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  • The Knicks Still Haven’t Figured Out Enes Kanter’s Role

The Knicks Still Haven’t Figured Out Enes Kanter’s Role

Photo: Bailey Carlin/TKW Illustration
New York is in limbo while Kanter meditates on his player option, but in all likelihood he stays wearing orange and blue, the Knicks still have to figure out how to best utilize the 18-million-dollar man.

Enes Kanter has a decision coming up. He has an $18.6 million player option this offseason, and he is unlikely to receive an offer as high as that to play elsewhere next year.

Kanter is a throwback type of player who thrives in back to the basket situations and rolling to the rim. What he lacks in versatility on offense, he makes up for with his big offensive rebounding and put back numbers. Enes often struggles to guard more mobile bigs on the perimeter, though, and guards lick their chops when they get to engage him in the pick-and-roll.

Such an immobile big has a disappearing role in the modern NBA, and though he can fill a specific need for a team that struggles on the offensive glass or needs a bruiser—no team seems available to shell out over $18 million for said specialist.

His decision may hinge on whether he values long-term security over short-term money. Regardless of his situation, it is hard to turn down almost $19 million in an offseason with a thin market for centers.

With that being said, how can Kanter fit into the Knicks plans if he decides to opt in and stay a minimum of one more year in New York?


Heart and Soul

Enes Kanter has stated that he wants to be a Knick for life. He loves attention and MSG brings him the spotlight he may have desired in a smaller market like Oklahoma City, although the Thunder found themselves in the postseason, unlike New York.

He embodied the hard-nosed spirit of the city in his first season with the Knicks. Always the troll, he never misses a chance to get under LeBron James’ skin on Twitter and his butting heads with James to protect young Frankie was one of the highlights of this season:

He loves New York and the front office, per the NY Daily News:

“I think New York is just amazing, man. The fans are here, the people are here, and I think one thing when you see [GM] Scott [Perry] and [team president] Steve Mills, they come to every practice and that shows how much they care about their players and this organization,” Kanter said. “That shows a lot to me. I think the most important thing for me is seeing those two guys sitting on the sideline, it’s going to definitely affect my decision this summer. I love those guys, I’m like family with them.”

He is the vocal leader of the team, with an unmistakable voice, even over the airwaves of MSG broadcasts. With the Knicks in full development mode and most minutes going to the young guys, Kanter is someone the younger bigs can look to for inspiration for some go-hard spirit, even through a stretch where the team may not be winning too many games.

It’s good for young Knicks to see more of this:

And speaking of putbacks …

BOARDS!

Oh the boards! Kanter had his best season yet on the boards. He finished at seventh in the NBA with 11.1 boards and was fourth in the NBA with 3.9 offensive boards per game. The three guys ahead of him in that category all played more than 31 minutes a game while Kanter played just 25.8.

In addition to his actual board numbers, Kanter was third in the league in contested offensive rebound percentage, among guys who played more than 25 minutes a game. He rebounds 15.1 percent of his teammates missed field goals, which is good for 98th percentile in the league among bigs, per Cleaning the Glass.

His rebounding numbers led the Knicks to 13.4 second chance points per game, good for eighth in the league.

What role can he play in the Knicks offense?

Kanter knows his place. Forty-nine percent of his buckets this season were assisted (96th percentile among bigs). He knows he’s not a shot creator and doesn’t try to create his own shots outside of the post up. Kanter can still take advantage of a mismatch though and punish an opposing team for going small. He’s one of the better finishers in the league, with an effective field-goal percentage of 59.4 percent, 80th percentile among bigs in the league, per Cleaning the Glass.

To get the offense moving, Hornacek likes running sets to enter the ball to Kanter in the low post before having him give his defender a few shakes and passing out if he doesn’t catch his defender in the air on a head fake. Kanter is good at recognizing when he can get a good shot off and when he can’t, although he sometimes gets blindsided when he thinks he has positioning.

For such a pure center, he doesn’t miss his free throws at a rate that makes him a liability, as do other centers who place above him in rebounding numbers. For perspective, Kanter’s 84.1 percent mark from the line this season is in the 91st percentile among bigs in the league.

What about when KP returns?

