March 19, 2019, 8:01 pm
Perhaps the most defining moment of Enes Kanter’s NBA career to date was the result of a play he didn’t make.
In the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the first round of the 2017 playoffs, Kanter, then with the Oklahoma City Thunder, waited at the elbow as the Houston Rockets’ Patrick Beverley and Clint Capela ran a basic high ball screen. When Beverley turned the corner around the pick, Kanter began tentatively backpedaling, neither committing to the ball nor prioritizing preventing a lob to the rolling Capela. After the Rockets big man threw down an alley-oop from Beverley with neither player meeting much resistance whatsoever, the cameras turned their focus to the Oklahoma City sideline, where Billy Donovan leaned over to an assistant and uttered the phrase that will no doubt be on the minds of the Portland Trail Blazers leading up to the playoffs.
“Can’t play Kanter,” he said.
Kanter played 16 minutes in the Thunder’s Game 1 loss, and just 29 minutes over the remaining four games of the series. He got 21.6 minutes per game during the regular season as Oklahoma City’s first man off the bench, averaging 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game with a true shooting percentage a hair below 60.0.
The Thunder, in their first season without Kevin Durant, needed all the offensive punch they could get, and Kanter provided it more consistently than any other player on the roster save for Russell Westbrook. They needed his production to keep pace with the Rockets, especially, who’d finished just behind the Golden State Warriors for first in offensive efficiency, but Donovan knew Kanter would give on defense as much as he got on the other end – and perhaps even more given the presence of James Harden, the league’s most dangerous pick-and-roll ball handler.
Two years later, the major takeaway from Kanter’s game remains the same. What that means for his potential postseason role with the Blazers, though, is still somewhat uncertain, and will be at least until the field is set for good on April 10.
Kanter’s numbers, like always, certainly support the notion that he would be an important piece of Portland’s playoff rotation. He’s averaging 10.0 points and 6.7 rebounds in 18.3 minutes per game since signing with the Blazers on February 21, shooting 54.2 percent from the field and 78.9 percent from the free throw line. Each of those numbers fall right in line with career norms on a per-minute basis, as does Kanter doing an overwhelming majority of his damage offensively from the restricted area and just outside of it. He’s 1-of-10 on shots taken beyond the paint, including missing all six of his above-the-break three-point attempts.
Unsurprisingly, Kanter has been exactly the player with Portland who more ardent league followers have known well for years. His reliable offensive production tantalizes, and his negative defensive impact almost renders it completely inconsequential. The Blazers have actually fared just fine defensively with Kanter on the floor thus far; his 108.3 defensive rating is a shade below the team’s overall mark in the 13 games since his acquisition. But a more thorough examination of the numbers and film tells the same story about Kanter’s defensive performance as it always has.
Kanter’s net defensive rating is +2.7, worst on the team. The Blazers are stingier in terms of field goal percentage against and three-point percentage against with him off the court. Opponents are shooting a scorching 67.2 percent at the rim with Kanter on the floor compared to just 59.9 percent when he’s sitting. Portland also grabs a slightly smaller share of defensive rebounds without him manning the middle, too.
All of the defensive limitations that have plagued Kanter since he entered the league in 2014 have reared their ugly head with the Blazers. He moves in sand while sliding laterally, doesn’t have the length or leaping ability to effectively challenge shots at the rim, and is often a step slow getting into position as a help defender – extra debilitating given Portland’s ultra-conservative defensive scheme.
Kanter does everything right initially while defending this pick-and-roll between Jamal Crawford and Richaun Holmes: He calls out the coverage, cuts off the drive by stationing himself at the elbow, and even gets back between the ball and the basket after Crawford slips a bounce pass to the rolling Holmes. None of that early work matters in the end, though, as Kanter’s choppy feet betray him while Holmes euro-steps around to the rim for an unencumbered finish.
Kanter isn’t long or explosive enough to be a good defense’s primary last line of protection at the rim. But many solid defensive outfits get by despite employing subpar shot-blockers on something close to a full-time basis, with the player in question compensating for that weakness by maintaining the integrity of the defensive string. Kanter, unfortunately, just can’t be counted on to be in the right place at the right time, arguably the most important factor a single player brings to Portland’s system.
In the clip below, he can be seen communicating with Seth Curry as Paul George isolates Al-Farouq Aminu at the top of the floor. Most offensive players stationed in the strong-side corner prohibit their defender from digging down to help on a drive due to the threat of a catch-and-shoot corner three, but not Nerlens Noel. Regardless, Kanter sticks to Noel as George straight-line drives to the rim and draws a foul, leaving Curry noticeably frustrated.
