has anything left. Should be a good vet to have around the locker room anyway.
Rush suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the 2012-13 campaign. He’s still rehabbing after having ACL surgery in January and hasn’t been able to fully participate in training camp. It’s not clear when he’ll be able to go at full speed, but it’s likely he’ll split a chunk of minutes with Alec Burks at the shooting guard spot.
“He’s a great shooter and he’s a great competitor,” Jefferson said of Rush. “He’s a very good defender, but again it’s going to be awhile before he’s himself.”
It might take awhile for Biedrins and Jefferson to establish their roles on a team that is admittedly in a youth movement.
“They seem to relish the moment,” Corbin said of the traded Warriors. “They all come in with their positive attitude about working to earn a spot with this team and to be effective for us in whatever role that is for them here.”
Biedrins is young enough (27 years old) that he still has time to re-establish himself as a presence in the paint despite the tailspin he’s been in the past few years. Rush has proved to be a reliable 3-point shooter and defender. And Jefferson is hoping his improved health and fresh start will push him back into NBA relevance.
Even if they don’t provide any substantial contributions on the court, the three players’ contracts are helping the Jazz. With all of its likely starters on rookie contracts and the bigger salaries of Al Jefferson, Mo Williams and Paul Millsap in the past, Utah needed to increase its financial output to meet minimum requirements for the payroll. That certainly happened. Jefferson is the highest-paid Jazz player this year with an $11 million salary, while Biedrins is set to bring in $9 million and Rush $4 million. Trading for three guys in the last year of their contracts also gives the Jazz flexibility in the 2014 offseason to structure extensions, sign different free agents and/or broker more deals in an effort to make the franchise a “championship contender,” to use the front office’s oft-repeated optimistic phrase.
The ex-Warriors and Jazz coaching staff, however, are hoping to make themselves much more useful than just being contract pawns in this rebuilding chess game.
Corbin sounds like he’s more than willing to give them that chance, too. He credited Richard Jefferson for coming to camp in great shape, going hard in drills and “being the true pro that he is.”
“I’m just looking to contribute in any way,” Jefferson said. “Hopefully, it’s on the court. If not, it’s going to be mentoring some guys, whether it’s Gordon (Hayward), whether it’s Alec, whoever it is. I just want to contribute.”
Same goes for Biedrins, whom Corbin said “has been great” early on in training sessions and in unofficial workouts leading up to camp.
Both incoming veterans are very complimentary of the younger guys in their positions, and they believe they can be productive players with consistent minutes.
“Whatever coach will give me opportunity, I’ll do my best and give my 100 percent. If it’s going to be 10 minutes or five or 15, I’ll accept any role he has for me,” Biedrins said. “I still need to work a lot to get my confidence back, but it’s a good start. It’s a fresh start. It’s been great.”
Imagine how excited he’ll be when the snow arrives for good.
Just don’t mention that part about Utah winters to Rush. Especially if he’s in Hawaii.
SALT LAKE CITY — Last spring, Utah Jazz bosses asked Gordon Hayward to return to his team in the fall ready to be more of a leader.
My how time has flown since a Jazz team leader was chucking an orange leather fastball at him in a game.
It’s early into training camp, but by all accounts, the fourth-year player is adjusting nicely to his new role.
Coach Tyrone Corbin appreciates the evolution.
Rookie Trey Burke and veteran Richard Jefferson admire him.
And, despite admitting it’s kind of a weird spot to be in after his previous follow-the-leader role, Hayward embraces the challenge and position.
“I’m expected to lead a little more,” Hayward said. “Vocally is where it’s a more of a challenge for me. Still, I like to lead by example and am making sure that I’m doing everything the right way because people are watching.”
Those who get to see him on a daily basis are impressed with what they’re seeing — and hearing.
“He has always been a guy (who leads) by example because he’s such a worker,” Corbin said. “(Now) he’s more open with his teammates. He’s starting to talk to them more. He’s starting to lead them more with his voice to let them know what he’s thinking, what he sees on the floor, and it’s all to help him and to help the team get better.”
Corbin credited Hayward for undergoing a maturation process as he's eagerly accepted more responsibilities.
"His maturity in his body, his mental state now. I think he’s comfortable where he is, understanding what he’s getting ready to face," Corbin said. "The experiences that he had the last few years is really starting to show in his performance."
Hayward said he’s being more cognizant about opening up. It doesn't always come natural. He's an interesting blend: competitive, composed, humble and anything but outspoken. In NBA seasons past, he's deferred to the leadership of guys who weren’t afraid to speak their minds: Deron Williams, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams.