While Kanter thrives in his role down low, his immobility clogs the lane for any player trying to get to the rack (which is where KP should be trying to get). When Kanter played at the same time as Porzingis this season, the team shot 22.4 percent of their shots from the analytically-dreaded long mid-range area (94 percent percentile in the league). The team was also in the 99th percentile in taking 47.4 percent of their shots from the mid-range area more generally while the two shared the floor. The Knicks also shoot 3.9 percent more of their shots from this range with Kanter on the floor (82nd percentile in the league in terms of difference).

Although Kanter and Kristaps developed some semblance of chemistry this year with Kanter finding the cutting KP out of the low post for a few easy slams, they spent more time getting in each other’s way than feeding off each other:

Kristaps has to turn away from the looming help of Marc Gasol here and is forced into a bad shot. If Kanter could make those free-throw line area jumpers consistently, then it’d be a different story.

As Kristaps works his way back from injury, Kanter is a solid center to hold down the fort for the Knicks, but things may get tricky when the Latvian returns. Given that an ACL is vital in side-to-side mobility, Kristaps may not want to have to slide his feet so much to stick with quicker power forwards. The most logical position for him to play when he returns is center, even if it means banging with heavier bigs.

Kristaps can use his ten to 12-month recovery time to bulk up in preparation for those minutes at the 5. Early estimates have KP returning around the All-Star break next season, and the organization will still have to ease him into major minutes.

Kanter can eat those minutes at center while awaiting KP’s return and then shift to the role of backup center as the team eases our Latvian hammer back into game-action. The question, however, is if Kanter is is worth all that cap space for an eventual backup role. Unfortunately, for Knicks brass, that decision isn’t up to them unless they find themselves negotiating with an opted-out Enes.

What if Kanter opts out?

Kanter did switch agents in preparation for this offseason and Ian Begley reported that there is a sense among league executives that Kanter may look for a multi-year deal.

“Kanter, who announced last month that he was hiring Mark Bartelstein as his new agent, has an $18 million player option this summer. It seems likely that Kanter will exercise the option, but opposing executives have come away with the impression that he was leaning toward opting out, presumably to pursue a multi-year contract.”

If Kanter opts out to sign a larger multi-year deal elsewhere, the Knicks will have to think long and hard about what Kyle O’Quinn is worth to the team. O’Quinn has a $4.2 million player option that he will almost certainly opt out of, looking for more money.

Kyle has averaged 14 points and 14 rebounds a game since starting in place of Enes Kanter. K.O. is an efficient big man who has a keen eye for finding open cutters out of the high post. When he is on the floor, he assists on 16.7 percent of his team’s made baskets, in the 91st percentile among bigs.

He doesn’t gobble rebounds at the same rate as Kanter, but he extends the floor a little bit further than the Turkish giant. O’Quinn shoots 49 percent on mid-range shots and will punish a big for giving him the space to take that elbow jumper. He has even flashed a three-point stroke, hitting one in each of his last two games.

His market may have largely been set by the backup centers who have signed extensions such as the Bucks’ John Henson, who signed a four-year, $48 million deal. The Knicks don’t have very much cap flexibility and want to leave room for a max contract in the 2019 offseason, so in order to re-sign O’Quinn, the Queens native would have to be willing to give a hometown discount.

Now if the Knicks can’t re-sign either Kanter of O’Quinn, they can go full player development mode and run out lineups with Isaiah Hicks or Luke Kornet, or signing a free agent on a minimum contract, until KP returns to claim his role as center.

Kanter had a breakout campaign this season. He probably won’t see as much time next year, no matter what situation he ends up in, so it might make sense for him to look for long-term security. Though he would prefer to get a longer deal with the Knicks, it may not work out due to New York’s salary cap being tied up in deals like Hardaway’s and Noah’s respective contracts.

So while the Knicks should start to plan for a future without Enes, the city would certainly welcome him back with open arms were he to decide to opt-in. Though his deficiencies on the court are noticeable, he can carve out a role as the heart and soul of the team, remaining a vocal presence for an immature bunch. With such a rotating cast of players in the past few years, keeping the team’s heart and soul would provide some much needed stability amongst the turmoil of Kristaps’ recovery, even if it means biting the bullet on Kanter as an expensive and limited old-school center.

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