Means of limiting the influence of Kanter’s defensive ineptitude grow smaller in the playoffs, when teams spend extra time game-planning to exploit the weaknesses of specific players. Coaches most easily work around that issue by matching the minutes of an imminently-attackable defender against those of the opposition’s greatest offensive threat. Terry Stotts did just that in the Blazers’ overtime loss to Oklahoma City on March 7, three times bringing Kanter in or taking him out of the lineup when Westbrook checked in or out of the game.
Expect Stotts to take the same approach should his team match up with the Thunder, Golden State Warriors, Rockets, or Denver Nuggets in the playoffs. Finding Kanter minutes against the two-time defending champions might be impossible, and it would be nearly as difficult against Harden and Chris Paul. Stotts could match his minutes against those of Nikola Jokic against Denver, especially if Jamal Murray is also on the bench with the Nuggets’ best player. Kanter’s viability versus other playoff teams will probably depend on the flow of the game. If Donovan Mitchell or Lou Williams get hot, for instance, playing him against the Utah Jazz or Los Angeles Clippers could prove nearly as problematic as it would against Golden State.
Of course, Kanter could force his way into a consistent role against some potential postseason opponents if he proves a bellwether for Portland offensively, but that just hasn’t been the case to this point. The Blazers score 19.2 points more per 100 possessions with Kanter on the bench, a massive discrepancy explained by major dips in true shooting percentage, assist rate, and pace when he’s on the floor. Kanter’s presence has no positive effect on Portland’s offensive rebounding numbers, either. It’s also not like he’s lacked the opportunity to play with the team’s top players. Lineups featuring Kanter and Damian Lillard, playing perhaps the best basketball of his career right now, have an offensive rating of just 101.4, well below the Blazers’ season-long mark.
Kanter certainly brings a lot to the table offensively. He has incredible touch in the paint, the patience and footwork necessary to finish over or around longer defenders, and a canny understanding of screen-setting. Like Jusuf Nurkic, he routinely engulfs defenders while setting picks on the ball, and is also adept at the advanced art of flipping screens at the last minute, giving penetrators a new path to the rim.
But the space Kanter yields for Portland’s drivers and shooters as a screener, and his looming threat as a roll man whose knack for finding creases in the defense creates passing lanes for ball handlers have taken a backseat to his proclivity for post-ups on the left block. In years past, that might have been an acceptable outcome of his time on the floor, but Kanter just hasn’t been effective enough with his back to the basket to warrant the number of touches he’s received as a primary option.
He’s been used more frequently in the post since signing with the Blazers than any player in the league save LaMarcus Aldridge. Kanter is producing only .95 points per possession from the block, though, an average number beset by his problematic turnover rate and relative inability to draw fouls. Portland went to Kanter on the left box for three separate possessions late in the third quarter of a win over the Los Angeles Clippers, with no points to show for it despite the fact he was being guarded by the 6-foot-6 Montrezl Harrell.
In the postseason, will the Blazers really be able to afford going to Kanter on the left block for several possessions a game? It wouldn’t matter as much if he made his presence felt elsewhere offensively, but he’s not cleaning the offensive glass at his normally dominant rate, and Lillard, especially, has seemed reluctant to use him as a release valve on short rolls when teams double the ball, forcing it out of his hands. Kanter isn’t nearly as comfortable making plays from the high post as Nurkic, and obviously lacks the stretch of Meyers Leonard or even Zach Collins.
Last summer, Draymond Green popularized the term “16-game players,” referring to the rare type who can be on the floor for the duration of the postseason, irrespective of matchups and time and score. Kanter, it was made abundantly clear years ago, doesn’t fit that bill. Collins, given his versatile defensive chops and nascent long-range shooting ability, seems likeliest to cut into his minutes come playoff time, assuming Stotts continues embracing the four-out look he’s prioritized since the Blazers traded for Rodney Hood.
But the possibility Kanter becomes an afterthought for Portland in the postseason doesn’t mean his presence won’t be felt. Every possession matters in April, May, and June, and if Kanter is able to take advantage of a favorable matchup during his scant time on the floor, swinging the tenor of even a single playoff game with a flurry of offense, his signing will have proven well worth it. Anyone expecting him to do much more than that when it matters most, though, will be sorely disappointed.
May 31, 2020, 8:10 pmKz OkpalaF, Miami Heat
Kz Okpala's offensive game has come a long way since January according to Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon.
Okpala is already viewed as an NBA-ready defender, and once his offensive game is up to speed the Heat will have a hard time not getting him into the rotation. He spent 20 games in the G League and five with the Heat before the suspension slowed down his progression in 2020. Okpala got off to a slow start due to injuries, and a trade on draft day took away his chance to play in summer league. While this season is unlikely to amount to anything, Okpala is someone to watch in deeper leagues next year.
Source: Miami Herald
May 31, 2020, 8:03 pmGabe VincentPG, Miami Heat
Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon, stated that Gabe Vincent's knee is "good to go".
