Enes Kanter’s 2014-2015 season has the feel of a Choose Your Own Adventure book—it could go a few different ways. And he is one who will have a big say in how things play out. It is safe to say that this upcoming year will be, by far, the biggest of Kanter’s young career. In fact, few Utah Jazz players have more riding on this season than the big Turk.
It’s been an up and down three years in the NBA for Kanter. Drafted at #3 in a seemingly shallow draft1, he played minimally his first two seasons. With Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors in tow, Kanter was the fourth big. As a rookie, Kanter impressed quickly with his strong rebounding. As a sophomore, his scoring became much more refined2 and toward the end of the season, Kanter was one of the most consistent players for Utah. A late injury curtailed what was strong progress.
After Jefferson and Millsap were not brought back, he became a much more prominent player last season. The results? Truthfully, they were mixed. Let’s start with the positives: Kanter put up career numbers in most categories: 12.3 PPG and 7.5 RPG in 26.7 MPG. He had nights where he dominated offensively, showing a shrewd repertoire of moves. Kanter particularly did well against opposing back-up bigs. Kanter showed a solid perimeter touch, connecting on 39 percent from 10-16 feet—a good sign, as he shot a bit more from that range—17.1 percent of his attempted field goals (up from 13.2 percent).
Kanter also displayed more of a willingness and ability to pass the ball. After a tough start and a rocky December, he improved over the last few months of the season. Post-All-Star break, Kanter put up 13.6 PPG and 9.7 RPG – up from the 11.6 and 6.2 he averaged previous to that. He became a regular double-double guy. Few players can do that consistently, so the potential he showed over several months is downright tantalizing. It was encouraging to see him up his game in March and April.
On the other side of the spectrum, Kanter had some struggles. Clearly the biggest thorn in his game is on the defensive end, the primary reason why he only started 37 games3. He finished with a Defensive Rating of 112, something that has unfortunately increased each year. This could be partly due to his facing more front-liners more often. Overall, Utah has a -12.2 +/- over 100 possessions with Kanter on the floor. He has shown flashes of being able to make stops, but those instances need to be more than flashes.
On offense, Kanter’s shooting also took a step back. Again, playing more minutes against starting caliber players had an effect4. Kanter still shot a solid 49.1 percent from the floor, but that is quite a dip from his 54.4 percent his second year5. Lastly, his FTA rate was a career-low .239–about half as much as his rookie season.
What can be expected from Kanter this season? Like his teammates, it is a big mystery as to how head coach Quin Snyder’s system affects the big man on both ends. With the emphasis on ball movement and spacing, it seems reasonable that Kanter will be a prime beneficiary. With his green light from the outside, an interesting story line will be his 3-point shooting. While just 3-15 in the preseason, he has a nice release. Should he be able to develop this facet of his game, it will be a huge boon for the team and his career. As he showed in his recent 27-point outing, Kanter possesses the ability to put up big numbers on any given night. There’s a lot to be said about having a big who can erupt offensively.
Snyder has constantly beat on the defense drum. It’s evident that defensive effort and intensity will be big factors in one’s playing time. Perhaps Snyder can help light a fire under Kanter. Having a rapidly improving Rudy Gobert behind him might also serve as motivation. It should also be noted that former Utah All-Star and fellow Turkish hero, Mehmet Okur, is back in the Jazz fold. As someone Kanter looked up to immensely growing up, Okur could be an impactful mentor for Kanter6.
The most quoted stat last season was Utah’s record with Kanter starting. While that cannot be ignored, it will be compelling to see if that carries over. With his role not being firmly rooted last season, there was some uncertainty for the Turk. Kanter knows he will be the starter from day one this year and that he and Derrick Favors will be given more opportunities to play together. True, their 2014 statistics together were not glowing. However, in the preseason–and yes, it’s the preseason–the combo performed much better.
This is the last week when extensions for Kanter’s class can be consummated. With Friday approaching quickly, it appears more and more likely that the deadline will come and go without an agreement. How Kanter plays this season will determine the long-term future with the Jazz. It would behoove both parties should he demonstrate defensive improvement. If he does that, it would not be surprising to see Utah work to keep Kanter in a Jazz uniform for years to come.
It’s time for Kanter to Choose His Own Adventure.