There is not just one method for being a great leader, but in the NBA, players tend to follow guys who command respect and incite action by what they do and say. It worked for Hayward at Butler when he led the Bulldogs to the 2010 NCAA championship game, and the Jazz are hoping he can implement that scoring/defending/leading combination in the NBA.
“Gordon, absolutely, has been vocal,” Burke said. “He’s been doing a good job of leading the team.”
The rookie said he’s also trying to shoulder some leadership responsibilities. Knowing that he’ll have the ball in his hands a lot and will be directing traffic on court, that makes sense and is what the Jazz want and need. Interestingly, Burke also credited third-year shooting guard Alec Burks for being “vocal” so far at camp.
When it comes to Hayward, though, Burke has been impressed. The guy who’s been jokingly called the Baby Faced Assassin is growing and developing into a mature NBA player. That’s something the Jazz are in desperate need of in this rebuilding process.
“You can tell he has some experience under his belt, and that’s always good knowing that you have a guy like Gordon out there on the court,” Burke said. “If you don’t know what’s going on, he can tell you what’s going on. It’s definitely fun playing with him.”
Though Richard Jefferson has been around the league for a dozen years and knows the Jazz system from afar, he admitted he’s been leaning on the younger players in Hayward’s generation — including Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter — to fully get up to speed. He believes it’s a good exercise for them to help teach their teammates.
“That’s how they kind of grow and mature and become leaders and more vocal,” Jefferson said. “The ability to lead (is) the ability to make people want to follow you.”
While Hayward continues to work on leading by expression, he's been toiling away at leading by example since last season.
One of the big signs of leadership shown by Hayward since he received the advice from Corbin, general manager Dennis Lindsey and Co. was to take time out of his Team USA minicamp training to visit with the Jazz’s summer league squad in Orlando.
Since then, he’s also worked hard to improve his body and his basketball body of work. He hired a new trainer in Indianapolis and worked out hard at St. Vincent’s Sports Performance to maximize his downtime.
His overall physical fitness numbers at P3 in Santa Barbara, Calif., showed a bigger improvement this offseason than anybody else from the Jazz.
“I got a lot faster, a little stronger. I was able to do over a month-and-a-half straight of workouts every day,” Hayward said. “That was just really good for me.
"Cleaned a lot of stuff up as far as my core goes and balance. I definitely got a lot better.”
Hayward, the only player on the Jazz team who averaged double figures in the NBA last season, also knows he has to be more aggressive offensively this season. But there’s a delicate balance. In the past, he’s gotten frustrated at himself for flying under the basket in hopes of being bailed out by referees. Now, he’s continuing to work on a mid-range game that will allow him to add Jeff Hornacek-like floaters and short-range fade shots to his ever-increasing arsenal.
The Jazz are hoping the 6-foot-8 guard/forward will be able to better capitalize on the height advantage he’ll have over most wings.
“He’s a stringy, strong guy,” Corbin said. “But he’s so long (he should) be able to take advantage of his height down low. His quickness and fallaway jump shot are really good. We look for him to get more touches at the basket.”
He won't have a height advantage on most 3's. Most 2's yeah but than who plays the 3? Also not that long for his height.
And, more importantly, to be influential in a positive way even when he’s nowhere near the hoop.
As for his team, Hayward likes what he’s seeing so far. He said players were sore — a good sore — from working so hard in back-to-back two-a-days on Tuesday and Wednesday to open camp. The Jazz only had one practice Thursday morning before attending the UCLA-Utah football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium as a team that night.
“I think it’s good that guys are working. I think we all realize that we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “This is who we are as a team and I think we’ve embraced that.”
And while their games are completely different, the Jazz could have an occasional challenge in defining their roles on the floor. Who is truly the center, and who is the power forward?
Coach Tyrone Corbin avoids the issue by eschewing labels, saying Friday that he sees "two bigs for now."
It’s a short-term luxury, but a long-term consideration for the Jazz of whether the two young big men — Favors is 22, Kanter 21 — will share the post for years to come or eventually step on each other’s toes. Favors, generally considered the power forward of the two, is a stronger shot blocker and back-to-the-basket defender, a skill usually required of a center. Corbin described Kanter as "a brute inside."
It's debatable if he's a better back to the basket defender. He's a better help defender.
Some nights, Corbin said, the Jazz could very well start Favors as a center or, depending on matchups, as a power forward.
"Matchups would dictate most of that," Corbin said. "If they’re in there together, we’ll see what’s giving us the best chance. And that could change from game to game."
Offensively, Corbin said, "Derrick can go over the top, Enes can go through you."
