From one Salt Lake City to another: early Erdem Can impressions of his first season in the NBA

Uygar Karaca
Collaborator
2022-01-18 12:28

Life is hard when you are trying to fix a date with an NBA-affiliated person for an interview. They might be in games, practices, traveling, match analysis, attending a team meeting, or choosing to allocate some time for themselves with their family.

Thankfully, Erdem Can is always kind and generous with his time. The former assistant of Zeljko Obradovic at Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul and current member of Utah Jazz coaching staff, headed by Quin Snyder.

You may know him well from our previous interview with him back last summer, just before he was headed overseas. 

Can is a man who is originally from "Salt Lake City" in Turkey; because he is from Ankara where the city is neighbored by a lake called "Salt Lake", the second biggest lake in Turkey.

He is now in another Salt Lake City, the one in the US, and better known as the home of the Jazz. 

Coach, it is always nice to see you again. How do you adapt in the US and the NBA so far?

No problems at all. As you said, my hometown Ankara is basically very similar to Salt Lake City. It is an organized, calm city. 

So, the adaptation was not a great deal for me because I was with the organization in the last six summer leagues. I knew the city, the coaching staff, and the organization.

Now I'm experiencing being in the NBA. You don't have much time something else to focus on. If you have a family with you, it's easier because you can spend your time enjoying with them.

But other than that, as long as you are focused on basketball over here, the game schedule is always the same. So once the basketball is in your life, it doesn't matter which city you are in. 

Utah Jazz is having a pretty good season with a 29-15 record. After losing Rudy Gobert to Covid-19 protocols and the shoulder injury at the same time, they fell behind the Grizzlies in the Western Conference into fourth place.

Regardless, the defense is succumbed to some mediocrity, especially after the setback of Gobert. Is the Jazz too dependent on the French big man? 

Search all the teams in the NBA, you will find the main players in the organization who are carrying some part of the offensive or defensive structures.

From that standpoint, Rudy Gobert is one of the very important pieces of this team, obviously defensive-wise. In the last 4 years, he became the defensive player of the year three times, so that already says a lot.

Also, he does many things in offense too; like creating positions for the other players as he is a good rim runner and spacer. 

No one can deny that he is one of the team's most important pieces defensively and offensively. That's a fact. 

But also, because of COVID protocol, we missed many players at the same time. Alongside Gobert, Hassan Whiteside, as well as Joe Ingles, was out, too. So, it's not easy for any team to move the main players in the rotation. 

Regardless, I think we still have the best offensive rating in the league. It's one of the things that coach Quin Snyder is big about. He's very focused and very detailed about the offensive structure.

Whatever this team is doing, it is doing with purpose, and that really impresses me. It really affected me personally. I think once these COVID issues are gone, we will be able to be back again.

In retrospect, Utah Jazz teams are usually good in defense, but not this year. Currently, the Jazz are out of the top 10 when it comes to defensive ratings. Do you think this might stem from the confusion in players' minds about the transforming defensive schemes? 

You know, obviously, I cannot give all the details that we are talking about between the coaching staff. I would say that in general terms if you want to be a high-level team unit, you must be able to play the different variations of defenses.

Or at least to try it and see whether you are on that level and if you are capable of doing that or not.

This is the best time to see if you can do that, or you cannot. So, to find your way, to see what you are already capable of, you need to do different variations defensively.

You can create an advantage for you in the further rounds or not, it is the right time to see this. This is what I experienced in NBA.

It is the way to improve your team and to get ready for further steps with the different weapons and options. So, you need to see that. So that's why sometimes you need to be ready to sacrifice some of them, I'm not going to say games, but some of the periods in the games, you need to see yourself.

But let's bring the European perspective into the picture here. For instance, what is the difference in NBA when you have a four-game five-game six-game plan, game losing series, compared to Europe?

In Europe, everyone would go awry, for sure. What do fans, coaching, and administrative staff talk about in the NBA when you lose too many games in a short period? 

I think there are two different ways to understand this, and the first one is culture. The sports culture is a little bit different over here. They love sports. They come over here to watch to enjoy, and they generally come to watch their own team. 

This was one of the complaints we had before in Europe. When the fans see top teams coming to play against your own team, say against Barcelona or Olympiacos. If the opponents are top teams, you see full crowds. But if you play any low-level teams, like in the domestic league or any mediocre team, people don't come and watch, right?

Why? Because they don't give value to the game. That being said, they don't give value to their own team because fans are not coming to watch their own team.

