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Enes Kanter proved his worthlessness in Thunder win over Bulls

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20 points and 11 rebounds are just numbers. Let’s look at the plays.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Chicago Bulls
This is what Kanter calls “boxing out”
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The myth of Enes Kanter being a worthwhile addition to the Oklahoma City Thunder continues to hold merit in Thunder forums. After the 106 to 94 win at the Bulls tonight, Enes specifically mentioned team defense as a reason for the team’s dominant third quarter.

The myth of Kanter’s good defense has spread to Reddit, as well. Here’s the thread at the top of the Thunder’s Reddit page. It is quickly gaining traction.

It gets worse. The next part is going to be hard to read for anybody who realistically looks at Kanter’s game.

There’s so many falsities in this thread. Kanter never hustles on defense. As a result, he is a detriment to OKC’s scheme. And Kanter’s defensive rebounding is merely average. Where Kanter really shines is offensive rebounds.

All of this Kanter love is coming as the result of a 20 point, 11 rebound, 3 assist game. It looked really good, because it came in a road win against the Chicago Bulls. OKC won the game by a big margin, and coasted the entire fourth quarter. The Bulls were 19-18 heading into the contest, and are considered a playoff team. The Bulls had been on a roll prior to tonight, beating the Hornets, Cavaliers, and Raptors over the past three games. For context, the Hornets are fifth in the East, the Cavaliers are first, and the Raptors are second.

Why the Bulls weren’t ready to play

But in reality, this game was tailor-made for Kanter to shine. The Bulls get the majority of their points from the wing positions, with Butler averaging 26 and Wade averaging 19. Meanwhile, Chicago’s bench has a lean, mostly inexperienced front line. Nikola Mirotic is the lone veteran, but he has always been a notoriously terrible defender. Bobby Portis, a 6’11” sophomore, has always been offensively focused and vertically challenged. Lastly, fellow sophomore Cristiano Felicio is a meaty 6’10”, 275 pounds. But Felicio registers four fouls per 36 minutes, and rarely gets blocks. All three of these guys are no match for Kanter. Even Chicago’s starting center, Robin Lopez, is much more well known as a rebounder than he is a defender. Taj Gibson is a good big man defender, but loses out to Kanter by 2 inches and at least 10 pounds. Kanter is probably much bigger than his listed 245 pounds, though it’s not rare for players to lie about their weight.

But here’s another reason why Kanter looked good: The Bulls were in disrepair. Rajon Rondo was benched twice for bad play back in December. Rondo has since been demoted to the bench permanently, and registered his fourth consecutive DNP-CD against the Thunder. Ironically, the Bulls held Rajon Rondo’s bobblehead giveaway for fans against the Thunder. Perhaps even more hilariously, Rondo’s absence has totally ruined the Bulls’ intros.

The Bulls have this 3D court system, as many fashionable teams do nowadays. The 3D court is mainly used during intros. Part of the Bulls’ intro is having images of the players projected onto the court, slowly rotating around as if on a pedestal. But the Bulls clearly didn’t anticipate Michael Carter-Williams’ presence in the starting lineup, as he has no image for the Bulls to use. As such, only four of the Bulls starters were displayed.

That’s not all, though. Jimmy Butler missed the pre-game shootaround due to flu-like symptoms. Butler was clearly under the weather, playing 29 minutes and only taking six shots. Butler missed all six shots, but did contribute 7 assists through the sickness. Butler left the game after the third quarter, and has been ruled out for tomorrow’s contest against the Wizards.

Wade, meanwhile, missed a game a week prior due to knee soreness. Moreover, Wade will be out for tomorrow’s game against the Wizards as well. The reason given for Wade’s sitting out at Washington is rest. But given that Wade had shot under 40% in four of his past five games heading into the game with the Thunder, it’s clear that Wade is battling through injury.

So with the Bulls banged up and breaking in a new point guard, the Thunder headed into last night’s game as the clear favorites. It would have taken a heroic performance from more than one role player to bring the Bulls up to their normal standard.

Kanter’s “Positive” Defensive Plays

So I spent the Bulls game keeping a close eye on Kanter’s effort on the defensive end. Before we go to the negatives, we’ll briefly touch on the positive plays I saw.

Kanter stays close to Wade around the screen inside the arc, which is smart. Wade is a legendary mid-range shooter. Wade goes to the post, but Kanter cuts off Wade’s drive, and forces the miss. It’s on Lauvergne here to box Felicio out for the rebound.

Kanter gets Wade on the switch, “ole`!”s Wade to the rim, and forces the miss.

And....that’s it. That’s all of Kanter’s good defensive play from last night, as far as I saw. And even in these two plays, I see flaws. Enes absolutely refuses to stand his ground. Wade is old, tired, and dealing with knee pain. Of course Enes has the quickness to keep up with Wade at this point. But when you get to quicker guards, this type of “ole`!” defense will let them get right to the rim.

Enes Kanter refuses to stand his ground again....and again....and again

The Bulls don’t have many quick guards, but here’s a lone example of a quicker guard making Enes look silly from last night.

