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2014-15 Thunder player grades: Enes Kanter scored lots of points, gave up lots of points

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Enes Kanter was a walking double-double, but a defensive stiff.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Enes Kanter

Contract status: $5.7 million (2014-15; expiring free agent)

Notable factoid: Once sent a tweet requesting blondes at the Cheesecake Factory, then followed up by asking for a massage from a brunette.

Player history:

  • Born May 20, 1992 to Turkish parents in Zürich, Switzerland.
  • After some success playing with youth squads in Europe at an early age, a 17 year old Kanter moved to the United States and eventually committed to play for John Calipari at Kentucky. However, he was ruled ineligible due to receiving financial compensation from Euro team Fenerbahçe Ülker.
  • Drafted third overall in the 2011 draft by the Utah Jazz. In three and a half seasons with the Jazz, Kanter averaged 9.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in 20.4 minutes per game, spending much of his early NBA career buried on the depth chart.
  • At this season's trade deadline, Kanter was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a seven-player, three-team deal also involving the Detroit Pistons.

Expectations:

Some envisioned Kanter as the low post scorer that the Thunder have always lacked, but a) the need for such a player was largely overblown; and b) new Jazz coach Quin Snyder had begun to mold Kanter into more of a pick-and-roll finisher anyway.

At any rate, Kanter was seen as a boon for the Thunder. You have to go back to the years of the Seattle SuperSonics for the last time this franchise has had a player with his touch around the rim – Kendrick Perkins didn't sniff him, nor did Steven Adams. Kanter had a bad rap on defense, but the thinking was that Serge Ibaka could more than make up for his deficiencies. After all, Ibaka hid Perkins for so long, right?

Regular season grade: C+

NOT SO QUICKLY, FAM. I remember talking to J.A. about Kanter's defense compared to Perkins' a while back. Neither player is much fleet of foot, but Perk came to the Thunder with experience playing next to an all-time great defensive big in Kevin Garnett. He had some sense of how to fit in next to a rim protector in the absence of being one himself.

Perkins was much maligned in his time with the Thunder, but Kanter puts him into perspective by showing us how much worse it gets. In 238 minutes played together, the Kanter-Ibaka pairing allowed 109.2 points per 100 possessions, which barely tops the league-worst Minnesota Timberwolves' 109.6 mark. That number is riddled with caveats: the two only played nine games together before Ibaka got hurt at the very beginning of Kanter's Thunder tenure, and the team as a whole was retooling on the fly amid a flurry of trade deadline acquisitions and an injury to Kevin Durant.

But Kanter has real problems. He isn't a rim protector, nor does he have adequate foot-speed for defending the perimeter. Perkins showed you can hide that kind of player next to someone like Ibaka, if they're smart and feisty enough. A decent understanding of angles, a Joakim Noah-esque passion for contesting perimeter shots, and some good old-fashioned bully-ball down low got Perk by, maybe more than we gave him credit for in retrospect.

Compared to Perkins, Kanter appeared clueless and lethargic. He was a mess when it came to tracking stretch 4s or containing pick-and-rolls, and while Scott Brooks commonly delegated the former task to Ibaka and Adams, teams would target Kanter in the two-man game.

Was it all worth it? The Thunder knew they were getting a suspect defender, but that was also part of the cost incurred for Kanter's interior scoring. They at least got what they paid for; Kanter was a beast in the pick-and-roll offense. He finished with 17 double-doubles in 26 games after joining the Thunder, and it felt like every other game or so that he was cranking out big numbers in the points and rebounds columns. Most memorably, he kicked off April with a stretch of consecutive 30-16, 24-17 and 21-17 performances.

If we were to nitpick, though, we could find issues even there. Kanter's rebounding dominance mostly came on the scoring end, where his 17.5% offensive rebounding percentage with the Thunder would've ranked second only to Andre Drummond if sustained over the whole season. That's another plus on the report card for his offense, of course. Kanter had no problem cleaning out space under the rim and tidying up others' misses.

But why didn't that translate to the other end, where he needed it most? On the defensive glass, he notched a 20.5% rebounding percentage that ranked 71st in the league. Some non-defensive bigs can contribute on that end by preventing second chances (see: the Timberwolves' Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic front-court last season); Kanter couldn't even do that.

Kanter might have given back all the points he contributed to, finishing with a -0.7 net rating with the Thunder. Now, Sam Presti is facing the question of what the next move is with his midseason acquisition. Will the Thunder pay what surely will be an eight figure per year contract for a player that only contributes on one end?