Approximately seven years ago, I started a new job with an insurance company. (I know this is quite possibly the most boring lede ever, but stick with me.)
After seven years of learning the fascinating ins and outs of the company, I finally feel like I have a firm grasp on my job and can get through most days without asking too many questions.
Approximately seven years ago, Enes Kanter picked up a basketball for the first time. Getting drafted into the NBA after such a short time playing competitively is an accomplishment the native of Turkey doesn’t seem to get enough credit for. The learning curve for Kanter was at about an 89.9 degree angle, yet he still succeeded at summiting Mount Lottery Pick.
Going into his third full season, the climb from promising young talent to bona fide starter doesn’t get any less difficult. The 21-year-old will have a heaping helping of responsibility plopped down on his plate, starting tomorrow against the Oklahoma City Thunder. How Kanter responds to the added pressure that will force him to rapidly “grow up” is a pivotal point, not only for Kanter, but for the entire Jazz squad.
In addition to the arsenal of gorgeous post moves Kanter has at his disposal, he has also clearly displayed a penchant for being a ridiculously fast learner. Is there any reason to think his rapid ascension from basketball newbie to quality NBA starter will plateau? At face value, there certainly doesn’t seem to be.
The biggest battle Kanter will be fighting this year may be with his age and maturity level. I think we all remember Kanter’s ever-entertaining Twitter feed prior to the Jazz brass neutering it. Whether it was a not-at-all-subtle request for the company of a female companion or a workout picture of himself looking Dolph-Lundgren-in-Rocky IV shredded, Kanter’s social media account made it abundantly clear he was an incredibly young kid who was having a blast with his relatively new-found fame and fortune.
As fondly as we look back on the naughty-tweeting, mic-dropping, worm-mangling Enes, those days seem long gone. In terms of his actual game, that’s probably a great thing. Kanter still oozes untapped potential. As far as his game has come thus far, the sky is truly the limit. A handful of All-Star appearances is a lofty goal, but does not seem at all unreasonable, provided he focuses with laser-like intensity on improving his game, spending countless hours in the gym and ironing out the weaknesses.
The reining in of Kanter may be newly-anointed Jazz leader Gordon Hayward’s biggest challenge. It’s no small feat for any NBA captain to help a rich, good-looking 21-year-old ignore the throngs of adoring female fans to work on his free throws and defensive rotation assignments, let alone a first-time leader who is still young enough to have difficulty growing anything more than a Shaggy beard.
Stat-wise, there were several promising improvements from year one to year two. Kanter posted a 5% increase in field goal percentage from 49% to 54%, and a whopping 13% increase in free-throw percentage, from 67% to 80%. His rebounding rate has dipped per-36-minutes, from 11.5 in 2011-12 to 10.2 in 2012-13, and his assists (an average of 1 per 36 minutes) have plenty of room for improvement.
Passing effectively out of the post and moving back towards being an elite NBA rebounder are two of the biggest opportunities for improvement for Kanter that could dramatically change the fortunes of the obviously-rebuilding 2013-14 Jazz squad. Kanter rebounding at a high level paired with board monster, defensive savant and post-mate Derrick Favors would make for some very long nights for opposing 4’s and 5’s.
But regardless of how Kanter performs this season, we’d do well to remember that this is year seven of his basketball life. He’s a basketball prodigy beginning his maturation phase, and the sky is the limit.