Much has been made of Kanter’s flaws since being picked up by the Celtics in the summer, most notably his defense.
Heading into the season opener against not one but two of the best big men in the league, you could be forgiven for expecting him to get exposed. While the Celtics failed to get the win, Kanter showed signs of promise during his 25 minutes on the floor.
Finishing the game with a total of 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists, it was a good contribution from a center earning $4,886,175 this year.
It started so bad for him though. Embiid scored the opening bucket after curling to the weak side and finishing off a lob from Ben Simmons. Kanter had lost his man thanks to a strong tag from Josh Richardson and failed to recover in time, the lob pass alleviating the pressure applied by Kanter’s rear view pursuit.
Two plays later, Embiid’s number was called again, this time on the low block. Kanter stood his ground, not giving ground in the muscle play. Embiid settled for a turnaround fadeaway which ultimately missed.
These two plays embody what you can expect during the early phase of the season. On one hand, there is a center capable of losing his man and on the other, there is a center capable of handling the physical play down low and forcing poor one-on-one shots.
The battle between these two giants ended quite even. For every play Kanter nullified Embiid, there was another where he would get smoked either on the perimeter or off of cuts to the hoop. You can’t win them all though, but holding your man to 5 of 14 shooting should be considered a win.
On offense, Kanter shot 62.5% on 5 of 8 shooting, mostly in the restricted area.
Doing damage under and around the rim, he was able to take high percentage shots. This provides the Celtics with a new dimension this year. Outside of Baynes, they have not had an interior presence like this for quite some time.
In the play below, Kanter sets up on the weak side corner, keeping the lanes to the paint free while allowing the play to develop. Smart brings the ball over to right side of the court, converting Kanter’s position to the strong side.
Carsen Edwards is in the paint looking to get an open shot opportunity, Kanter cuts in just above the baseline and positions himself for the pin down. As Edwards tries to run his man into the screen, Kanter slips towards the basket resulting in an open look and leaving his man with no chance to defend.
It’s an intelligent play on Kanter’s part, his pin down distracts Embiid who is now focused on the shooting threat of Edwards. As such, Embiid has positioned himself in a way as to enable him to close out on any drive Edwards may attempt, but due to this, he loses Kanter.
Unfortunately, his poor free-throw shooting soured what was otherwise a respectable night on offense. Shooting just 2 of 7 from the line, improvements must be made. A career 77.8% shooter from the line, there should be nothing to worry about as we move deeper into the season.
The six rebounds he collected sits slightly under his career average of 7.6 per game, but he was guarded by a board-eater in his own right in Embiid. However, three offensive boards for the Celtics is like Christmas come early no matter which way you spin it - they have been crying out for that for years.
Enes Kanter gets the nod at center for Celtics, which should help prevent them from getting killed on the glass against Phillys size.— Brian Robb (@BrianTRobb) October 23, 2019
While his first game in Celtics green was nothing to shout from the rooftops about, he did provide a solid contribution. In what was a baptism of fire for this roster, they showed promise. Kanter will never be the answer to all the defensive question thrown at the Celtics this year, but more performances of this level and he wont be the problem either.