The big man rotation this season is better defined than a year ago, when Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap started and played big minutes, reducing the roles of Kanter and Favors — former lottery picks. This year, Kanter and Favors are both likely to start, while Andris Biedrins, Rudy Gobert and Jeremy Evans make up the bench options.
And while no one is ready to assert the frontcourt is now better, it is certainly different.
Defensively it should be better and if that leads to them pushing the ball and getting more easy baskets at the other end, along with getting back to the Jazz half court offense instead of Al ball, they could be better offensively too.
The Jazz haven’t sported athleticism in the frontcourt like they do now in memory.
"It’s helped our competitive nature and gives us the ability to be a little more versatile how we play defensive situations," Corbin said.
Fans wanting to get a glimpse of the new-look Jazz will have their opportunity Saturday at EnergySolutions Arena. The team will hold its annual scrimmage at 4 p.m. Attending the scrimmage is free. Players will be interviewed on the floor before they play.
The Jazz roster currently includes 20 players, which is the league maximum. Per NBA rules, it must be reduced to 15 by opening night, Oct. 30 against Oklahoma City.
The Utah Jazz forward stepped on the scales Friday morning and got excited when he saw a much bigger number than the previous time he’d hopped on to check his weight.
“I came in this morning and picked up six pounds,” he said, grinning before Friday’s first two-a-day session. “So I’m feeling good, especially during training camp.”
If his beard keeps growing, Evans might even hit the 200-pound mark. The 6-foot-9 player’s current weight: 199.
Here’s another thing that should help the Jazz’s second-longest-tenured player — he was picked a round after Gordon Hayward in 2010 — he feels good during camp.
His coach flashed a big smile when asked about the 25-year-old this week.
“The thing that I’m really excited about this year with him is getting him time on the floor — as a big guy, a small guy, whatever,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “He’ll make plays.”
Or at least have a chance to do so on a consistent basis.
That certainly hasn’t been the case in his first three NBA seasons. Though he’s made a name for himself with his athletic ability, the 2012 NBA slam dunk champion has not been able to crack the regular rotation since being drafted 55th overall out of Western Kentucky four Junes ago.
In fact, Evans’ playing time average has slipped steadily in each of his first three seasons — from 9.4 minutes per game as a rookie, to 7.5 mpg in 2011-12 and only 5.8 mpg in 37 appearances last year.
Evans knows that a golden opportunity lies ahead of him this season, and the springy 6-9 forward is doing all he can to earn big-man minutes behind Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
“He’s so lean and slight in build,” Corbin said. “But, man, he competes.”
Evans has also been fine-tuning his mid-range game and is feeling confident enough to take those shots when they’re available (something coaches have had to convince him to do).
And he’s trying to absorb as much as he possibly can from part-time big man coach Karl Malone. He said it's been "tough" working with The Mailman, but the Hall of Famer is helping him better use his quickness to exploit bulkier bigs.
It's all making Evans feel ready to make his mark.
“For me personally, (I feel) a lot more comfortable, just shooting the ball, doing more on offense,” Evans said. “I love playing defense. Of course, I’m going to block shots, go for steals and help my teammates out.”
The Jazz will have a lot of competition for small-forward minutes between Hayward, Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson, so it’s likely his time will come off the bench to spell Favors and Kanter while giving the Jazz frontcourt a different look. He's mostly worked with the big men during camp.
I'd think they could use him at the 3 the most. Allow them to move G to the 2 if he could play there. Marvin shouldn't play(when he gets healthy) and I'm not sure Jefferson has much left. They probably want to play them early in hopes of them showing some trade value though.
Wherever and whenever he plays, Evans said you can expect his usual high-octane output.
“I’m going to come in the gym and give it all I’ve got every night,” he said. “I feel like it’s big. I think that helps. Your teammates are watching and they feed off that energy.”
Speaking of feeding, Evans said he’s trying “anything I can do to add weight.” He eats in the players lounge after practice. He takes a plate home. He then enjoys whatever his wife cooks for him. He eats a ton, too — “I love it” — but bulking up is not something his body does.
Corbin jokingly pointed to Evans and the big men doing push-ups before practice at Malone’s command during a morning interview.
“We’re trying to get him bigger,” he said.
If he can become consistent on his jumpers, Evans, a career 64.7 percent shooter, should be able to contribute more often than years past even if his weight remains relatively low.
And he’s grateful for that long-awaited opportunity and confidence instilled in him by Corbin.
“I still don’t want to let him down,” Evans said. “I want to come out and still play hard, still push my teammates and have fun.”
Friday marked the final day of two-a-day workouts for the Jazz, who've had seven practices since camp began Tuesday.
