Breaking Down Enes Kanter’s Impact This Season


Twenty-four games into a four-year, $70 million contract, Enes Kanter doesn’t have the raw production that comes with the title “max player.” Although, by definition, Kanter is earning a maximum contract*, it’s not as if he’s commanding the same money as LeBron James or Dwight Howard, both of whom are earning “maximum contracts.”

Before getting too off-track, I’ll turn my attention back toward Kanter.

The Thunder signed (or more accurately, matched Portland’s offer to) Kanter using resources that could not be allocated to other areas. The thinking was Kanter would be the scoring threat the Thunder have always lacked in the front court, while understanding his limitations in other areas.

One quarter of the way through the season, it’s time to check in on Kanter and determine what impact the 23-year-old big man has on the current Oklahoma City team.

Kanter is one of the more efficient big men in the NBA on a per minute basis:

Stats per

Few players in the league are proficient in the areas that Kanter is, and even fewer players that come off the bench can claim the versatility that he can.

Specifically, Kanter’s footwork in the post is fantastic, often leaning back to feel the defender, waiting for the perfect time to strike.

Kelly Olynyk doesn’t look like the ideal defender, but his numbers this season have been impressive. Kanter makes him look like foolish here with a quick spin and great finish.

It’s surprising teams still allow Kanter to get this move off considering how often he utilizes it. Kanter makes Dante Cunningham pay for overplaying him to the middle and finishes with a reverse layup.

Kanter is an efficient scorer even without Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant on the floor. When Kanter is on the court without those two, he has a 59.3 percent true shooting percentage (field goal percentage that accounts for free throws and three-pointers), per While the offense only scores 102.5 points per 100 possessions (a mark below league-average), that probably has more to do with the other players on the court.

The other elite skill Kanter possesses is his offensive rebounding. Although he’s only averaging 20 minutes per game, he still contributes just under three offensive rebounds per game, a number only 14 other players can match, all of whom average more minutes per game than Kanter. In fact, despite Andre Drummond‘s historic-like pace for rebounding this season — he’s currently averaging over 16 rebounds per game — Kanter leads the league in offensive rebound percentage at 16.8 percent (the percentage of available offensive rebounds grabbed).

Once Kanter grabs the rebound, there is a better than average chance he will attempt a shot. The only player who’s attempted more putbacks than Kanter this season is the aforementioned Drummond (he’s more than doubled Kanter’s attempts with 124 compared to Kanter’s 60).

After grabbing the rebound, Kanter is a master at using the rim to deter bigger players from blocking his shot. He lacks the explosiveness of other rebounders (Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside, among others), so he needs to use his creativity to finish around the basket.

In a game in which he was matched up against Drummond, Kanter uses his size to force Drummond away from the rim to grab the rebound intially. Knowing that Drummond is a more than capable shot-blocker, Kanter finishes on the other side of the rim.

Unfortunately for Kanter, the positives on offense are otherwise few and far between. The general perceptions of his pick-and-roll abilities are overstated, and the data supports that. Although there are a relatively low number of attempts (50), Kanter is only scoring 0.96 points per possession (PPP) as the roll man in the pick-and-roll this season. That number puts him in the 42nd percentile, and below players like Jon Leuer (61 possessions, 1.41 PPP), Marcin Gortat (54 possessions, 1.22 PPP), J.J. Hickson (42 possessions, 1.1 PPP) and other players less well-known for their pick-and-roll abilities.

Some of this is due to the lineups he plays with. D.J. Augustin, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are outstanding pick-and-roll ball-handlers, but the player that plays with Kanter the most is Dion Waiters, who is less known for his ability in the pick-and-roll. The combination of the team scoring on less than 32 percent of Waiters’ possessions as the ball-handler (not good), and his total of only 11 more assists that turnovers on the entire season is detrimental to an offense that lacks an individual creator outside of its two stars, isn’t, usually a recipe for success.

But I digress.

It’s difficult to be a consistent offensive threat when the skills one relies upon are better served for an era 10 years before one’s time. Kanter isn’t a good passer — only Alex Len and Timofey Mozgov average similar minutes to Kanter and turn it over more among big men — he can’t execute dribble hand offs (DHOs) like other big men and the number of times guards have to point him in the right direction on sets is alarming. But through all of the negative, Kanter’s impact on the offensive end has been largely positive, according to’s offensive box plus/minus statistic, ESPN’s real plus-minus or just watching the damn games.

Defense, however, is another story.

Without making the scroll bar on the right side of the page any smaller than it has to be, Kanter’s defense hasn’t improved in any facet of the game.

Nylon Calculus’ “rim protection” statistic rates him as one of the worst centers in the league, saving -0.96 points per 36 minutes, adjusted for position. has him listed as the worst defensive center in the league this season, and it isn’t even close.

But basketball is more than just statistics — although the stats can tell a portion of the story. Teams have begun to go out of their way to pick on Kanter, specifically in pick-and-roll situations. Kanter either hovers in no-man’s land — dropping too far down to affect a jump shot but not far enough to control a drive — or gets switched onto a smaller guard, in which case Kanter has no chance.

Kanter’s footwork on offense is incredible, but it comes at a time in which he’s able to think about and process his next move. Defense is much more reactive, relying on instincts and quick decisions, things Kanter doesn’t have at this stage in his career or struggles with.

The only area that looks upon Kanter in a positive light is defensive rebounding. Kanter has always been a strong rebounder, but he’s seen an uptick this season. In his first four seasons in the league, he carried a 20.6 percent defensive rebounding percentage (percentage of defensive rebounds grabbed while on the floor). This season, however, that number is up to 25.6 percent. While Kanter certainly struggles in other areas of defense, there is value in actually ending the opponent’s possessions, and as a team, the Thunder rebound better when Kanter is on the court, grabbing about three more rebounds per 100 possessions when Kanter plays.

One of the elements Billy Donovan has excelled with this season is managing Kanter’s minutes. At only 20 minutes per game, Kanter is able to play as hard as he can in the minutes he gets (which might explain the increase in defensive and offensive rebounding percentage), and can exert the maximum amount of effort on defense, however detrimental he may be.

The Thunder are committed to Enes for three more seasons after this one (the last year is a player’s option). Giving a player 20 minutes per game while being the third-highest player isn’t the most efficient use of resources, but in this specific case, it’s probably the best use of Enes Kanter.

All stats per’s player tracking data unless otherwise noted.

*The NBA’s salary cap is set up so the maximum amount a team can pay a player depends on the time the player has played in the league. Read more about it here.

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