This season the Utah Jazz had trouble rebounding the Ball. Mehmet Okur gobbles up over one fifth of all possible defensive rebounds (as seen in his DREB%). This season the Utah Jazz had trouble spacing the floor. Mehmet Okur draws opposing bigs out of the paint with his 38% career three point percentage. This season the Utah Jazz had trouble getting reliable scoring off the bench. Memo scored 13 points off the bench for the Jazz his first season here, getting bench minutes. This last season we missed out on all but 168 total minutes of Mehmet Okur in action. It sucks. But you know what? It sucks more for Mehmet Okur because as an under 7’ tall bigman on the wrong side of 30 – he only has so many more years left to give his best to a team. And he just lost one of them.
This was Memo’s Lost Season. So many of our problems would have been (at least in theory) solved by even a Memo at 50%, but he was not able to get there. This is yet another key point I’ll never forget about the 2010-2011 Utah Jazz.
"Just the Facts, Ma’am."
Mehmet Okur is 31 years old. He is 6’11 and weighs 249 pounds. He has played nine years in the NBA. He has one more year remaining before he becomes a free agent, a year that will earn him $10,890,000 dollars. Memo signed as a restricted free agent back in July 27th, 2004 – and left the Detroit Pistons to come here. Over this time period since leaving his draft team the former 2nd round pick has gotten married and started a family in Utah. He was originally a power forward, and has played a bit of the four in our system; but we’ve used him more as a center.
He has a distinct talent set which allows him to be a vital part of the offense with his high yield outside shooting. This shooting allows the Jazz to maintain floor spacing integrity while retaining a power forward oriented post offense. This worked great when coupled with Carlos Boozer, a shorter forward who would get destroyed if both bigs doubled onto him. (See: The playoffs vs the LA Lakers the last two seasons when Memo’s been out) Okur kept the defenses honest, and allowed there to be enough real estate in the paint for a forward to work in, or for wing players to cut into. His performance in our uniform speaks for itself.
He has played in 506 games (regular season and playoffs combined), and averaged 31.8 minutes per game. With this time he’s given the Jazz 15.1 points per game (off of 45.8 fg%, 37.7 3pt%, and 80.2ft%) and 7.7 rebounds per game. Having a center get you 15 and 8 in this league isn’t bad. Especially not when you combine it with the fact that he hits more than one three a game, draws out defenses, and isn’t too shabby with the assists, steals, or blocks. He’s not Dikembe Mutombo, but in his last full season on the team he has improved his post defense to the point that he was blocking 1.1 shots a game.
Here’s the full Mehmet Okur Career Stat Breakdown:
Too small? Click here for the full-sized version. (Opens in a new window!)
Actually playing in the games
More than just numbers (or even advanced numbers which show that he averages (averages, mind you, not his peak) a Go Rating in our uniform of 59, which he got as a 3rd option on a winning team – which was Al Jefferson’s Go Rating as a 1st option back when we were a winning team in November), Okur is a warrior. (Or perhaps more precisely, he’s a Janissary) He has played in 474 of a total possible 574 regular season games. That’s a percentage of 82.6%. Some may call him injury prone because he does get injured, and that he’s been injured around the playoffs the last two seasons. If you remove this last season (a season filled with the after effects of an injury he sustained playing hurt in the playoffs last year), Memo has played in 461 of a total possible 492 games (93.7%). I’m not even going to dignify the comparative numbers for Carlos Boozer in a Jazz uniform, or Andrei Kirilenko the last few seasons by including them in this post at all. I think calling Memo soft is unfair as well.
He lamented having to give up the "Iron Man" label in his third year with the Jazz because he played in only 80 games that season (the first year he’s ever missed games for our team). He had never missed more than 10 games in a season before this year. And his toughness, coupled with his heart, enable him play through injuries all the time. He played in that important last game against Phoenix last season – the game that Boozer didn’t play in. He also played in the playoffs, as I mentioned before, hurt and paid the price for it. Memo could have taken it easy last season, and healed up and skipped games for the Utah Jazz – because later on that summer the World Championships were being played in his native Turkey – and he’s their biggest star. (Hedo's wife isn't a celeb, after all . . . ) Instead he gave it his all for the Jazz (in the first quarter he had racked up 7 points already, making all of his shots against the Nuggets, and grabbing boards all over the place) – and couldn’t even play for his national team in the only time they’ll ever host a big tournament during his playing days. That’s kind of a bummer – but he’s a team player. And he plays for the Jazz, not himself. (Janissaries weren’t Mercenaries. They were super loyal.)
Peak Years and looking forward
This is the other shoe dropping for Memo – like having a previously career ending injury and missing out on playing for your homeland wasn’t enough . Basketball players have a very finite number of years with which they can actually play basketball. You can be a banker for 50 years, but most professional athletes have careers not even half as long. Even smaller are the number of years an athlete has at their peak. Next year is Memo’s 8th year in the NBA. He probably only has about 3 more peak years left (if he returns from injury as we hope, and what we’re hoping for is an Elton Brand like recovery in his 2nd year back). Missing all of last year (well, missing all but 168 minutes of last year – missing all but 4.3% of the season) means Memo missed out on a whole year from his finite number of years possible. Truly, this past season was Mehmet’s Lost year.
