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New York Knicks

Unchangeable Enes Kanter playing his game in New York

Nov 8, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) drives to the basket as New York Knicks center Enes Kanter (00) defends during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

ORLANDO, Fla.  — Reporters have surrounded Kristaps Porzingis’ locker at the Amway Center. Porzingis will miss that night’s game versus the Magic, with nagging injuries keeping him out of the lineup as a precautionary measure.

Nearby, Enes Kanter is defending brussels sprouts.

He loves food in general, he says, and that’s not hard to believe. A glossy look comes across his face as he describes the wealth of Turkish restaurants in New York City, where he is now employed. But brussels sprouts?

“I love ‘em, man” says Kanter.

This past Halloween, Kanter posted a picture of the leafy vegetables wrapped in gold foil and replacing the chocolate normally found within. In Orlando, he laughs remembering the post but insists that it was all in good fun, not something he actually did for trick-or-treaters.

“No, man,” he explains. “I don’t want to ruin a kid’s Halloween forever!”

Kanter is all smiles, insisting he loves New York and everything about it. He’s embracing the change after two and a half seasons in Oklahoma City. New York’s cultural diversity provides some comfort for him, Kanter admits, and of course there’s the food.

But there’s also Porzingis, who has exceeded expectations so far this season, putting up gaudy numbers (especially 30.4 points per game, second-best in the NBA) while leading the Knicks to a surprising 7-5 record. Still, if Porzingis’ absence from the lineup is a concern, Kanter doesn’t show it.

“I think we’re just going to play our basketball, man,” explains Kanter. “I think he’s a big part of our family, obviously, but we’re just going to play our game. Of course, we’re going to miss him a lot but we’re just going to go out there and do our job.”

That comes across often in a brief conversation with Kanter, the idea of sticking to what you do best. “My job,” “my game” or some variation on the theme are worked into nearly every response. The game versus Orlando is the second of a back-to-back set. Kanter faced off versus burly Dwight Howard the previous night and would go up against the perimeter-oriented Nikola Vučević later. When asked how he adjusts to playing against such contrasting styles, Kanter’s response isn’t surprising.

“They’re different players,” he says, “but I’m just gonna do what I do.”

What he does, simply, is provide bursts of scoring and rebounding in limited minutes. As a starter for the Knicks, he’s adding 13.6 points and a team-leading 10.6 rebounds per game (1oth-best in the league) as Porzingis’ frontcourt complement. With the Thunder last season, he averaged 14.3 points and 6.7 boards while coming off the bench.

Points and rebounds … rinse-and-repeat.

Perhaps what’s most remarkable about Kanter’s immutable style is how archaic it is in its efficiency. Per Basketball Reference, 51.6 percent of his career field goal attempts have come within 3 feet of the rim; that number is at a career-high 64.4 percent this season in New York. Kanter’s scoring range isn’t limited, having converted nearly 37 percent of his career attempts from mid-range (about 16-23 feet from the rim). He even has legitimate 3-point range (29.6 percent on 108 career attempts).

But around the rim is definitely where Kanter does his job best. Kanter’s post-up moves constitute 27.2 percent of his total offense for good reason; he ranks in the 83rd percentile among all players, per NBA.com. Kanter credits the footwork to growing up playing soccer, learning on the pitch then what he uses now in the low post.

Watch here as he catches the ball with his back to Vučević before facing him up, driving past him, stopping and pivoting before unloading a 7-foot hook shot:

 

Kanter’s rebounding plays a significant part of his offense, too. He currently ranks fourth in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game, tied with former Thunder teammate Steven Adams at 4.0 per game. The Knicks rank second in the league in putback offense, averaging 1.35 points per possession with Kanter and backup Kyle O’Quinn leading the way. Kanter is especially effective, ranking in the 93rd percentile while averaging 1.52 points per possession.

At 6-foot-11 and 245 pounds, Kanter is surprisingly nimble, demonstrating a keen knack for getting a quick jump — or jumps — over opposing rebounders. Here, he corrals his own missed hook shot, tipping it to himself and putting up another shot while Sacramento’s Kosta Koufos remains ground-bound and out of the play:

 

At just 25 years old and already in his seventh season in the NBA, Kanter’s offense and rebounding have become absolutely dependable. Unfortunately for him, there’s the other side of the ball, which is why Kanter is already on his third team during his relatively short career.

Kanter insists his defense isn’t an issue and explains that the critics that point out his shortcomings in that regard are just motivation for him to improve. When he was acquired by the Thunder, the thought process was that he’d benefit from playing alongside Adams, who could mask Kanter’s flaws. That line of thinking followed him to the Big Apple, where the 7-foot-3 Porzingis might help. But the reality is that Kanter has never shown an aptitude for defense, and it is confounding as to why.

As nimble as Kanter is offensively, he’s virtually the opposite on defense, often appearing rooted to the court. Worse, however, is when he tries to anticipate the play and finds himself completely out of position. After giving up a 3-pointer to Vučević early in the first quarter, Kanter gets backed down by the Magic center, giving up considerable real estate in the process:

 

Vučević has a reputation for not being overtly physical, yet he absolutely manhandles Kanter on the play. Kanter then responds by trying to “pull the chair” on Vučević before changing his mind, returning to defend the hook shot and then committing a foul. The play checks all the boxes for what not to do on defense.

Against the Magic, Kanter seemed particularly woeful. Clearly fatigue had set in, leading to only 20 minutes of action on the night. Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek told reporters after the game the team “just didn’t have it,” a statement that certainly applied to Kanter. He started the third quarter, was taken out early and didn’t return.

Exhaustion plays a role, undoubtedly, but Kanter’s defensive woes have been there throughout his career and don’t seem likely to change. Motivated he may be, but that has yet to translate to an improvement.

Kanter’s tenure in New York is going as well as can be expected. He remains a solid teammate, defending his current point guard one minute, then wishing a former one a happy birthday the next. He’s a lively personality with a good sense of humor and a good presence on a Knicks team that seemed joyless over the last few years.

You can count on him to provide some needed scoring and rebounding around the basket and likely giving up a few baskets as well. There’s no doubt he’s going to play his game, and that means you have to get used to the bad and the good that comes with it.

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