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2015-2016 Thunder Player Grades: Enes Kanter's first full year as max player does not disappoint

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Enes Kanter came into the season with a big money contract and questions about his defense. He silenced many doubters and added a much needed depth for the Thunder bench.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Full Name: Enes Kanter (who needs a middle name when you rock a sweet mustache?)

Nickname: Stache Brother

Contact Status: Enes Kanter just finished the first year of a four-year, $70 million contract that saw him bring home a modest $16,400,000 million this year. His salary jumps up to $17.1 million for year two of the contract, $17.9 million in year three and topping out at $18.6 million player option in the final year of the deal. I am going to go ahead and say Kanter will be exercising his player option for the 2018-2019 season.

Notable Factoid: Kanter signed a letter of intent to play for college basketball for the University of Kentucky but never suited up for the Wildcats. The story is common knowledge now, but to recap: the very wise and forthright and never clueless NCAA ruled Kanter permanently ineligible for receiving approximately $33K in excess benefits while playing for a Turkish professional basketball team. I guess the NCAA decided to forego Jimmy Kennedy and Nat Simon's advice that it is nobody's business but the Turks.

Player History

Kanter was the 3rd overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz. Kyrie Irving of Pepsi fame was the first selection in the draft that year. Kanter was selected ahead of  the likes of Tristan Thompson (#4), Brandon Knight (#8 and on his 3rd NBA team), Kemba Walker (#9), three point specialist and PBS Logo model Klay Thompson (#11), and some weird guy with giant hands named Kawhi Leonard (#15).

Kanter was acquired by the Oklahoma City Thunder last season in a three team trade that included aforementioned Utah Jazz and the Detroit Pistons that, when the dust settled left the Thunder with Kanter, Kyle Singler, and D.J. Augustin, the Pistons with Reggie Jackson (the Ramsay Bolton of OKC) and the Jazz ended up with salary they could dump in Kendrick Perkins and two players to stick on their D-League roster in Grant Jerrett and Tibor Pleiss as well as the Thunder's 2017 1st round pick.

Kanter's high watermark statistical season came last year (2014-2015) when he split time between the Jazz and the Thunder. He averaged 15.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and shot 51% from the field while playing in 75 games. This season (2015-2016) Kanter's scoring dropped to 12.7 per game and his rebounds saw a slight dip to 8.1 but his FG% jumped up to 58% while attempting less shots (12.4 FGA in 2014/15 to 8.8 FGA in 2015/16)

Preseason Expectations

I think is a good time to point out that I am someone who was not a fan of this signing at all. I thought OKC overpaid for a player whose only real value/asset was on offense, and OKC had enough offensive weapons in Kevin Durant (who would be coming back from foot surgery) Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. Also, Kanter is/was so bad on defense and had a rep of being a guy who was out to grab his stats and the team winning wasn't the biggest priority for him.

Also, I was not/am not a fan of signing someone to a $70 million dollar contract and having him come off the bench. If he is good enough for to shell out that kind of cash, he should be good enough to start. I felt like you could get a player would could put up similar numbers on offense, who is a better defender and a lot cheaper. Considering how frugal (cheap) the Thunder have been in the past with contracts (I.E. Harden, James...yeah I brought it up. I am that guy) I found it curious they decided to match the offer sheet that Kanter signed with the Portland Trailblazers given that they could have found comparable production for less money. Clearly the Thunder just want to keep us on our toes and keep us guessing.

My expectations going into the season were that Kanter would get exposed on defense, particularly on the defensive glass during the season and to struggle to mesh with the full compliment of stars on OKC's roster. Mainly, that guy named Kevin Durant. Also, Kanter would be coming off the bench after starting for a majority of the previous season. How would he adapt to that role after tasting the sweet nectar of starting. When guys who have started for most of their career are asked to come off the bench struggle and vice versa. It is one of those weird things about the NBA. Now, Kanter came off the bench for his first few season before becoming a starter after Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap left via free agency. So, Kanter has experience being both a starter and a bench player but it was still unknown (at least it was for me) as to how he would transition back to the role of bench.

Regular Season Grade: B+

So, I outlined why I didn't like the signing and why I had concerns about his well he would mesh with the superstars on this roster. All that being said, I was very impressed and pleasantly surprised from what I saw from Kanter this regular season. Watching him play, I never got the impression he was out there trying to pad his stats. That is probably because he just got a massive contract and isn't trying to land a pay day, but regardless, he looked focused on doing what was needed of him to help the team become better and to win. He wasn't a train wreck on defense but he didn't add much on defense either. But in defense of his defense, the entire OKC defense was pretty craptastic most of the season. This is the team that blew so many fourth quarter leads and appeared completely unable to protect the paint or stop a back door cut.

For me the most impressive aspect of Kanter's season was how well he gelled and bonded with his teammates. Chemistry is a fickle thing in sports. For some sports it is needed more than others. Chemistry for an MLB isn't a must for winning a title. Basketball is one of the sports where I think chemistry is highly important and it is important for the Thunder. One reason of the many reason why the Thunder are really good is because of the chemistry and respect Durant and Westbrook have for each other.

Enes Kanter was able to step in and fit in seamlessly. As the first month of the season passed, so did my reservations about Kanter's ability to buy in to what the Thunder were selling. He quickly formed a friendship with Steven Adams that showed  both on and off the court. There were moments where he and Kevin Durant struggled playing with each other, but it never got to a point where it had an overwhelming negative impact on the team. Kanter looked energized and eager to prove people (myself) wrong about the reputation he had received from his years in Utah. The numbers he put up this season aren't going to knock you out of your seat by any stretch but given all of the variables (new coach, learning to play with KD, coming off the bench etc) I expect those numbers to increase next season.

Post Season Grade: C+

Kanter's per 100 possessions numbers were great: 26.5 points and 17.3 rebounds with 1.7 blocks while shooting 55% from the field. The biggest problem was he didn't play enough minutes in the playoffs. There were times were OKC would have been better giving some of Serge Ibaka's minutes to Kanter. That falls on the door step of Billy Donovan and it is on him to find a way to get Kanter more than 18 minutes per game in the playoffs.

Most Notable Game/Moment

The one moment that stands out the most from Kanter's first full season with the Thunder was February 6th game at the Golden State Warriors. This was the first match up of the season for the Thunder against the Warriors and 21 days before Steph Curry ripped out and danced all over the hearts of the Thunder and all of the fans in attendance at Chesapeake Energy Arena on faithful night.

Side note: That game was the best regular season game I saw this entire season hands down. Second, if Chef Curry is going to continue being the destroyer of worlds and making kids cry he need to take some dance lessons from Boyd Crowder.

Boyd Crowder Dancing

Back to the game. What impressed me most about this random early February game vs the defending champs was what happened in the 4th quarter. Thunder were down 8 to start the quarter, and in that quarter Kanter snagged five defensive (yes...I said defensive) rebounds and was a force in the paint on offense. I remember Kanter making layup after layup vs GSW. Perfectly using the rim to shield off the defender and finishing in traffic. I remember thinking to myself "I didn't know Kanter had this in him." Kanter scored 8 of his 14 points in the quarter and yes, OKC lost the game, but that 4th quarter for Kanter stuck with me for the rest of the season.

Future Expectations

I alluded to it a little earlier, but I expect to seeing Kanter's scoring jump from the 12.7 he put up this season. Another year in the offense and with Billy Donovan along with building on the chemistry he created with the other major players on offense should push that scoring after over 15 PPG. I would be happy if he held at 8 rebounds per game. I am not counting on a jump there, which is fine as long as those numbers don't dip. He can't be under 8 rebounds a game.