SALT LAKE CITY — Enes Kanter got booed at the beginning of the Utah Jazz’s scrimmage event Saturday at EnergySolutions Arena.
Yes, rough crowd.
Though Kanter is two seasons removed from being an NBA newbie, teammate Gordon Hayward, the MC for the Jazz's annual rookie dance off, tried to get the popular Turkish center to bust a few moves for the crowd of an estimated 7,200.
Kanter didn’t budge, and fans cascaded him with a humorous round of Bronx cheers before the evening proceeded with warm-ups and the actual scrimmage.
“I wasn’t ready,” Kanter said, laughing. “They told me to dance. I was just, ‘You know what? I’ve got no moves.'”
That last statement should be clarified.
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.