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Enes Kanter’s value as a stretch reliever

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Sometimes, you just need a guy to eat innings.

Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

You’re the manager of a baseball team and your offense has put up seven runs, but your starter has looked shaky through three innings. It just isn’t his night and if he keeps it up, that lead isn’t going to hold up. It is way too early for the closer or even the setup guy, so where do you turn? You tap your right arm and send in the long reliever. Not good enough to be a regular starter, not efficient enough to be a closer, but the guy is a work horse, and he can eat innings with the best of them. He’ll give up a run here and there, but more often than not, he’s getting them to pound the ball into the sand for harmless ground outs.

Enes Kanter is what he is at this point. He’s going to struggle defensively against teams with dynamic pick and roll attacks. He’s too slow laterally to get caught on an island and he’s not going to be able to close out on most 3 point shooters.

On the other hand, he brings a lot to the table as well. He’s going to gobble up rebounds like they’re donut holes (including offensive boards). He’s going to catch difficult passes in traffic on slant routes for six yards like Julian Edelman. He’s going to get opportunistic buckets and even some opportunistic swipe blocks. He’s also not going to demand the ball or force up too many shots. He knows his role and he plays it well.

Theis is clearly the deserved starter (and the block on Trae Young exemplifies why) but he can’t play the full 48 minutes and there’s only so much small ball you can get away with. You need a guy like Kanter to eat up those minutes, especially with two of our other bigs out with injuries.

Brad Stevens has made a career out of maximizing players strengths and minimizing their weaknesses. So far, the Celtics have been able to succeed (even defensively!) with large doses of Enes Kanter in the rotation. Some of that is monitoring match ups, some of it is tailoring elements of the scheme to his talents, and some of it is purely empowering a guy to go out and do his thing.

Most of the credit, however, goes to Kanter for working hard and playing within his role. He’s not a franchise center, he’s got his limitations, and he’ll make his share of mistakes. But he also might be just what the Celtics need to get them through a long regular season and playoff run.