Posted by: James Seaman on June 23rd, 2011The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
“Be ready Utah Jazz fans. Undertaker is coming.” –Enes Kanter
Utah’s newest big man uttered those words shortly after the Jazz took him 3rd overall in the 2011 NBA Draft. Kanter wants to become a WWE wrestler when his hoops days end (hopefully a long time from now) and thus got introduced as The Undertaker to Kentucky fans before the NCAA ruled him ineligible. Utah GM Kevin O’Connor sees that same physicality.
“He’s going to run over you,” O’Connor said after the draft. In addition to Kanter’s strength, demonstrated by his ability to rebound, KOC praised Enes’ motor, his work ethic, and his willingness to get better.
“You’ve got to temper it with the fact that he’s 19,” O’Connor added, reminding Jazz Nation that Enes Kanter has a long way to go before dominating the NBA.
KOC said this around 8:30pm on Thursday night, nearly three hours after Utah made its first selection. Let’s back up a bit and see how we got to Utah’s GM referring to his newest prize as “a bull in a china shop.”
4:45pm The floodgates—er, the front doors—of ESA open and fans pour into the concourse. Trying to make my way down toward the floor, I wade through a spicy jambalaya of basketball maniacs, Fredette jersey-wearing hopefuls (sorry fellas), and Jazz dancers (I did say spicy).
5:10pm I settle into a seat right behind Ron Boone and a couple of local radio personalities. Selecting this spot pays off later when ESPN says of Bismack Biyombo, “Supposedly he has a 7’ 7” wingspan, he cannot score so you can’t run any plays for him, and allegedly he’s 18-years-old,” all of which causes the Booner to explode with laughter.
5:14pm I spot my buddy Raegan trying to corral excited kids standing in the free throw line on the ESA floor. He looks stressed—could be draft anxiety, but more likely it’s the throngs of 10-year-olds surging forward.
5:39pm Cleveland opens the draft by taking Kyrie Irving. Hardly anyone reacts, meaning fans saw this coming. Meanwhile, 1320’s Patrick Kinahan looks up at someone in the crowd and stirs the pot by yelling, “Jimmer’s not passing the ball,” while flicking his wrist. “He’s shooting it!”
5:45pm The faithful crosses its fingers, hoping for Derrick Williams to slip. The Arizona forward’s selection by Minnesota produces serious agitation, meaning many of us believed he might slide. This is it: Brandon Knight or Enes Kanter? Crowd noise falls to a hushed murmur, the quietest it’s been all afternoon. Clearly, people feel nervous. One guy holds up a sign: Don’t be a jerk, take the Turk. Craig Bolerjack decides to shake things up by grabbing the mic:
Boler: “Who do you want?”
Crowd: A cacophony of wild and totally indecipherable shouts.
Boler: How about Kanter?
Boler: How about Knight?
If he’d asked about Jimmer, I’m guessing the clash of positive and negative energies would have resulted in spontaneous combustion and incineration of all parties present—and you wouldn’t be reading this. Instead, the attention moves to Utah Jazz President Randy Rigby who announces the selection of Enes Kanter. Streamers fall, confetti floats, and Patrick Kinahan puts his arms up to “raise the roof.” The sign guy replaces Don’t be a Jerk with Welcome to Utah, Kanter. Good pick. The only logical pick—the best player available, and size, in an uncertain draft.
While fans entered the arena completely unsure of who Utah would select, the front office had its mind made up. We often imagine hand-wringing and head-scratching as management waits until the last moment to turn in its draft card. According to Kevin O’Connor, the Jazz entered Thursday with no such uncertainty about the 3rd pick.
“I think we had locked in pretty much at the top three picks,” KOC said. Asked if the Jazz had Kanter all along, O’Connor added, “I wouldn’t say all along, but it got clearer and clearer as we went through it.”
Utah’s brass liked Kanter’s Chicago workout. They liked that he’d kept himself in impeccable shape—5.9% body fat and one of the only guys in Chicago who ran for the entire allotted time on the treadmill—despite not playing in 2010-11. They liked what they saw on tape: 34 points and 14 rebounds at the Nike Hoops Summit. They liked the fact that he rebounded the ball ferociously as a 17-year-old in one of Europe’s top leagues. They liked his basketball IQ as O’Connor noted that Kanter caught on immediately regardless of what the Jazz asked him to do during his workout. They liked the ethic demonstrated in his 4-hour-a-day workouts at Chicago’s Attack Gym with Tim Grover (the same guy Michael Jordan turned to when he needed to get stronger). Kevin O’Connor broke down the Kanter selection in great detail. But the thing that caught me the most?
“Nobody on their team wanted to work out against him. He’s a little bit of a bull in a china shop in a good way.” O’Connor said this of the practices Utah scouts attended in Kentucky. Other players literally did not want a piece of this guy—he scared them physically. KOC stressed that Kanter’s youth makes him a project with a long developmental road ahead. But I’d rather invest in a 6’ 11” center’s prospects than those of a 6’ 3” combo guard.
And Alec Burks, Utah’s selection with the 12th pick?
“There was still an awful lot of discussion at twelve,” KOC admitted (though he wouldn’t say who else the Jazz had considered). He did offer this tidbit: Jimmer Fredette was in Utah’s top ten. They didn’t except him to be around at 12, meaning that if he had been, the Jazz may very well have taken him. O’Connor would say no more about The Jimmer, wanting to focus on Burks and Kanter (and rightly so).
Asked what the Jazz liked most about Burks, KOC answered, “His versatility. He’s improved his shooting. We see him getting to the line. He may play a little bit of point guard, he’s got skills with the ball. He’s got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder.” That chip, which came from being overlooked by recruiters, set Burks apart from his collegiate peers and will hopefully continue to drive him in the NBA.
Utah’s GM summed up the Burks selection by saying, “We were very comfortable with him at 12. We had some offers on the table if we didn’t like the guy at 12.” Clearly, the Jazz liked Burks enough to stand pat.
As the uncertainty of draft day recedes, new uncertainty arises. The Jazz have a lot of incredibly inexperienced players (Hayward, Favors, Kanter, Burks, Evans). A host of big bodies will compete for minutes at the 4 and 5 spots (Jefferson, Millsap, Favors, Kanter). And the looming lockout threatens to rob a young team of badly needed development. Despite these clouds, the sun will shine brightly over the Salt Lake Valley on Friday morning because the Utah Jazz did very well for themselves on draft night.
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