On the day head coach Ime Udoka addressed Enes Kanter’s comments about his playing time (or lack there of) as “strictly based on basketball,” the Celtics needed him that night in Cleveland. Robert Williams didn’t return after injuring his knee in the first half and with game close late in the third quarter, Kanter was called into action.
In eight minutes, Kanter wreaked havoc on the Cavaliers with his special brand of bully ball. Both his buckets came off offensive rebounds (one of his own and another from Jayson Tatum) and three of his bone-crushing screens resulted in seven points, helping the Celtics earn a split in the series.
Since then, Kanter carved out a role with Williams shelved for four games. Grant Williams may have had a splashier (pun intended) effect as a starter in the rotation, but Kanter has performed admirably in a bit part this week. In back-to-back nights against the Lakers and Thunder, Kanter finished a +30 in 33 minutes with 15 points and 17 rebounds. Not bad for a player Brad Stevens signed for the veteran’s minimum ($2.6 million for one year) last summer.
Boston has figured out how to hide some of Kanter’s defensive deficiencies. Just as they’ve adjusted their coverages with Al Horford and Robert Williams so that they’re more selectively switching on perimeter players, Kanter has almost played exclusively in the drop on pick-and-rolls (backing into the paint to prevent drives). He’ll still get roasted by athletic bigs — Anthony Davis caught Kanter in no man’s land on a few rim runs — but for the most part, he’s been a serviceable fourth big off the bench.
Even in Timelord’s return on Monday night to a healthy front court, Kanter still found a way on the floor. With Horford nursing two fouls early in the first quarter and Robert Williams ramping back up from injury, Kanter plugged in seamlessly with the second unit and mopped up minutes to bridge the Horford-Williams gap.
The Celtics rotation seems fairly set at the moment at nine players with the starters plus Dennis Schroder, Josh Richardson, Grant Williams, and Romeo Langford in the second unit. We’ve seen cameos from Payton Pritchard, Aaron Nesmith, and Jabari Parker depending on what the game needs at any given moment, but knock on wood, with everybody more or less healthy heading into December’s murderer’s row of contenders and a lengthy trip out west, Kanter might be relegated to spot minutes or human cigar duty.
There are tools that over time, make it to the bottom of the tool chest, a rubber mallet or the hex wrench that adjusts the legs of the washing machine. But every once in a while, you need them if the dryer starts vibrating too much or Joel Embiid has your front court in foul trouble. It should be noted that in Boston’s recent 8-3 turnaround when the team was a bit wobbly from injury, Kanter’s been a positive and a positive “strictly based on basketball.”