No new injuries reported!
Corbin still isn’t given many hints on the starting lineup: "It’s more than just the best five guys to start the game. It’s thinking about combinations.” … But will rookie point guard Trey Burke be the starter? “We’ll see.” Corbin said. “He’s working his butt off to be a starter, though. I must say that.”
Agree with Ty. I know everyone thinks he sucks and want his head and that the core 4 and Burke should start no matter what but coming off the bench could be the best thing for some of these guys and the team. G's the only one I see as a sure thing because of his experience as a starter(though he has played some of his best ball off the bench and is a great example of why that's not necessarily a bad thing), being their number one play maker and having no one else really qualified to start ahead of him at the 3. I can see arguments for any of the others to come of the bench but being in tank mode it will probably be what everybody want despite talk to the contrary.
G definitely looking bigger. Showing off his guns in the picture. Might be able to play him at some stretch 4!
There’s always a takeaway from this exercise, amid the danger of overreaction to a practice session. The story last October was Hayward’s improved shooting, and that development proved to be valid. So history suggests there’s nothing wrong with finding hope in Kanter’s growth.
Saturday’s event offered more than 7,000 fans a first glimpse of the new-look Jazz, a team created by the departures of several veterans. As Kanter said, "A lot of the guys left, so it’s just us left."
First impressions? These guys are bigger, bolder and more colorful. That’s what a stunning, new video display system will do for you. The center-hung boards are spectacular, which means the mistakes the Jazz make this season will be magnified.
The organization wants to enhance the fan experience, while making the entire system fully operational by Opening Night, Oct. 30 vs. Oklahoma City. The actual score was displayed only with a TV-style graphic at the bottom of the screens Saturday. That fails to explain why guard Alec Burks drove for a layup in the last few seconds with the White team trailing by three points.
Played in two 20-minutes halves with a running clock, the session was entertaining, in its own way. The Blue produced a 17-0 run spanning the brief halftime, then the White immediately responded with a 16-0 burst, and the teams played about evenly to the anticlimactic finish.
Then again, nobody wanted to play overtime after a long, tough week of training camp.
"Guys are tired and their legs are pretty far gone," Hayward said, "but I thought it was a solid week, for sure."
The players were energized by the crowd, as the newcomers were appearing at ESA for the first time in advance of Tuesday’s preseason opener vs. Golden State.
"We were surprised by how many people showed up," rookie point guard Trey Burke said.
Jazz president Randy Rigby told the fans, "Thank you ... for believing in us."
Well, admission was free. A further check of the marketplace’s interest level in February or March is recommended, but who knows? This team might be worth watching, even then.
"They understand the opportunity that’s in front of them," coach Tyrone Corbin said before a recent practice, citing the battle for roster spots, rotation minutes and priority in the offensive scheme.
Kanter is one of them. Kanter is positioned to become the starting center now that Al Jefferson is gone to Charlotte. He’s likely to remain the team’s flashiest dresser and a playful jokester in interviews, but he just might be able to mix that personality with on-court determination.
"He’s been working his butt off," Corbin said.
Kanter’s second Jazz season ended March 27, when he dislocated his shoulder in a home game against Phoenix. Surgery led to a summer of rehabilitation, so he’s just now getting back into basketball. That made for some struggles in the first week of camp, but the results of Kanter’s work with Jazz legend Karl Malone already are showing.
"When time goes on, it’s going to be better," Kanter said.
With his big body and a series of moves in the low post, Hayward said, "He should own that block."
Kanter also could have owned the dance-off (won by Burke), but backed off, surprisingly. The fans booed. Apparently, they’ll tolerate some deficiencies of this young team, but not a lack of effort.
The new-look Utah Jazz are counting on a breakout season by Gordon Hayward.
So far, so good.
According to coach Tyrone Corbin, Hayward has gotten off to good start during the first three days of training camp.
"His maturity, his body, his mental state," Corbin said Thursday morning. "… I think he understands what he’s getting ready to face. The experiences he’s had the last couple of years is really starting to show."
With veterans like Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Randy Foye and Mo Williams no longer in the locker room, Hayward is apparently taking his role as a team leader to heart.
"… He’s more open with his teammates," Corbin said. "He’s starting to talk to them more. He’s starting to lead them more with his voice. He’ll raise his voice a little bit to let them know what he’s thinking *— what he sees on the court. And it’s always to help the team get better."
Hayward says he’s worked on improving his speed and quickness. He weighed 220 pounds at the start of camp, although he expects to be down to 215 by the time the season begins.