Some early prognostications by reporters and bloggers alike don’t even mention the Money Man as someone to be happy about when we look at our team going forward. Okur is a veteran who has average man defense on post scorers and was willing to throw down against other teams like any bigman worth his salt should. During the playoffs in 2006-2007 he had near fights against Houston, Golden State and San Antonio all in the same post season. And let’s not forget that during the 2002 FIBA World Championships he did have a confirmed fight in a hotel elevator against a chemically augmented Rafael Araujo (known then as Rafael Paulo De Lara Araujo, or simply "Baby") back when they were both reckless young players, but I’m not going to go into any details beyond the fact that it happened after a game between Turkey and Brazil that was decided by 2 points and had 53 fouls in a 40 minute game.
Besides being average on defense and not backing down from other guys, I did not even mention the fact that he’s hit more clutch shots for this franchise than anyone not name John Stockton. I don’t think an evaluation of what we have on this team is complete without an evaluation of this team with Mehmet Okur healthy and playing with this new crew. Even, nay, especially as an anchor for the bench.
And yes, we totally need someone like this kicking butt off the bench for us. In 2010-2011 the Utah Jazz averaged 99.4 points per game. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Andrei Kirilenko, C.J. Miles, and Devin Harris averaged 76.2 points per game. You do the math. Our bench was as impotent as C. Montgomery Burns.
Mehmet Okur at his worst
This season was far from a peak season. Sure, his career numbers and career games played percentages are great. But it’s foolish to expect him to have returned to All-Star form a few months after recovering from one of the worst sports injuries modern medicine has to face. (And I’d know a little bit about that) He did not return to All-Star form, or any reasonable form we could recognize. This year we got a gunshy Memo who was afraid to really test his body out at full speed. Naturally, the recovery period is actually longer than a few months for this type of injury. In fact, we are apt to call this a two-year recovery time. The first part, the relatively easy part, is the surgery. And this was a success. The second part is having the body reconnect everything. The third part is having the body relearn how to use this part of the body again. Rehabilitation was also a success here. What was not a success is how the mental aspects of this injury healed. Memo favored his Achilles on that side of his body, and possibly at the detriment of his back. Try to walk around right now by minimizing the strain on one side of your body, pick a leg. Hobble around like that. Try jumping up a bit, but putting more pressure on the other side you aren’t trying to protect. You’re going to cause some serious problems if you keep doing that. All parts of the body are connected, and leg injuries can result in the patient messing up their hips, feet, or you guessed it, back. I haven’t examined Okur, but knowing what little I do about the human body, I think that Okur may have sustained the back injury partially due to his leg injury.
The full body will heal though. And he’ll re-learn to trust it again. But it is no stretch to say that this year was Mehmet Okur at his worst. And at his worst, how do you think he stacked up against his insurance: Kyrylo Fesenko and Francisco Elson?
Too small? Click here for the full-sized version. (Opens in a new window!)
Even on one leg, and with a bad back, Memo gave these two guys a run for their money. While shooting poorly he still kicked the other two guys’ butts on offense. He also blocked as many shots per 12 minutes of action as Elson did, and almost as many as Fesenko did. He wasn’t as good as we’ve developed on defense, but he was hampered by a small sample size (and, you know, two injuries that would limit him to only 13 games). His rebounding was below average, but it’s hard to box people out when you’re using only one leg. Even at his worst, he was clearly more useful than the two boobs we had to use to replace him.
Mehmet Okur cannot be ignored . . . except by the national media
Memo is the only former All-Star who no one seems to talk about us missing when national media talks about how many guys we’re playing shorthanded by, on any given night. Memo is the Han Solo of this team – capable of bailing us out (and shooting first when necessary). We missed him this season. Memo played all of 6 minutes on the floor with Al Jefferson last year. We all love Paul Millsap, the self-made man. And we’re all on the "Derrick Favors = Karl Malone with shotblocking" band wagon already. But we all owe it to ourselves to at least see what Big Al and Memo can do on the floor together. Okur is a proven rebounder and so is Al. Both guys can switch and play someone in man defense and block shots. Al has a midrange jumper but a virtuoso on the block. Memo can drive a bit off of a pump fake, and finish in the paint; but a dead eye jump shooter. Memo will give Big Al the space he needs to get his work done, space that just wasn’t there with Paul Millsap needed to hover from 17 feet in. The lack of overt space made a help defender (a LaMarcus Aldridge type) always close enough to spoil the fun. The space a Memo could help Al with would also allow a slew of guys to cut. The best thing about Big Al is that he’s not afraid to improve. And we all saw his improvement with on court vision and willingness to pass the ball. Giving him more targets (while keeping the defense honest from doubling him) is only going to make him that much better.
Memo was able to hide some of Boozer’s flaws. He can do so for Big Al, even if it’s for only 16-20 mins a game next year. Next year . . . the year after motivated Memo’s lost year; his last year under contract; a motivated Memo’s contract year. A motivated Memo’s contract year after resting up from sitting all last year . . . it would be silly to talk about moving forward without even mentioning this guy. Losing Memo for all buy 160 minutes is one of the ten or eleven things I’ll always remember about this last season. And it’s definitely something I’m going to keep my eye on for next year as well.