I think over here, you see very few fan groups coming and watching all games. So, coming all the games domestically or here people come and watch all the games. And they enjoy the game, regardless of the result, whether you win or you lose. But in Europe, you know that everything is "do or die". 

On the other hand, there is such a long season, and you play almost every 48 hours, sometimes 36 hours, sometimes less than 24 hours. You play the next game like back-to-back games. So you don't have time to worry about something.

Then the focus is different. So, you don't have much time to celebrate the wins get sad about losing. I think people come to watch their own team and enjoy that games. In Europe, you are the best after a couple of games you win but worst when you lose two games in a row. So that's the biggest difference. 

Let's focus on the Euro players in the NBA at this point. Who impressed you the most this season among them?

Certainly, there are the usual suspects: Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nikola Jokic and the Turkish players that we will talk about in much detail. Apart from them, who comes to your mind first? Franz Wagner?

Yes, Wagner (Orlando Magic) is really impressive. He's playing in the right way, using his size in the right way. The way he plays, you really enjoy watching him. He's going to be one of the good names, for sure.

Because of the pieces that Magic have, he can do multiple things for his team. That role is provided to him by the team. 

Besides, I always liked Lauri Markkanen. He is a seven-footer big capable of shooting, who can play face-up and long-range game. I will say he is not as skilled as a ball-handler like the other, big guards, or he's not athletic enough, but he has a specific role that he's doing well. 

Yeah, I can understand the Markkanen emphasis because he broke your heart recently with those four 3-pointers.

Yeah, I mean in the most crucial moments… But I am talking in general terms, one thing is very important for these European players: you might be a talented player, but you need to be in the right team as the right piece. Only in those circumstances you can get your value. 

Take Markkanen: you have two other seven-footers, like, Evan Mobley and Jarett Allen as a four and five, and then as another seven-footer to play in position three, it's, everything's easier for you because you have two big men, who are capable of rebounding.

It allows you to run and get easy punch, duck-in, or layups from transition. Or you could even have easier open spot-up shots because other bigs are running and rolling from the pick and rolls.  

Of course, Luka is a different case. He is unique, and he is not really in shape right now with COVID, and all those stuff is affecting him. But again, once the playoffs time comes, all those players will be ready. 

Gobert is an exception. He is talented and super focused. As a European player over here, he is one of the players who creates the difference in his team, such as Doncic and Antetokounmpo.

Trying to prepare a game strategy against them is not easy because they are versatile players, who can create a difference offensively and defensively.

So that makes you be able to run and get an easy layup in some transition situations. You can punch, duck in whatever, or find easy spot-up shots because the other bigs put so much pressure on the rim by running or rolling.

So you have those open shots again over here, like the same thing for Wagner. The pieces that he's around right now, he's capable of doing multiple things for his team in that role because that team can give him that role to him so he can show himself.

That's why there are talented players in the right organization as the right piece starts to become more and more relevant. 

And what about the Turkish guys? You know, go from city to city, day and night and meet with our guys, talk to them. Cedi Osman and Furkan Korkmaz established themselves in the league where Alperen Sengun and Omer Faruk Yurtseven became the new blood talent. 

Starting with the most recent surprise: Yurtseven, who broke into Miami Heat starting five after the injuries of Bam Adebayo and Dwayne Dedmon, and he is doing quite well. You know him from his Fenerbahce days, so I suppose you weren't surprised?

From my perspective, seeing him over here, spending some time with him, I understand how he looks at basketball, his targets, his life, his proficiency. I was convinced from the beginning that he's going to be in a great position. 

When he wasn't getting any minutes, he was working extra and extra. It is not easy in the NBA, like every 36 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, you have a game. Imagine that you are in a roster, but you don't get minutes. But he still wanted to go out and do extra work out again and again. Even if he was not playing, he tried to keep himself ready.

I told him: "Keep going in this way, your opportunity is going to come; either by covid-19 or injuries, you need to be ready for that moment."

And all of a sudden, all these things happened, the opportunity was there, and he was ready for that moment. That's why he deserved all the credit. He took (his chance) that he earned himself.

I am a witness. I am so proud of his dedication to his targets, his focus, and his hard work. I hope he goes in the same way, does not relax, and gets better and better. And he's going to be a very important piece for many high-level teams. 

For Alperen, there is a little bit different picture. The atmosphere that you are in is very important. So that atmosphere in that team right now, the chemistry, the group of the guys are actually good for him because there is room for him to improve.

