Get to know Omer Yurtseven

The Jazz made their first free agent splash earlier this week, adding former Heat center Omer Yurtseven on a partially guaranteed deal.

Although this was their first veteran free agent signing of the offseason, they have been busy. They started the offseason with a great trade for John Collins. Collins was seemingly on the trade block every summer and had been linked to the Jazz for quite some time. The fact that Utah didn’t get him for more than 36-year-old Rudy Gay and a future second-round pick is still mind-boggling. They had to take on his remaining $25 million per year salary for the next two seasons, but Collins is probably a better player than anyone they could have realistically signed this offseason. So with most of their remaining cap space, they kept the players they already had on the roster. Talen Horton-Tucker picked up his $11 million player option and Utah then signed Jordan Clarkson to a 3-year, $55 million contract renegotiation.

Jazz still had a place left on the list, with approx. $2.8 million in cap space remaining as well as a $7.7 million salary cap exception. It seemed clear that they wanted to target another center to have on the list. After giving up the rights to Udoka Azubuike and then trading Damian Jones to Cleveland for cash, there was an obvious need for another big man. They first offered Paul Reed Jr. a fascinating “poison pill” contract where a large amount in the second and third years of the deal would only be guaranteed if his team won in the first round of the playoffs in the 2023-24 season. It was designed to deter the Sixers, who are much more likely to advance in next year’s playoffs, but they still chose to match the deal at the last second.

That brings us to the first real splash for the Utah Jazz in free agency. News emerged on Sunday that they were about to sign Turkish big man Yurtseven, a 25-year-old and third-year pro. The first year salary is $2.8 million, but is only half guaranteed at $1.4. The second year of the contract is a team option for $2.7 million.

Yurtseven becomes the fourth Turkish big man to play for the Jazz, joining Ersan Illyasova, Enes (Kanter) Freedom and Mehmet Okur. The Jazz actually lead the NBA in their history for having players on their team representing the country of Turkey.

So who is Yurtseven and what can Jazz fans expect from him this upcoming season? Yurtseven started his basketball journey in Turkey with the Turkish youth national team. He also played in the EuroLeague with Fenerbahce, and was able to compete against NBA teams in the preseason. At the time, he was the youngest player in history to compete in an NBA pre-season game at just 17 years old. He chose to play collegiate basketball at North Carolina State from 2016 to 2018 before transferring to Georgetown for his final season. He posted career averages of 12.1 points and 7.1 rebounds in college, but as a senior with Georgetown he averaged an impressive 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

He went undrafted but was signed by the Miami Heat, who have always had a knack for finding undrafted gems to develop. As a rookie backing up Bam Adebayo, Yurtseven posted some truly impressive numbers when given the opportunity. He was able to start 12 games due to Bam’s injury in January and averaged 12.1 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists. It included some truly incredible performances. He finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds in his first career start, then had 22 points and 16 rebounds in the Sacramento game. In his last start before Bam returned from injury, he had 22 points and 11 rebounds while going head-to-head against Joel Embiid and the Sixers.

Despite these performances, Yurtseven did not get many opportunities with the Heat. After playing in 56 games as a rookie, he had to have foot surgery prior to the start of his sophomore season, and when he returned, he found himself playing behind both Kevin Love and Cody Zeller. So during this summer league, Orlando Robinson dominated, averaging 25.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists. It was clear he didn’t have a route to play with the Heat, opening the door for the Jazz to make him an offer.

Yurtseven is clearly talented. Rookies don’t often average 12 points and 12 rebounds in a month straight, including some monster 20+ point double-doubles. We might be looking at a young player who was actually negatively impacted by being on a winning team and playing behind an All-Star level center. If he had started his career with a team like the Charlotte Hornets and gotten ample playing time, he would have gotten a lot more on the open market.

That said, I imagine he’ll still be in a similar position with the Jazz. He doesn’t have the positional flexibility to play any position other than center. I’ve heard people mention his ability to stretch the floor, but he’s only attempted 18 three-pointers in his career. His shooting stroke looks comfortable, so perhaps there is confidence that he can continue to develop that part of his game. However, from the video above, you can see that the majority of his scoring ability comes from his high-level footwork and ability to score in the paint. He’s certainly not an elite-level athlete, but he does a good job of just being in the right spots. It is both offensive and defensive. He doesn’t block a lot of shots, but he does a nice job of just staying in front of his man and consistently contesting shots. During his stretch as a starter with the Heat, they had an offensive rating of 116.5 and a defensive rating of 109.7. That net rating was 6th best in the NBA. Not that those ratings are all because of him, but playing without All-NBA center Bam Adebayo, he showed he can contribute on a winning team.

My expectation is that Yurtseven will be the third center in the rotation. Walker Kessler will be the clear starter, with Kelly Olynyk the primary backup. Lauri Markkanen and John Collins will also likely see time at the center position in certain lineups. That leaves Yurtseven largely out of the rotation. He is wonderful insurance though. If either Kessler or Olynyk struggles with injuries, he has shown more than capable as a player who can step in and provide productive minutes to avoid a major drop in team performance. For a center who entered free agency so late and at the very least, this was a solid pick-up for the Jazz.

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