Enes Kanter performed exceptionally well in his return to the Portland Trail Blazers last season. In year 12, the 29-year-old averaged a double-double and shot a tad over 60 percent from the feild. In Boston’s new scheme of things, how will Kanter fit this time around?
Brad Stevens and the Celtics made very interesting changes in attempt to improve the roster from where it was at a season ago this summer. Mainly focused on adding defense and depth in hopes to build a deeper rotation. Notably, their first free agent signing was to bring back Kanter on a one-year, $2M deal.
“Obviously the other guy that we added that you haven’t asked about is Enes,” Stevens told the media in August. “There’s another proven guy that we were really fortunate to get when you consider the market. He was here a couple of years ago, and his ability to change a game with his rebounding and his scoring is pretty unique.”
In 2020-21, Kanter started in almost half of the Trail Blazers games due to the injury woes of their main five Jusuf Nurkić. He averaged 11 and 11 with an assist as his 34 double-doubles ranked seventh amongst centers.
What made Kanter so effective in Portland’s system was the team’s ability to run some plays through him. Whether it would be coming off a screen or not, Kanter’s able to find cutters going to the basket from the perimeter. His perseverance on the glass along with his feistiness allow him to muscle up and create post-passes out to shooters.
Kanter can be a force with his strength finishing at the cup in pick-and-rolls and of course, has a knack for cleaning up anything whenever those around him miss. Last season, Kanter finished second in the league (16.8) to Clint Capela in offensive rebound percentage, solidifying him in the top-three of the category for the last six seasons. He had 16 contests where he came down with 15 or more boards and four with at least 20, including this masterpiece right here.
YouTube: House of Highlights
“For me, to get a rebounding record is a lot different than points,” former Portland head coach Terry Stotts said following this outing. “Points I think is viewed differently, but when you look at the effort that it takes to rebound, the persistence at both ends, the beating that you have to take, all those things are tough to do. To get a rebounding record, I think speaks a lot about the person’s will and desire.”
Stotts continued to praise Kanter’s presence, personality and the joy that he provides for an organization:
“Enes has been unbelievably important to our team this year,” Stotts said. “He comes into the facility every day with a smile. Obviously, he has a lot of things going on in his life and in his home country and he carries that burden, but it never carries over. He has a great spirit about him, a great demeanor and his teammates enjoy being around him.”
What Happened the First Time in Boston?
The season prior wasn’t anything necessarily negative for Kanter, although it was basically the complete opposite of his impressive 2020-21 campaign. He did shoot 57%, but he only started in seven games and put up just nine double-doubles. Kanter playing 24 minutes in the opener against Joel Embiid and then sitting the next seven contests is a spot-on indication of how it went. No bueno for a guy who was projected to be the top big on the depth chart.
Kanter averaged just eight points and seven rebounds while he really only had one near 20-20 game for the Celtics. In his 58 games, Kanter only managed to score 20 or more points twice, both in the regular season.
Like most of Kanter’s career, he was able to provide a limited offensive punch when playing meaningful minutes with the starters or second unit. His tenacious rebounding and pesterous paint-play propels his game to become essential within a great offense, but it seems the feeling around Boston is that the team is better off with other front court options than the former Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
When the 2020 postseason tipped-off in the bubble, Kanter would either show some sign of life or was completely unplayable. He only saw the floor twice in the Conference Semifinals against Toronto with a total of seven minutes played. Once the Heat came around in the final four, Kanter seemed to play efficiently on the offensive end, but that wasn’t beating the fact that he couldn’t play any more than 10 minutes. His sloppy play was absolutely no match for Bam Adebayo, who turned out to be Boston’s kryptonite.
The Celtics did have a surprise down-low with the play of Daniel Theis, but as stated before, for a veteran who was expected to be the main man at the five, the first stint with the C’s did not go well.
Why Would It Be Different This Time?
Stevens has clearly done everything he can to restructure Boston’s roster with little flexibility this past offseason. It was mentioned previously that Kanter was the Celtics first free agency move, but Stevens first transaction came in mid-June when he brought back another former friend in Al Horford. This move not only cleared cap for the future, but it provided Boston another big option beside Robert Williams incase his durability is still an issue.
This means that a case could be made for Kanter to be somewhere between the eighth and tenth man on the roster with the other new or revamped pieces on the Celtics’ bench. With his ability to contribute highly on the offensive side of the ball to go with his trying defense and shot-blocking, it’s not far-fetched to call Kanter a potential diamond in the rough.
“We have very good individual players that score at an elite level, but if we can get that team concept down, I think that’ll help us tremendously,” new Celtics HC Ime Udoka said. “Getting back to the defensive mindset as well, you know you got Marcus Smart who’s a pit bull at the point guard, we added Josh Richardson, Dennis Schröder, bringing Al Hoford back in the mix, Enes Kanter so, we feel we can be a much better defensive team as well.”
The Difference: POR/BOS
What made Kanter look swell on defense last season was the pitiful Blazers sizing-up on that side of the floor. It was almost like he stood out and gave them a burst of momentum on that end along with his passing out to ball-handlers and those who can spray threes or create their own shot.
This time in Boston with protection around him in versatile guards and forwards, Kanter can bring his type of energy, passion and irresistible enthusiasm to this Celtics team.
“Beyond his on-court contributions, he is a great teammate,” Stevens said. “We are thrilled he chose to return to Boston.”
Feature Image: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images.
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