"I wanted to make sure I came in faster than I was last year," Hayward said. "… In basketball you want to be as fast as you can out there, so I tried to do that during the offseason."
Rookie point guard Trey Burke insists he’s "enjoying" his first NBA training camp, although he admits two-a-day practices are a challenge.
"… It is tough on our bodies," he said. "I just have to make sure I’m getting the proper amount of rest."
Although Corbin is not close to naming his starters, it’s clear the Jazz have high hopes for Burke.
"There is a lot being thrown at me at me," he said. "But I’m learning at a high rate. … I think I’m doing a good job of getting everybody involved and making shots when the shots are there. I’m doing a good job learning my teammates. The chemistry is coming along."
Burke struggled with his shooting during the Orlando Summer League, although it apparently hasn’t been an issue behind closed doors during camp.
"It was just a mental thing," he said, referring to his shooting issues last summer. "I missed a couple of shots and the confidence started to go down.
"But coming back out here with the new teammates, I think I’m doing a good job getting into a rhythm … and when the shot is there, knocking it down."
The Jazz have 20 players on the roster, meaning there is a battle raging among the newcomers to impress the coaching staff. Corbin declined to single out any individuals, but said the players new to the Jazz’s system have all worked diligently.
"I hate to single one guy out because I don’t want to miss anybody," Corbin said. "But the guys who are here are really good for this camp. They’ve pushed each other every day. All the drills are competitive. They’ve gotten better as they’ve gotten more and more comfortable."
Kanter showed that he has plenty of basketball moves after the action began. Utah’s projected starting center scored 15 points with five rebounds (unofficial stats) while leading Jazz Blue to a 44-43 win over Gordon Hayward’s Jazz White squad.
This from a guy who barely began playing five-on-five basketball a week and a half ago after spending the previous six months rehabbing his way back from shoulder surgery.
The only thing missing Saturday from this impressive “Welcome Back, Kanter” show — not counting his dance moves — was music from John Sebastian’s awesome theme song from the similarly named 1970s sitcom.
“He’s been working his butt off. (Since) he’s gotten on the floor, he’s working himself back into basketball shape,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “When he gets that ball down low, he’s still a big-bodied guy. He knows how to get space and he has a good touch down there, so he can make some things happen in the paint.”
And on the rim.
Four of Kanter’s points came on back-to-back dunks as he showed a blend of power and athleticism.
The 21-year-old’s first performance in front of Jazz fans since he dislocated his shoulder in a season-ending injury at home on March 28 was better than he might’ve anticipated, judging his first week of training camp.
Kanter didn’t even start playing basketball (three-on-three) after that long layoff until he returned to Utah three weeks ago.
“It was probably one of the craziest weeks I’ve had,” Kanter said. “We worked really hard.”
In the process, he also took a hit to his self-confidence.
“I’m still not in 100 percent shape yet,” Kanter admitted. “I’m still kind of feeling rusty. When time goes on, it’s going to be better.”
The center got so down on himself this past week, he reached out to coaches, part-time big man coach Karl Malone (his new mentor) and teammates for a pick-me-up.
It helped big-time.
“I was really down on myself,” he said. “I talked to Karl. I talked to other teammates, my other coaches. They said, ‘Just calm down. It’s going to come back. You haven’t played like six months.’”
With the departure of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, Kanter knows the bulk of post production now needs to come from himself and power forward Derrick Favors. Being out there with Favors is a confidence booster for Kanter.
“I feel so much more comfortable when I‘m with him on the court,” Kanter said.
Same goes for Corbin.
“It’s been great. We’ve seen it in the past. Those two guys are used to playing with each other,” Corbin said. “I’m very comfortable with them playing together also.”
Though disappointed with how Kanter’s night started, Hayward liked what he saw from Kanter once the game began (even if he was bummed about his team losing by a point after Alec Burks took a layup with time running out instead of shooting a potential game-tying 3-pointer).
“I thought he (Kanter) was really patient tonight. He’s doing a good job of reading the defense and kind of knowing when to attack, when he should pass out,” Hayward said. “I think we’re going to be able to throw the ball into him and let him operate a little bit there. He should own that block.” But Hayward was disappointed Kanter blew a chance to own the crowd after the rookie dance off. Last year, the playful 6-11 big man dropped to the court and had everyone in stitches by doing his version of the worm dance.
“I told him it was his opportunity to be the fan favorite forever if you got up and do the worm again like last year,” Hayward said, smiling. “I didn’t think he was going to be that shy. Everyone wanted him to do it. I guess he wasn’t up for the challenge.”
Fortunately for Kanter’s team, he accepted the challenge that began on the court after the dance off and tipoff.