In his introductory press conference, Enes Kanter was taking shots. When asked why he chose #11, Kanter jokingly said it was an old jersey number he wore before and that “I want to be the reason no one else will wear it.” It was a call back to Kyrie Irving’s Nike commercial where he vowed to raise #11 to the rafters as a Celtic. He’s been taking shots like that all summer since joining the team, retweeting photos sent in by fans who have re-purposed old Irving jerseys and turning them into his own. However, this might be Kanter’s most important shot in July:
My first shot as a #Celtic ☘️ pic.twitter.com/iEwDoiVgGr— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) July 5, 2019
That was Kanter’s first three as a Celtic and it won’t be his last. At the presser, both Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens talked about Kanter’s potential as an outside shooter that could fit into Boston’s offensive system. The 27-year-old signed a two-year, $10 million contract, but he has a player option for 2020-2021. For Kanter to best fit in and become a longer term piece with the Celtics, he’ll have to move his game out of his comfort zone.
Kanter won’t be the first traditional big man that Stevens will attempt to modernize. In Jared Sullinger’s rookie season in Boston under Doc Rivers, he shot a total of five three-pointers over nearly nine hundred minutes; in his first year under Stevens, he extended his range and that number jumped up to 208 attempts. As painful as their jump shots might have looked at times, even Amir Johnson and Aron Baynes became 3-point catapults. Al Horford started transforming his game in his final season in Atlanta, shooting 256 threes in 2015-2016. In eight previous seasons, he had shot a total of 65. Stevens weaponized Horford in Boston and turned him into the prototypical stretch big.
There is a give-and-take however. A big strength in Kanter’s game is his offensive rebounding. Last season, Kanter was second in the league behind Andre Drummond in per-36 offensive rebounds per game at 5.6. and second to Hassan Whiteside in second chance points per-36 at 6.1. When shots go up, you can see Kanter rooting out his defender immediately.
It’s important to note that Kanter hasn’t averaged more than 26 minutes a game over his last four seasons. He’s become a specialist of sorts. He’s a relentless pursuer of extra possessions off the glass, more wrecking ball than spark plug off the bench.
The Celtics, who have at times struggled on the boards, have been consistently victimized by Kanter. In limited minutes in five games as a Knick and a Trailblazer last season, Kanter grabbed nineteen offensive rebounds and scored twenty second chance points.
Even if Kanter becomes a nominal threat from behind the arc, moving Kanter away from the paint could reduce his effectiveness. Of course, Kanter isn’t just one thing, but every player has their tendencies and areas of the floor that they want to operate in.
If there’s a balance to strike between Kanter’s rugged paint game and how the Celtics use their bigs as hubs in their offense, what might tip the scale is Boston’s roster construction. The Celtics are wing-rich with two All-Star playmakers and two up-and-coming swing men looking to make a developmental leap next season.
What made Horford so effective was not only his ability to shoot from behind the arc. He could stretch the floor and bring his defender out of the paint and make plays above the break.
However, with Kanter and Kemba Walker sharing the stage last week, there’s a misconception that they’re somehow Horford and Irving replacements (even though the latter comparison might have merit). Kanter is more an offensive version of Aron Baynes. Baynes was a positional traffic cop on D and whatever he gave you on offense was gravy. Kanter, on the other hand, has been for the most part a defensive negative, but has used his 6’11, 250-pound frame to wreak havoc on offense. He’s not exactly the most skilled player, but he’s leveraged his size to literally carve out a niche in the NBA. If you believe Ainge, Kanter was part of Boston’s “Plan A” this summer which at least suggests that they see more potential in the eight-year veteran.