Over the last few years, a common narrative has developed around Boston Celtics backup center Enes Kanter.
Known for his brutal strength and back-to-basket chops, Kanter has a reputation for someone who gets played off the floor in important moments due to his defense. A few weeks ago, CelticsBlog’s Adam Taylor wrote on Kanter’s past defensive missteps and how teams have blanketed him to cover up those shortcomings in the postseason.
All efforts by Kanter and the coaching staff to tighten up his impact on the defensive end are designed to bring him to a minimally acceptable level. He doesn’t have to be Dikembe Mutombo, he just needs to be good enough to not be an extreme liability. Playing pick-and-roll coverages that mask his lack of speed and encourage him to stay close to the bucket can cover up most of his deficiencies.
But what often gets under-discussed is just how good Kanter is on offense. Quite frankly, the Celtics not only need a reliable presence at his position, they need the instant-offense he can provide.
According to NBA Stats, the Celtics are second-last in the league when it comes to bench scoring, putting up a paltry 27.2 points per contest. Part of that number is a mirage; with four starters averaging over 17 per game, Brad Stevens rarely designs rotations without at least one of the core four to shoulder the load.
But the metric isn’t deceitful in what it shows about the rest of the roster. The second unit lacks veteran scoring punch. Marcus Smart is a wildcard. Semi Ojeleye and Grant Williams are able front court defenders who (hopefully) can knock down open looks. The litany of smaller guards rotate frequently, with Brad Wanamaker leading the charge.
Enter Enes, as reliable a scoring threat as we’ve seen from a backup big in the last half-decade. Over the last five seasons, per Basketball-Reference, Kanter averages 20.8 points and 14.1 points per 36 minutes with a true shooting percentage of 61 percent. The only other player with multiple seasons of that output is Boban Marjanovic, the monstrous post man who plays smaller roles than Enes.
Kanter’s game is anything but modern. He’s a hulking low-post scorer who can barely jump over a phone book. He’s resisted adapting to the times and adding a reliable jump shot. Instead, Kanter has become the NBA’s counter culture, finding success in areas the rest of the league chooses to abandon.
The league-average team gets a result from post-ups on less than five percent of their offensive possessions, and the Celtics are no exception. But Kanter gets 22.7 percent of his plays in the post, top-10 across the NBA.
To understand Kanter’s post game is to take a step back and examine how right-handed post scorers can be very particular about which block they get the ball. Kanter prefers the left block, where he can get to his dominant right hand by dribbling middle. The right hook is impossible to block and a player of his limited lift needs to use his shoulders to create separation from his man to launch the hook.
Kanter’s repertoire has always been based on physical strength, which requires patience in the post. His teammates will dump the ball into him on the left block, clear away so he has that entire side of the floor, and watch him go one-on-one to destroy souls.
Notice how Kanter’s moves aren’t based on quickness, but on using his left shoulder as a battering ram to displace his defender. He uses his shoulder and elbow incredibly well to create space without extending and picking up blatant offensive fouls. He’s just a moose that is impossible to provide resistance against.
In order for defenders to properly prevent him from backing them down, many will try to force him back to his left hand. They’ll jump to that left shoulder and try to brace for contact, hoping their weight room regimen pays off against a future WWE superstar.
But Kanter is too strong and has the body control to stay balanced. Whether the defender ramps up their physicality or decides to pull the chair out, Enes can stay balanced on his feet and execute a step-through maneuver.
If defenders are screwed as soon as Kanter starts to back them down in the middle, why do they even let him get there? Why not sit on that inside shoulder as soon as he catches it?
Kanter has a counter for that, too.
Overzealous defenders who cheat too much on that inside shoulder fall victim to the only display of quickness Kanter regularly boasts. He’s great at turning into a quick spin baseline, where defenders cannot recover.
Because of his sheer size, no defender can get back in front to alter Kanter’s finish, regardless of his under-the-rim finishing style. By spinning baseline, he now has the opportunity to use the rim as a shield against shot blockers. Reach too far around him and he’ll flip in a reverse layup. Get sealed on his derriere and he can flip in a touch shot without much chagrin.
To play Kanter means to tailor both sides of the ball to his strengths and weaknesses. He needs a certain defensive coverage to remain tolerable on that end. He needs to play with shooters, and with guys who can defend one-on-one without needing a ton of help. On offense, he needs the ball, preferably on the left block, in order to score, and he’ll need to score to justify his minutes.
But the Celtics need him, now more than ever. He’s a prolific low post scorer who can anchor their second unit starving for offense. And he’s damn good at what he does well.