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Confession time.

The Utah Jazz were one of the first teams I started following (after the Detroit Pistons) back when Frank Layden was still coaching the team and the Stockton-Malone duel was in it’s infancy. I stuck with them throughout the years and even though nothing is left from those great teams. One of the only NBA jerseys I have ever bought (other than a Vancouver Grizzlies one right before they moved), was a Jeff Hornacek (I’ll explain that another time) Utah Jazz one that someone stole from the laundry room in the apartment building we were living in at the time.

I mean, who the hell steals a Utah Jazz jersey???

That’s why I had mixed feelings when Enes Kanter was drafted by the Jazz, back in 2011. He was someone I was enamoured with before the draft and had hoped he’d be available at 5, when the Raptors were drafting, but he ended up going third to the Jazz. Instead, the Raptors ended up taking a young big man from Lithuania who would not come over for another year.

And so the seeds were planted for what could end up being a great big man rivalry in the near future.

In Kanter’s first two years with the Jazz, he averaged just 14 minutes a game, starting only two games during that time, so many mistook that for Kanter being a disappointment, if not a bust. But Utah was just bringing him along slowly, and had so much confidence in Kanter’s potential that they let Al Jefferson, their leading scorer and rebounder last year, go for nothing so Kanter would be able to step into the starting lineup.

So far, Kanter has proven the team right in their gamble, averaging 16.8 ppg on 54% shooting and 8.3 rpg playing twice as many minutes as the previous season. Since I haven’t caught any Jazz games so far this year, I thought I’d ask Truehoop’s Salt City Hoops managing editor, Andy Larsen, to give us a brief rundown on what he’s seen from Kanter this year….

Coming into the league, Enes Kanter was very much an unknown commodity for teams around the league. He was prohibited from playing college ball at Kentucky because of some previous questions about playing for money overseas, and video was slim on the young Turkish prospect. After two years in the league, though, we’re getting a better idea of his game.

Kanter’s main strength is his physical strength. The most effective use of this is fighting for offensive rebounds: so far this season, he’s averaged 5.8 offensive rebounds per game so far this season. His defensive rebounding has dropped off as he accumulates more minutes next to Derrick Favors, but Kanter relishes the chance to get the ball back for the second time in a possession, likely in a position for an easy putback. Naturally, with that many offensive rebounds , it’s a key part of his offensive game.

Besides that, Kanter has a traditional power post-up game, using his strength and footwork to set up close shots around the rim. His favorite move is an up-and-under, used to get easy layups that don’t require his limited jumping ability. He does tend to take to take too long as he tries to set up the footwork required, leaving him vulnerable to double teams and lots of forced turnovers. If given space while facing up, he’s got a surprisingly elite midrange jumper: he shot 46% from 10-15 feet last season, and 44% from 16-23 feet.

On defense, Kanter shows some promise, but still makes some fairly sizable errors in rotation and decision making that you’d expect from a young 21 year old who started playing basketball just 7 years ago. With a PER higher than his age, though, the overall package is impressive. The Enes Kanter/Jonas Valanciunas battles could be intriguing for years to come.

While a lot of Raptor fans talk about the Valanciunas/Drummond rivalry, it’s the Valanciunas/Kanter rivalry that I’m most interested in. Both should become good two-way players and have the potential to eventually become 20-10 guys.

Of course, Kanter isn’t the only Jazz player of note. Their leading scorer this year is Gordon Hayward, who is averaging 18.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 4.8 apt while trying to get used to suddenly becoming the number one guy for the Jazz. In his fourth year, Hayward has improved every single season and has that type of solid, but unspectacular all around game that seems to suit his team.

NBA/

Hayward is set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer after being unable to agree to an extension with the Jazz, and no one would be surprised if the Jazz end up trading him before the trade deadline, as they already agreed to a four year, $49 million extension with Derrick Favors, and are likely looking ahead to next year when they can extend Kanter.

Focusing on the game tonight, while the Raptors faced the league’s only undefeated team last night, they’re facing the league’s only WINLESS team tonight. While the Jazz do have some talent, in Kanter, Hayward and Favors, they have VERY little beyond those three.

The Jazz’ 9th pick, Trey Burke, is out with injury, Richard Jefferson only seems to share the name with the player who used to play in New Jersey, Marvin Williams seemed to fall of a cliff after leaving Atlanta, and John Lucas and Jamaal Tinsley have shared the starting point guard position this year. Let me just reiterate that. Tinsley, who is shooting 21% from the field, so far this year, and John Lucas, who Raptor fans remember all too well, are the Jazz starting point guards.

In other words, this is a game the Raptors SHOULD win. But as we’ve seen in the past, these should-win games don’t always end up being actual wins, so after losing three in a row, it will be interesting to see whether the Raptors will actually show up for this game.

POINT GUARDS
You read what I wrote about Tinsley and John Lucas splitting starting duties for the Jazz? Enough said.
Edge: Raptors

SHOOTING GUARDS
Most Raptor fans might believe that DeMar DeRozan is having a career year, but that’s not the case. In actual fact, he’s scoring at his second lowest rate of his career, and shooting a career low from the field. Yes, his assists are up, but he’s contributing very little, and is still a below average defensive player.

Hayward, on the other hand, has taken on the increased  role on the team well and contributes in just about every category, including on the defensive end. And behind him, often playing with him, is Trey Burke, who is finally seeing minutes this year after being stapled to the bench last year.
Edge: Jazz

SMALL FORWARD
Rudy Gay had his best night of the season against one of the best small forwards on one of the best teams in the league, last night. Tonight he goes against a guy who played 10 mpg last season for Golden State. Gay will probably take the night off, but he’ll still be better than Jefferson.

Of course, the Jefferson is a 2013 version of Marc Iavaroni (the player, not the coach), and will likely see more action from the bench than on the floor, while Hayward moves to small forward. But the starting battle definitely goes to Toronto
Edge: Raptors

POWER FORWARD
Derrick Favors (if he played in Canada, would it be spelled Favours?) is a beast defensively and on the boards, but has had trouble scoring the ball, especially this season, where he’s shooting just 41% and most of those shots coming from within 5 feet of the basket. He’s got a bright (and wealthy) future, but Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough will give him a very tough time, especially considering they have almost no big man depth.
Edge: Raptors

CENTRE/CENTER
The matchup of the night is at centre/center, where Kanter and Valanciunas should put on a good show. Right now, Kanter usually got the better of Valanciunas before they both entered the league, but have played pretty much to a draw in the NBA. This year Kanter is playing with a lot more confidence, being the team’s 2nd option on offense, and is a little farther ahead of Valanciunas, developmentally.
Edge: Jazz

COACHING
Tyrone Corbin coaches like Rudy Gay plays basketball. Jerry Sloan obviously thought enough of him to keep him on his staff for 7 years before he left and Corbin took over, and he HAD to learn a few things from the coaching legend, but the number of times his coaching decisions make you ask WTF is astounding.

For once, Dwane Casey should be able to outcoach his opponent.
Edge: Raptors

PREDICTION
Now, I admit I’m not exactly sure how to read those betting lines, but it appears the Jazz are actually favourites going into the game. It’s definitely not a good sign when an 0 and 6 team is playing on your court and they’re the favourite. While this is the type of game the Raptors often lose, they’re playing at home, where they tend to play a little harder, and probably will get booed out of the building if they actually lose, so I’m going to go with the home team.
Score: Raptors 89 – Jazz 84