I mean, just watch this dude back up. Kanter is clearly backing up to avoid contact. Common sense says that Kanter could establish his position and use the rule of verticality to stop the drive. Kanter came off of the screen too high. Had Kanter been a defender willing to take contact, he would have played it lower and stood his ground. Michael Carter-Williams is not a good shooter. Proof from tonight:

Anyway, Dwayne Wade is a lot craftier than Enes Kanter is. So there are plenty of examples of Wade making Kanter look silly from last night, mostly because Kanter simply will not step up and take contact.

This play turned out to be an And-1. It seems like a weak foul from this angle, and it may have been a bad call. Regardless, Kanter would not have been in this situation had he just played deeper and guarded the rim. Instead, we see him already behind Wade on the play, trying to run alongside Wade and block the shot. The play could have been a non-foul, and the shot could have been missed if Kanter played defense correctly.

On this play, it looks like Kanter doesn’t care. But let’s give Kanter the benefit of the doubt and assume that he just looks slow next to Wade in full stride. Why was Kanter so tight on Felicio 14 feet away from the basket? In the right place, Kanter could have easily stopped this drive and forced the pass.

First of all, as a responsible consumer and NBA fan, I’d like to mention that, last November, Toyota paid out $3.4 Billion to replace defective frames on Toyota Tundras manufactured from 2007-2008. That’s what Toyota gets for interrupting my basketball game with their distracting garbage advertising. I digress....

As mentioned by J.A. Sherman in the gamethread, the proper defense in this situation would be to trap the ball around Felicio’s screen. But Kanter backs up and gets into a speed battle with Wade. This leaves Felicio all alone for the jumper.

Another example of Kanter’s terrible trapping. Yes, Kanter is right to sense that Wade had turned the corner on Grant. But beyond that, Kanter stuck himself in complete no-man’s land. The only way Kanter would have been useful in that position was if Wade was going straight to the rim. But Kanter barely moved. Kanter didn’t move to meet Wade and pressure. Instead, Kanter laid back and hoped that he could get a block or rebound out of the play. Wade saw that he had two men committed, dished to Felicio, and the Bulls got an easy 2.

This is a play that there was some disagreement on in the Gamethread, but I still feel Kanter could have done much better. The best way I can describe this play is that Kanter sees the ball, not the body. Kanter wants to generate turnovers or get blocks, because he’s a stat-hound. Anyone who doesn’t believe that Kanter is out there to get stats and boost his own personal profile, at least to some extent, is fooling themselves. Trevor Booker came out and said it last year, and it’s an open secret among NBA circles. Had Adams or Collison been in Kanter’s position in the play shown above, they would have stood their ground and challenged the shot. Kanter ran to the ball and chased it with his arms. But the proper defense would be to run to a spot, use your body, and stand your ground.

Bringing to Earth Kanter’s overhyped defensive rebounding abilities

Let’s move on to Kanter’s defensive rebounding ability. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. Here’s a couple of examples of lackluster defensive board effort from Kanter.

Yes, Bobby Portis is Steven Adams’ man. It’s Adams’ fault for letting Portis get to the rim like that. But do you think an elite rebounder like Thunder color announcer Michael Cage would take that as an excuse? Cage was nicknamed “the Windexman” for his ability to clean up the glass back in the day. Cage would have spread out his legs, established position, and pushed his butt into whoever came by. The boards belonged to him. But Kanter lazily reaches up for the ball, allowing Portis to take advantage for an easy bucket. You can’t tell me that a possession with two shot attempts where Kanter didn’t move at all didn’t have anything to do with him.

Just an embarrassing lack of effort here. Who cares if Kanter got fouled? Pick yourself back up and get in the play. Kanter was too shellshocked to do anything in this moment. Moreover, Kanter was foolish to not anticipate Felicio crashing the boards, considering that Felicio was his man.

Conclusions (Part I)

So that’s 21 points given up by Kanter’s awful defense tonight. And that exceeds Kanter’s 20 points scored on the night. Obviously, Kanter’s assists and rebounds amount to Kanter’s game being a net positive, and account for Kanter’s ridiculous +27 +/- ratio last night. But starting center Steven Adams did Kanter one better against better quality competition, dropping 22 points on the night to go with three assists.

Fact is, Kanter is not tenable as a player if you want to want to be an elite team in this league. Kanter is a small town all-star that’s too big for his britches, and doesn’t give enough effort where it doesn’t matter. Put another way, I see Kanter as the polar opposite of beloved veteran Nick Collison in this sense. The fact that Nick Collison has always signed reasonable contracts without fuss compared to Kanter’s holding out for a huge payday exemplifies my point. Kanter’s mentality on the floor is cancerous, encouraging fellow team members to give less effort and show less guile on defense. It’s no coincidence that all of the big-time defensive plays happen while Kanter is off the floor.

Like this steal and dunk by Dipo.

And this sly poke of the ball by Steven Adams, which won OKC possession.

This near forced shot clock violation, with the lockdown Roberson defense? While Kanter was off the floor.

And terrible defensive possessions like this? Where everyone forgets about the existence of a hall-of-fame player on the floor?

