A variety of NBA teams were active at the 2015 trade deadline, but if early returns are any indication, the Thunder’s decision to trade disgruntled guard Reggie Jackson for big man Enes Kanter in a three-team deal is set to pay huge dividends.
In recent years, the Thunder's center position has been filled by names like Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, Hasheem Thabeet and Nazr Mohammed. It’s always been a weak point around the in-house duo of superstars. But while Kanter is only 22, inexperienced and trying to carve out a steady niche in the pros, he’s already proving to be a profound upgrade.
[daily_cut.NBA]Kanter is averaging 14.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game with the Thunder since coming over from the Jazz. For reference, he averaged 13.8 points, 7.8 boards and 0.5 assists for Utah. Even more noteworthy is he’s converting 56.7% of his field goals—up significantly from the 49.1% he posted in Salt Lake City—and he has yet to attempt a three-point shot.
When Kanter was with the Jazz, Quin Snyder and the coaching staff aimed to expand Kanter’s range and make him fit the role of a stretch-four. Kanter attempted 41 threes in 49 games for Utah, but only cashed in on 31.7% of them.
Note: You can scroll over each zone to see Kanter’s percentages compared to the league average.
Throughout the '14-15 campaign, Kanter has been scoring above league average in the restricted area (60.9%). But because the personnel in Utah consisted of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert (two fellow bigs who thrive close to the rim), Kanter was pushed out of his comfort zone. His numbers from outside the paint have been ugly from everywhere.
Now that Kanter is playing alongside a floor-spreading power forward in Serge Ibaka, he can stay on the interior where he thrives offensively. Ibaka’s shots from the left corner three, left baseline and at the mid-range elbows have all been holding steady at above the league average, which makes him far more logical an option to play the role of stretch-four by comparison.
Over the years, Oklahoma City’s Achilles’ heel has been depth. While Durant and Westbrook (especially lately with four straight triple doubles) have been outstanding, even that dynamic duo can only do so much. In the past, if Ibaka didn’t step up with a big-time performance, Russ and KD would be forced to carry the team to victory. It’s unlikely that Kanter will ever be a game’s high scorer, but he can definitely take pressure off his All-Star teammates with steady offensive contributions.
Kanter has contributed double-digit scoring in five of six games since the trade deadline and double-digit rebounding in three of the six. He can score the rock efficiently when utilized correctly and crash the boards with his hulking frame—what he can’t do is protect the rim.
Compared solely to his own teammates, Kanter’s block numbers look completely anemic. It only gets worse when compared to the league at large, as the newly minted member of the Thunder ranks tied for No. 131 in the NBA in blocks per game. That’s below a variety of point guards like Derrick Rose, Patrick Beverley and John Wall.
It’s alarming that Kanter isn’t a better rim protector with his 6'11" frame, but it remains an evident weak spot in his game regardless. Fortunately, the Thunder have guys like Ibaka and Steven Adams to take on those responsibilities, but fans should certainly note there’s a Mr. Hyde to Kanter’s Dr. Jekyll.
Defensive shortcomings aside, the former No. 3 overall draft pick brings a unique element to OKC’s roster it simply hasn’t had before—an offensively competent center. Come playoff time (assuming the Thunder get in) that will be an invaluable asset.
Oklahoma City may not have made the splashiest trade in 2015, but it may prove to be the smartest in the short term.
More from Ben Leibowitz:
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