It sounds like Vincent would have no problem being NBA ready if the Heat decided to call up the two-way guard when play hopefully resumes July 31. Vincent is a strong 3-point shooter with the ability to attack a closeout, but it is still unlikely the Heat will need to put him on the floor for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
Source: Miami Herald
May 31, 2020, 7:51 pmShake MiltonSG, Philadelphia Sixers
According to projections by Mike O'Connor and Derek Bodner of The Athletic, Shake Milton will be a starter for the Sixers whenever play relaunches.
Milton was thriving for the Sixers when the season was suspended due to COVID-19, and some risk remains that Ben Simmons will bump him from the rotation when the stoppage in play is lifted. In 16 starts with the Sixers, Milton averaged 14.1 points, 2.2 3-pointers, 3.6 assists, 3 rebounds and 1.1 steals. As a 3-pointer specialist along, Milton has earned a slot in 12-team formats, but things are going to be more difficult when he is forced to play off-ball in a fully healthy lineup in Philadelphia
Source: The Athletic
May 31, 2020, 7:42 pmKevin DurantSF, Brooklyn Nets
On a recent ESPN podcast featuring Adrian Wojnarowski and his colleague Zach Lowe, Wojnarowski stated that Kevin Durant (torn Achilles) would not play for the Nets this year.
Wojnarowski went onto say that he had no source that had relayed that information to him. The Nets have largely been deferring to Durant and the medical staff when it comes to his prospects for playing this year. While the organization may get hopeful that KD will lace it up for a playoff run, all signs are still pointing to him waiting until 2020-21.
Source: Anthony Puccio on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 7:43 pmEric GordonSG, Houston Rockets
Rockets guard Eric Gordon has improved his diet, focused on sprints, and has apparently shed 12 pounds in the process, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic.
Gordon has battled knee ailments for essentially his whole career and has dealt with his fair share of nagging injuries this season as well. Losing weight to create a lighter frame would seem sensible, especially with the knee issues. The Rockets, remember, fully adopted the "small ball" lineup and move fast so Gordon is smart to keep his endurance and fitness at high levels. He's going to have to play well and make shots for the Rockets when the NBA returns to action, otherwise coach Mike D'Antoni won't be able to justify giving Gordon minutes. We don't anticipate much fantasy value out of him if and when the league starts back up.
Source: The Athletic
May 29, 2020, 6:03 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is reporting that the NBA is planning for a Board of Governors vote on Thursday, during which they are expected to approve Adam Silver's proposal for re-starting the season in Orlando.
The trend lines are all moving in this direction, and this adds another bullet point on the schedule as the league prepares for launching games on July 31. Adam Silver has been able to bridge any divides between ownership and the players, and has been taking into account all his key constituent's views as we approach approval of a plan for moving forward. We still have plenty of items to resolve before we see game action, but the NBA is gaining momentum as these details come into place.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 4:44 pmBradley BealSG, Washington Wizards
On Friday, the Wizards resumed holding voluntary workouts at their practice facilities.
The Wizards have joined a chorus of teams that are returning in limited capacities to their facilities at this point. The NBA as a whole is continuing its march towards the resumption of play with a target date of July 31 now established. The District of Columbia also entered phase one of reopening today, and it makes sense for the team to proceed on a similar trajectory.
Source: Candace Buckner on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 4:03 pmJulius RandlePF, New York Knicks
Part of the Knicks' off-season thinking is to shape the roster around RJ Barrett, and it unclear where Julius Randle will fit in those plans.
Barrett and Randle have similar offensive styles, as they typically have an advantage relying upon their strength to attack the basket, but neither has a component deep ball at this stage in their careers. As Barrett is the younger option it makes sense that the Knicks want to sign shooters to give him more space to operate with. Randle's lousy percentages and turnovers has made for a disappointing season with the Knicks thus far, and Barrett will also need to make some strides in the shooting department to become a 12-team asset. Randle is under contract for next season is owed at least $4,000,000 in 2021-22.
May 29, 2020, 3:46 pmJayson TatumSF, Boston Celtics
On Friday, the Celtics' announced that their practice facilities would reopen on June 1.
That leaves us with four NBA teams without access to their facilities. Things are beginning to accelerate throughout the league as teams ramp up activities in hopes of resuming competition in Orlando on July 31. So far so good, but the NBA still has many hurdles to overcome on the path to resuming the season.
Source: Celtics PR on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 3:40 pmRJ BarrettSF, New York Knicks
The Knicks reopened their practice facility for voluntary workouts on Friday.
Another step in the right direction for the NBA's return to action at the end of July. It's still unclear if the Knicks will even be involved in whatever plan is agreed upon, but it is good to learn that the players can now access their facilities in New York. Only five team facilities have not opened up in some capacity at this point.
Source: Knicks PR on Twitter