Those possessions come when Kanter is in the game. It’s no coincidence.

If you don’t believe me, check out some of this guy’s offensive possessions. Kanter’s me-first attitude is so plain to see that he should wear Enes Kanter across the front of his jersey, and Oklahoma City Thunder in tiny letters on the back.

The selfish play of Enes Kanter

Before you watch the below play, know that it’s what Kanter does after the rebound that concerns me. I don’t mind isolation plays, and Kanter did well to get to the rim here despite his really predictable set of moves.

After the rebound, Kanter had Abrines, Lauvergne, and Payne open on the perimeter. It’s statistically proven that passes after the rebound are the highest percentage three that you can take. These are the kind of passes we need our bigs to make in order to get our sub-par shooters going. But once that shot goes up, the possession becomes all Kanter, all the time. I’ve so rarely seen Kanter pass off a offensive rebound. If someone of Kanter’s size was down there, Kanter would have gotten blocked as usual. Kanter is lucky that Felicio worked himself out of position, and Gibson was too small to make an impact.

Here’s a great example of Kanter’s offensive selfishness though. Watch as Kanter takes FIVE SECONDS to pass out of a double team, and then make a read based on his own desire for stats.

Here’s how I see this play. Kanter battles with Mirotic for position. Seeing a mismatch, OKC decides to dump the ball to Kanter in the post. Lopez immediately shadows Kanter, waiting to challenge the shot. All four other players detect the double team. Adams points to Lopez lurking, but Kanter fully ignores him. Roberson, open at the top of the arc, points to the open Abrines. Abrines, ready for the pass, moves his hands into a receiving gesture. Cameron Payne is ready for a shot as well, moving over to the top of the arc to avoid Jimmy Butler.

Eventually, the defense realizes that Kanter is out for himself on this possession. Doug McDermott runs along the baseline, in the hopes of trapping Kanter and forcing a turnover. Kanter is so caught up in his own possession that he doesn’t even realize it. Eventually, Adams saves the day. After hollaring and pointing at Kanter’s bad decision for too long, Adams springs into action and runs to the rim. Kanter sees the opportunity for a guaranteed assist, rather than a potential non-stat for himself in a missed three, and dishes the ball to Adams.

Conclusions (Part II)

This kind of stuff isn’t going to fly against the elite. Sure, big name teams might have notoriously bad decision-makers. J.R. Smith is one of them. But Smith has been notoriously bad in big situations, and has definitely cost the Cavaliers some wins. Or, you could take Anderson Varejao as another example. Varejao is a guy who used to make a living off of athleticism and energy, but has been reduced to artistic flopping in his old age. But when Varejao was on the floor for the Warriors last year, he nearly cost them games with his lousy play. By the end of the run, the Warriors figured out they were better off without him.

Think of it this way. If the Cavaliers had Avery Bradley, Lou Williams, or Eric Gordon instead of Smith? They would tear up. The same goes for the Thunder. If OKC could get a guy that was more balanced and team-oriented than Kanter, they’d be a contender in the West. I’m dead serious. Someone like Brook Lopez, Al Jefferson, or Jusuf Nurkic.

Do you know why OKC loses games? It’s not because KD left. It’s because OKC is turning over the keys of their offense to Enes Kanter. If Kanter had better defensive effort and offensive awareness, it would have such an effect on the rest of the team. Nobody else on the bench can score because Kanter, the main scorer on the bench, refuses to distribute!

At this point, the Thunder would stand to win more games with a stand-in backup center. Lauvergne doesn’t count, simply because he’s a tweener by the standards of NBA centers. But just looking at run-of-the-mill backup bigs on other teams. Guys like Splitter, Mejri, Baynes, Wright, Biyombo, Len, Poeltl, and Withey would all win more games for OKC at backup center than Kanter would. Just split Kanter’s possessions between Kanter’s replacement, Adams, Payne, and possibly Sabonis. OKC can find a new offensive identity, and they can become a good passing team. As it stands, the Thunder’s turnover ratio puts them at 19th in the NBA, and is easily their biggest offensive flaw.

With Russell Westbrook’s decision-making now on a legendary level, can it really be his fault that OKC turns the ball over so much? Or might Westbrook have more options if Kanter wasn’t taking away the rest of the team’s offensive confidence with his selfish play?

This is my eighth year watching this Thunder team with Westbrook. I’ve watched Westbrook grow from a me-first player into a team-first player, and become one of the game’s legendary greats. But we are at risk of throwing Westbrook’s era of greatness away because of Enes Kanter. If OKC stays with Kanter over these next two years, Westbrook will leave, and this era of Thunder will go down in history as the team that “almost” did it. I can almost guarantee you of this. Westbrook has been loyal, but he will not let the end of his career be wasted feeding possessions to players that only look out for themselves. Westbrook’s not so cordial separation from KD tells us that much.

Let me put it this way. OKC can beat any team in the league on their best night, except the Golden State Warriors. Because the Warriors are good enough offensively to exploit any defensive weak link. And the Thunder’s weak link, both defensively and offensively, is Enes Kanter.