Depending on who you talk to you will hear a range of opinions on Enes Kanter from, “He’s a walking double double, he should play 35 minutes! PER!!!!” to “He’s the worst big man defender in the NBA who puts up empty stats AND should be waived or traded! DRPM!!!!”. Most rational people are somewhere in the middle.
It’s hard to play a NBA center more than 20 minutes if they are a poor defender. Enes has improved on defense some, but still can’t defend in space. He needs to play with another athletic defender beside him. He and Jerami Grant are a +0.9, The Stache Bros are a +4.6, and with Roberson a +2.2 according to Basketball Reference. But when you put another challenged defender with him like Joffrey Lauvergne, they are a -1.8. Grant isn’t a 30 minutes a night guy, Billy doesn’t play Andre at the 4, and the Stache Bros are typically only on the court together against 2 traditional bigs. All those factors led to a limit in Kanter’s minutes.
Kanter is a talented offensive player. He can score in the post with the best of them. The big problem is not only is he a poor defender, but scoring out of the post without any passing does not result in an efficient offense. That was one of the biggest problems. Once he had the ball it was going up, and with a career 61.8 True Shooting % it wasn’t always awful. But when a player is double teamed and can’t make a play out of it, the offense is dead. This was Enes Kanter…. Until now.
The Thunder have started running the second unit through Kanter, with good results. When Kanter is on the floor OKC has an offensive rating of 112.5 and a rating of 106.2 with him off.
From Dec. 4th until now he’s only had 3 games without an assist. Now some of you may not be impressed by that, but last season he had 12 games without an assist in the same span. He is posting a career high in Assist% at 7.7 (up from 3.2 last season) and his Turnover% is a career low at 11.2. His usage rate is also a career high of 26.1. He’s taking on more responsibility and has become a more efficient player overall.
Let’s take a look at how Kanter’s overall awareness has improved and how he is involving his teammates.
This first clip shows Kanter’s awareness of Adams running the court. He loves to run the break, and everyone loves that he loves to run the break. Enes takes one dribble and immediately sees his best friend with some daylight. Perfect pass, touchdown.
Here Enes is posting Koufos. He throws a quick over the shoulder pass to future dunk contest champion Jerami Grant. Good on Kanter to realize future Thunder forward Rudy Gay would fall asleep on Grant’s cut.
What has been most impressive is Enes isn’t making the same passes over and over, he is reading the defense and knows where his teammates are going to be. When the double came from Roberson’s man, Enes recognized it quickly.
Probably the most satisfying Kanter assist of the season. He is triple teamed on the block and Adams finds a seam. Kanter hits him with a perfect pass and Adams destroys the entire Chicago Bulls organization and fanbase.
This next pass is has become somewhat routine for Enes. He waits for the double team and kicks back out to the floor spacer, in this case Oladipo. That spacer has been Abrines and will become Payne on a regular basis as well.
Last one. Enes catches Joffrey’s man cheating off him for a double and he’s able to get a wide open three.
Enes Kanter is an improved player, no question. He is not an elite passer, but the fact that he is able to read defenses and involve his teammates is a huge development. Adding this to his already elite post scoring and rebounding makes it nearly impossible for Donovan to play him less than 20 minutes. His minutes have increased from 18 in November to 22 in December. That should continue to trend upward. Kanter has gone from possible trade bait, to a player OKC should consider keeping as a part of the core.