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Midseason progress report: Enes Kanter

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Earning under $4.8 million for the year, Kanter has shown to be a true bargain pick-up that is elevating the team when on the floor.

Atlanta Hawks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Enes Kanter, capable of singlehandedly demoralizing the opposition on their own glass, has been delivered on his reputation in Boston. Known for his insatiable hunger on the offensive boards, he ranks in the 97th percentile league wide according to Cleaning the Glass. Delightfully surprising has been his ability on the defensive glass too, pulling down 26 percent of available rebounds which places him among the elite defensive rebounders in the 94th percentile. Boston has been screaming for a board eater of Kanter’s ilk for close to a decade and they are getting rewarded for their patience now.

Social media is rife with discussions based around the defensive jumps players take when operating under Brad Stevens, Kanter is adding fuel to that fire. He was billed as a defensive sieve coming into the season, leading everyone to believe there would be times he’d be rendered unplayable. Granted his improvement has not been so dramatic as to describe him as a lock down big, but he’s been utilized in match ups that play to his strengths. Brad is doing what he does best: putting players in positions to succeed based on their skill set. For Kanter, that means banging down low and securing the boards on either end of the floor.

Synergy tracks Kanter as a highly effective shot changer when closing out on jump shooters, holding them to 26 percent shooting when closing out on the spot up. That ranks him among the top 4 percent of defenders in the league when guarding a spot up shooter. Due to his height and length, it makes sense that smaller shooters are having to re-adjust their shot on the fly to shoot over the Turkish man-mountain.

Portland used him as a drop defender during his time with the Trailblazers on their trip to the Western Conference Finals last year. Stevens has rebuked that system, encouraging him to go over the pick and apply pressure when chasing down the ball handler in the rear view. Systematically, this is what fits though, going over the pick provides the room necessary to run their switch heavy rotation. Kanter is just a step too slow to apply enough pressure to disrupt the ball handlers shot at a higher clip than he currently is.

When on the floor, Boston ranks in the 94th percentile for put backs, increasing those attempts by 4 per 100 possessions. Of those put back attempts, Boston is sitting in the 94th percentile, which has been uncharted water for this roster since the days of Kevin Garnett. Furthermore, on the defensive end, they are grabbing an extra 5 rebounds per 100 when Kanter is patrolling the paint per Cleaning the Glass.

That output alone is enough to justify the small salary (by NBA standards) that Kanter is taking home, but it hasn’t stopped him from affecting the game in other ways. In particular, his use of slip screens when running the pick-and-roll with either Kemba Walker or Brad Wanamaker. Those slips are allowing easy passes into the paint or at the nail, giving Kanter room to post up and either attack the basket or facilitate for a cutting wing.

Slipping screens like that allows Kanter the room required to build up momentum, something that negates his lack of lateral quickness and limits the mobility issues he has. It also forces perimeter defenses to either stunt or help, opening up passing opportunities for the wings posted out in the corners.

Kanter is a physical body down on the block, utilizing shoulder feints and drop steps well enough to throw you back into the 80’s and 90’s. He’s a very traditional center in that regard which actually bodes well when facing second units and smaller lineups. To date, Kanter has attacked the defense with post ups 100 times, scoring 51 buckets (51 percent) and drawing ten shooting fouls to boot. That’s a solid return from the post, especially when appreciating the passing he has flashed from those positions, too.

Outside of his on court escapades, Kanter has brought a truly jovial presence to the locker room. Always smiling and joking in front of cameras like showing a gleeful reaction to remaining on the roster as the trade deadline passed him by. Following the fractured locker room left in the wake of last season, his impact that cannot be underestimated.

Kanter has been a big plus on this team when many thought he was little more than a consolation prize in free agency. His style of basketball may be losing value in the league at an exponential rate, but he provides the Celtics with another positive dimension on both ends of the floor.