I know the Oklahoma City Thunder season did not open as everyone had hoped, but with all the negative things going on in the world today like climate change and mass shootings, I think I would rather focus on something positive right now and that something is Enes Kanter's defense. I wrote some pretty harsh words about Kanter prior to his signing, but I believe in being fair. There is no other way to put it, Kanter's defense has surprised the heck out of me lately.
While I am happy to devour a healthy portion of crow after I was dead wrong about the amount of effort Kanter would put forth on defense this season, I was right about one thing. The excuse that he struggled on defense because he lacked quickness was a myth. He may not be fast and even an old dude like me might have a higher vertical, but the same quick feet that make Enes so effective on offense are now being put to good use on the other end. His problem was not necessarily a lack of quickness, but rather a lack of proper footwork. Issues like stepping across his body and exposing his back like we see here have plagued Kanter his entire career:
Oh man.... that was foo-gly.... and here...
or bad positioning and indecision resulting in...
Ugg!.... yeah, that's what I said... Ugg!
My lack of faith in Kanter's defensive future stemmed from watching repeated end of season interviews in which Kanter would name defense as his primary need for improvement... but never improve. My doubts were only magnified after seeing these above examples of Kanter's defensive issues repeated while wearing a Thunder uniform.
Fortunately, I am happy to report that his annual defense mantra in his end of season interview in April appears to more than just lip service. Kanter's defense is getting better and his effort thus far even drew the praise of Thunder veteran Nick Collison after the Thunder's win over the Dallas Mavericks:
High praise from Mr. Thunder and as you will see, well deserved.
Check out the big Turk on this switch:
Lovely.... Kanter never exposes his back by crossing over his body as we saw in the previous clips and is in perfect position to force a Goran Dragic miss on the.... and pay particular attention here... THE FAR SIDE OF THE RIM!!!
Check out "the big kid" on Miami Heat on this sweet two-fer. First he stays down on Chris Bosh and forces the contested jumper, and in the same sequence forces future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade into a long contested two:
SW-W-WEET! Again, doesn't cross his feet, more importantly, doesn't bite on the Wade's pump fake he had used to draw multiple fouls from other Thunder defenders, and then closes in and forces Wade into an ugly Nowitzki fall back jumper that barely draws iron!
Now I really like this next one.... and hate it. In fact, I liked/hated it so much my wife threatened to divorce me after the 20th time I replayed it!! I call it: "Closed for Business."
Kanter picks up Thompson on one switch. Thompson wants nothing to do with Kanter and kicks the ball out to McRoberts. Kanter quickly recovers when Dion Waiters stays on Thompson, closes on McRoberts who tries to blow past Enes but Kanter is prepared for that, sets his feet, changes direction and stays with his man all the way to the baseline. Here is the hate part. Would someone please explain to me how this play resulted in a foul call on Kanter?!? Obviously the refs are going to have to get used to a new sheriff in town because Enes ran this hombre out of town on a rail. Yee-HAW!
Here is another example of Kanter not crossing his feet. Thompson probably should have converted this shot but the fact that the new and improved Kanter was still there at all after the Heat set a double screen to free Thompson may have been enough to pressure the miss:
Now you see me and..... now you still see me....
This final example is the cherry on top. Possibly because it involves Dragic, but nevertheless, it made me hoot.
Another example of Kanter timing the switch perfectly, staying square to his opponent, and not crossing his feet. This nice piece of work results in a traveling call when Dragic is unable to shake Enes and Waiters forces Dragic to reverse his direction after cutting him off at the pass. Yippee-ki-ya little doggie.... our ball..... (I would have used the entire Bruce Willis quote from "Die Hard" but my Mom hates it when I cuss...)
The secret to Kanter's success is simple. Long legs create long strides, and he is able to cover a great deal of distance in very few steps. The final clip above is an excellent example to look at. On Kanter's second side step he makes up the distance Dragic created after the switch in one long stride.
I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Kanter's defensive awakening this season. Last season was painful to watch. Sure, he was scoring in bunches, but I missed most of that because I would still be cringing from the easy layup he just gave away at the other end. He was indecisive for one thing but more damaging was how obvious it was that Kanter was tentative. I had a nickname for Kanter last season and I will admit it... it was not nice. I gave it to him during a game after watching an old episode of " The Big Bang Theory". See if you can guess the nickname. (here is a hint, pay attention to what Penny says 20 seconds into the clip)
If you guessed Man-Panties give yourself a gold star. The Thunder's road game against the Bulls followed watching that scene and Kanter's efforts against Gasol that night were nothing short of horrendous and the nickname stuck. Sorry Enes.
This season however, Kanter has traded his defensive man-panties for caveman drawers! He is focused and aggressive and....
Ok.... just like the wheel, Kanter's defense is still a work in progress BUT I officially jumped on the Kanter bandwagon this particular wheel is on when he took on Demarcus Cousins, aka "Boogie"....but I don't like him so I call him "Booger" short for "Booger-man".....
Apparently Kanter "ain't afraid of no Booger-man" either and he didn't need "no horse pistol" to prove it:
Obviously, talent is a necessary ingredient for playing solid defense, but all the talent in the world will not help if a player is not working from a mindset of playing focused and more importantly, aggressive. After last season's trade Kanter floated around with this goofy "just happy to be here" grin all the time and I dreaded seeing him on the floor. This season however, Enes hits the floor each game with a look of determination and I find I am like a little kid on Christmas morning anxiously waiting to see what new defensive skill he has picked up.
In summation I just want to say this to Enes Kanter: I'm sorry I didn't believe you. Good luck and go get 'em Rooster!