Over the All-Star break, Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey was feeling charitable and decided to do something nice for a buddy. Lindsey spent the majority of his time laying out all of the necessary materials. He has been here before, and luckily for him, he knows just where Energy Solutions Arena stocks the essential wrapping paper, tape and whatever else needed in order to assemble a nice gift. After all, it’s never cheap to send out a 6’10”, 270 lb package. Of course, Lindsey never even thought twice about a particular price. Not when he viewed his former Turkish big man as an expendable piece.
Utah might now have its formidable duo in the paint for years to come with Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors manning the middle, but where the Jazz are ready to move on, the Oklahoma City Thunder are adding layers to a championship contender. Enes Kanter has been a revelation for Oklahoma City, sent exclusively from the basketball gods. In five games, he has put on an offensive display never before demonstrated by a Thunder center.
During his short stint, Kanter is averaging 15.8 points on 57.7 percent shooting while grabbing 10.2 rebounds per game. Is this a blatantly obvious small sample size? Yes, but it’s certainly a positive sign.
Kanter has made a rather seamless transition, from playing with the likes of Trey Burke and Dante Exum to a bona fide superstar in Russell Westbrook. From the jump, Kanter’s offensive game has been in full bloom. Thunder fans needed a mere six minutes to realize why Westbrook would gravitate towards Kanter’s direction. His timing is spot on, he knows where to be on the floor and he gives his guards a huge target.
Since Westbrook’s arrival to the Thunder in 2008-2009, the names sitting next to “Center” have been subject to constant mocking. Don’t let Perkins touch the ball! When you look at the list of centers that have donned a Thunder jersey, you can’t blame Westbrook for feeding the beast. Their two-man game is an amoeba and will shift on you depending on what they can take from you:
Westbrook can get to any spot on the floor within the 94×50 rectangle. Add a ball screen to the mix and the opponent might as well start jogging back down the floor. Kanter’s 270 lb. frame allows him to set wide screens that force the defender to concede one part of their defense. Westbrook uses the mesh point well in order to force Lawson into a trail position. Jusuf Nurkic is then responsible for cutting off any Westbrook penetration while Lawson attempts to recover:
This is where Kanter’s solid footwork and mobility are highlighted. Since Nurkic is forced to turn his hips towards the baseline to cut off Westbrook’s drive, Kanter immediately recognizes a free roll to the rim. If Nurkic were to pay more attention to Kanter, he can damage the opponent on the perimeter as well. He’s shooting 61.5 percent on shots between 10-19 feet since joining Oklahoma City, per NBA.com. Westbrook doesn’t even need to turn his head before releasing the pass, one indication of the budding chemistry between the two. At this point, Thunder fans know how this usually goes down. Westbrook zips a rather violent pass to the rolling big and the ball springs off of his hands and into the opponent’s possession:
That’s not the case with Kanter. He has phenomenal hands and can catch a multitude of passes in traffic. Throw him a quick chest pass like Westbrook does above, and he’ll snag it. Toss him a bounce pass that has to navigate a forest of limbs in order to reach him. Yes, he’s grabbing and finishing that. As Kanter receives the pass from Westbrook, Wilson Chandler rotates for the help defense. Good luck, Wilson.
With some of the softest hands for a center, Kanter gobbles up almost everything thrown to him. This is a far cry from the stone hands that the Thunder guards have to deal with in Serge Ibaka. Where Ibaka allows a ball to careen into the third row, Kanter corrals the ball without letting it touch nothing but his fingertips. His mitts are clearly highlighted, whether he’s on the move or whether he’s popping for a mid-range jumper. His touch is also a major factor in his ability to put back a missed shot. Kanter currently sits in the top 10 for points off putbacks with 146, per NBA.com’s Synergy stats. That’s ahead of guys like Tyson Chandler, DeMarcus Cousins and Tristan Thompson:
Kanter has impeccable timing here as he skies for the rebound and grabs the ball at its highest point. The touch he has here allows him to corral the ball and put it back gently all in one motion. A lot of big men need to secure the rebound, land, and then reset themselves for the putback. With Kanter, he never allows the opponent an opportunity to swipe at the ball.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti could see the hourglass looming when he made the deal to acquire Kanter. Oklahoma City has come up unexpectedly short in the playoffs for the past three seasons, whether it be due to injuries to key players or Derek Fisher getting crunch-time minutes in the Western Conference Finals. In years past, the glaring weaknesses of this Thunder team were staring you right in the face. With the new acquisitions and Westbrook tearing up the league, those shortcomings may fade come playoff time.