He can have some minutes to show himself. If he was in a good roster, a team that's competing for a higher level in NBA right now, he wouldn't get that much credit. He had that opportunity, and he's using it very well. 

I told him he needs to keep working. He is working very hard. He needs to keep working hard, and he needs to learn English. I told him many times before also because he needs to express himself.

He needs to touch his teammates in his talks. He needs to explain his needs to his coaches and teammates; even think about talking to the referee. You need that to adapt over here. And secondly, his work ethic is great. Alperen needs to keep that at a high level to get to another level as a player. 

It might not be wise to put extra pressure on the player by bringing those exaggerated comparisons with Olajuwon or Yao Ming, but what is his ceiling?

The ceiling is way much higher than many people expected of him, that's for sure. But to reach that goal, you need to keep working hard like crazy. The level is so high here.  

It's too early to talk about those big comparisons, but that potential is there. But he needs to stay dedicated, do not relax. Once the people start to know you, the teams will pay attention more, focus on you more, and defend you harder.

To give the same performance as before, you need to get stronger, need to be able to read better. That's obvious, but it's going to come with extra work and preparing yourself for the dedication sacrifice.

Words are words. Today these words make you as a great potential kid, but if you don't prove it on the court, tomorrow nobody will remember this. Instead of getting hyped by people's words, he needs to keep up working and not just celebrating.

Recently, Cedi Osman played against you, and well, he missed some shots. (3-12 FG and 1-7 3PT).

But generally, Cedi was pretty good and instrumental for the Cavs this season. I think he found a good place in JB Bickerstaff's scheme. What are your impressions of him this season? 

I think Cedi also understood his position in the team, and he's in a different spot than he was at the beginning of the season.

If you go back to the previous game they played against Sacramento, he played 31 minutes and was very active the whole game. Besides, it was a close game until the end, and he was one of the most important pieces of the offensive structure.

In many other games, he's the same way. He's so smart, doing some of the things really well. So, he's a very important piece for the team defensive-wise, running the floor and offense as well. He knows his spot and goes to shoot the ball. He is a great shooter this year. His shooting percentages are up and good. So, I think he found his role in the team. 

Cleveland is a pretty good team, and I think they will be competitive in the playoffs. I really like watching him on the court because he's now one of the experienced NBA players who is an important, solid piece in his team.

And how about Furkan Korkmaz? Why do you think he has these ups and downs? He started the season pretty good, and then he was sidelined with a non-coronavirus-related illness. Then he came back with a first career double-double in the NBA. 

I think this is really related to the Sixers roster's ups and downs. Because if you check the first games at the beginning of the season, they were going like a full roster.

And then they had issues, injuries. Not just Embiid, many of the players that were injured. If you are missing the main pieces around to create the same winning atmosphere or the good basketball you played earlier, keep doing that is not easy.  

Back to some structures and comparisons: Do you sometimes miss the more thoroughly structured European type of basketball, compared to more this high-tempo NBA basketball, especially with some teams like Charlotte Hornets?

It's hard to prefer something, but I mean, basketball is basketball. I disagree with many European coaches, or fans saying, "I don't enjoy watching the NBA because it's so many possessions."

Only if you understand the deal inside of it, many teams play with that up-tempo structure. They choose to play in that way, and they know what they're doing. They consistently and intentionally keep the possession high, pick their roster depending on those types of players, and then have their own structure.

You just need to understand that this type of basketball works for some teams over here. Of course, I like the European type of basketball, because this is my genes; my culture.

I worked with different coaches in different organizations, but mainly in Fenerbahce and EuroLeague, where we played up-tempo basketball at times. But in general, we would like to play half-court offense.

It was about sharing the ball with more passes and stuff. But over here, athleticism is big. Players are really skilled. And once you get the first great opportunity to score, you go for it. And the rest of the players know that. So, this is different, just different kinds of understanding. You just need to adapt to this and enjoy it.

Before we go: Do you still have time to watch Fenerbahce or EuroLeague in this packed schedule? 

To be honest, I don't have so much time to watch not just Fenerbahce but any of the other EuroLeague games.

At the beginning of the season, I tried to follow it, but then after COVID, they kept postponing the games.

It was not easy to find time to watch the games. But also, once the EuroLeague resumed now, our schedule is really busy, so it's very difficult to watch. I follow the scores. I follow some stats and analytic parts, but I don't have time to watch full games.



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