Hidden deep in the shadows behind Gordon Hayward’s new long-term contract or the promise that lies behind the team’s selection of Dante Exum or Rodney Hood, there’s a heightened amount of uncertainty resting with the future of Enes Kanter with the Jazz organization. Despite being the third overall pick in the 2011 draft, Kanter has never been able to eclipse the likes of Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke when it came to being the focal point of the team’s future plans. While that reduced role can be blamed on a variety of different factors, it’s been easily apparent that Kanter hasn’t improved at the same level as the previously mentioned trio.
Now as Kanter embarks on his fourth NBA season, his future with the team appears to be uncertain. Before the season-opener against Houston on October 29th, the Jazz have one final opportunity to give him a new extension before he enters the 2015 off-season as a restricted free-agent. While Utah will still hold the keys to Kanter’s basketball future in restricted free-agency, this period will be the final time where the Jazz can offer him an extension without the interference of other franchises.
While his contract situation will be figured out when the Jazz start their 2014-15 season, there’s still a lot of skepticism in the air surrounding his role inside the team’s front-court.
Following the departure of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson during the 2013 off-season, Kanter and Derrick Favors were looked at to be the main catalysts of Utah’s front-court for the future. However, those plans didn’t exactly seem to work out, as offensive inconsistency and struggles on the defensive end helped push Kanter to the Jazz 2nd unit for the majority of the season.
In regards to his work on the offensive end, the aforementioned inconsistencies masked the fact that Kanter is in possession of a solid all-around offensive arsenal. With that in mind, Kanter’s main method of attack continues to be in the post-up, which represents 31% of his overall production on the offensive end. While it might seem obvious due to the amount of the time that he spends in that specific area, Kanter showcases a large amount of comfort in post-up situations, which allows him to score in a multitude of different ways.
Perhaps the biggest reason behind Kanter’s post-up success rests with his extremely solid footwork. By utilizing that skill, Kanter is easily able to create separation from the opposing front-court player. While it’s rarely been showcased during his first three seasons with the Jazz, Kanter is able to use that footwork to create enough separation from the opposing defender to hit a turn-around jumper.
However, Kanter’s main use for that aforementioned skill is to work his way past the opposition to get an easy look at the rim. As a 6’11”, 247 pound front-court player, it’s extremely impressive to witness the quickness that Kanter exhibits when he’s able to work around the opposition.
Inside the paint, Kanter has continued to be extremely effective, as he shot 62% from inside the restricted area. As apparent for most front-court players, Kanter exhibits a large amount of confidence when he’s working inside the paint. Because of his solid quickness, Kanter’s able to get a consistent advantage over the opposition, whether utilizing the pivot to get a better angle at the rim or using his swift feet to work around an inside defender.
While his work in the low-post and inside the point sit at the center of his offensive repertoire, Kanter has shown an ability to hit a mid-range jumper. Even though it isn’t with the same consistency as his work on other ends of the court, Kanter was able to shoot a respectable 38.7% from mid-range.
With the inclusion of Dante Exum and Rodney Hood to the Jazz organization, Kanter’s prowess as a mid-range shooter should pay immediate dividends for the young duo. As Hood and Exum get accustomed to both the heightened NBA pace and Quin Snyder’s offensive scheme, being able to work alongside Kanter in pick-and-roll situations, should help create some openings for the young duo as the opposing defense will probably look to keep their focus on the Jazz forward.
A lot of the worries that surround Kanter rests with his ability, or inability, as an all-around defensive option. While there never be expectations that he’ll ever be the same level of defender as his Utah teammate, Derrick Favors, Kanter has definitely struggled to be able to be able to consistently defend opposing front-court players.
The main reason behind his defensive struggles is that it seems that Kanter showcases some hesitance when it comes to applying pressure to the opposing front-court player. That hesitance is continuously showcased in low-post and mid-range situations. In the low-post, Kanter’s inability to apply pressure allows the opposition to easily work closer to the rim, which ultimately leads to a bevy of easy baskets.
While it’s definitely a good idea to keep some space against a front-court player that’s working around the top of the key, because they can ultimately work their way towards the rim, Kanter rarely closes in when it’s easily apparent that the opposition is going to shoot from mid-range.
Another large flaw with Kanter’s defensive approach is that are a multitude of times where he zones in on the ball-handler rather than his designated opponent. While “ball-watching” can occasionally be beneficial, there are too many times where the opposition is easily able to get an open look around the rim because Kanter focused on another player.
In regards to the uncertainty that surrounds Kanter’s Jazz future, it’s doubtful that he’s going to get that desired long-term extension before the season opener. While Kanter’s on-court performance and base numbers (16.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes) definitely seem to be worthy of a solid extension, it really isn’t apparent that he’s made any notable strides during his three-year stint with the Jazz. As the team continues to examine the players that will hopefully carry them to future success, the lack of progression, especially with his defensive work, is a huge factor behind him potentially not getting that desired extension.
Another huge reason behind Kanter not getting that extension rests with the 2015 Draft class and the apparent progression of Rudy Gobert. While Gobert wasn’t a consistent part of the Jazz roster during the prior season, his performance during the FIBA World Cup is a sign that he has made strides on both ends of the court during the off-season.
The correlation between the 2015 NBA Draft and Kanter not getting that extension rests with the wide array of front-court prospects that might be in that class. While the Jazz will probably have some more success than they had during the prior season, they’ll probably still remain in the thick of the lottery picture. Inside that lottery range, the likes of Jahlil Okafor, Karl Towns, Cliff Alexander, Kristaps Porzingis and Willie Cauley-Stein sit as potential prospects that could be on the Jazz radar during next year’s draft.
Despite the worries about inconsistency, Kanter has still showcased an ability to score from multiple ends of the court, which will be extremely beneficial to a Jazz roster that has struggled through their fair share of offensive slumps. Especially with the uncertainty surrounding the offensive impact that Derrick Favors or Rudy Gobert will be able to make, Kanter should play a role as a solid and reliable offensive option.