I can just picture it now. Standing on the corner of Limestone and Waller with my fraternity brothers yelling at the top of our lungs to passersby, “FREE ENES! FREE ENES!” From a distance and with traffic whizzing past, most people thought we were yelling some type of vulgar advertisement for our nether-regions.
But in actuality, we were trying to spread awareness of one of the most unique players to ever be a part of Kentucky’s basketball program, Enes Kanter.
Kanter’s career has been different than any other player to wear the Blue and White and certainly one of the most singular circumstances under Coach Cal’s reign. I mean when you’re born in Zurich, raised in Turkey, and live in the U.S. pursuing a career as a professional athlete, your life is not commonplace.
Kanter, of course, was deemed ineligible to play collegiately by NCAA
Figurehead, err I mean, President Mark Emmert “for receiving benefits above his actual and necessary expenses while playing for a club basketball team in Turkey” taking an estimated extra $33,033 playing for Fenerbahce. We all know UK appealed the decision, lost (despite all of us Blue Bloods’ clever signs, t-shirts, and chants), and went on the capture the school’s first Final Four since 1999. Kanter ultimately wasn’t affected either as he was picked by the Utah Jazz third overall in the 2011 NBA Draft.
When BBN recounts all the notable Wildcat-alums who now play in the NBA, the same typical names are always mentioned: Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe, Davis, Towns, ect.. But, Enes is often a footnote.
However, here we are in the NBA Conference Semifinals, and only two Wildcats remain. Enes Kanter is one of them. But unlike Nazr Mohammed or other role players in recent years, Kanter is a crucial part of the Thunder’s rotation under rookie Head Coach
Eddie Munster Billy Donovan.
There are many ways to measure talent and quality in today’s NBA; the old “eye test”, impact on stuffing stat sheets. But, modern analytics are taking over front offices everywhere; not just in the Association. Those number crunchers typically fall back on two metrics when evaluating today’s basketball players: Player Efficiency Rating (PER), which measures a player’s on-court performance adjusted for pace, and Real Plus/Minus, which measures net point differential between 100 possessions (RPM). A PER of 15.00 is considered average, and the league’s median RPM was -1.07 according to ESPN.com.
While the “eye test” might help an individual come to a conclusion on who is better, each player evaluator has his/her own criteria. Analytics look to standardize the process meaning Phil Jackson can see the same figures as Sam Presti when determining roster moves.
According to the new metrics, Enes Kanter is one of the most efficient players in the entire league for someone who averages at least 20 minutes/game. In fact besides the Unibrow, Kanter is the most efficient Kentucky-alum ranking 10th in the NBA with a 24.09 PER, a career-high.
Surprised? I sure as hell was. Surely, I would have figured more former-Cats would be ahead of the UnderKanter, but this is not the case.
Last season was Kanter’s first try as a full-time starter where he had stat sheet career highs averaging about 16-9 splitting time between the Jazz and Thunder. In fact, the 2014-15 season saw him eclipse a 20.00 PER for the first time in his career.
His play earned him his first fat contract; his deal is the 21st highest in the league as Kanter is making $16.4M this season. But when Scott Brooks (what a sexy surname BTW) was let go and Donovan was brought in, his role changed.
Presti, who is OKC’s GM, is very high on analytics, which is one of the big reasons he traded for Kanter last season. Donovan knew he inherited two of the most special offensive players in the NBA in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, so he knew needed bigs who could lock down the paint and get stops.
Like his life off the hardwood, Kanter’s playing style is unlike any other player. Despite his high PER, his -0.37 RPM is mediocre and ranks 51st by his position. Much of that is due to someone with a pair of eyeballs can surmise; Kanter is putrid at defense. And I am not being hyperbolic. I’m super serial, you guys. Of the 77 centers measured by ESPN.com, Kanter is dead last in defensive plus/minus with a -1.81 score. For the record, only a dozen other centers are in the red in this category. Soooo yeahhh, that isn’t too good.
Funny side note: last year’s NCAA DPOY and BBNer Willie Caulie-Stein ranked third worst in the league in this category. So maybe George Karl was in over his head coaching the Kings. But, that’s another topic for another day.
So, what makes Kanter so freaking efficient? His astronomical offensive numbers, that’s what. Kanter is the third-most offensively efficient center in the league with an ORPM score of 1.44 (For those wondering, Cousins is second and KAT is fourth). He also shot a blistering 57.6% from the field, good for fourth in the entire NBA and another career milestone. His per/36-minute numbers are also the best he has put up despite playing 10 less minutes per night on average posting 22 points and 14 rebounds. But, you wouldn’t know that just looking at the box score since he’s only averaging about 13-8 per game.
No other player in the league is so polarized at opposite ends of the floor. Not even James Harden, who commentators and fans alike love to criticize for his poo-poo defensive effort. Kanter is the only player to be ranked in the top3 in one aspect of RPM and bottom3 in the other. Now, that’s what I call out-of-the-ordinary.
His defensive woes have allowed fellow Stache Bro Stephen Adams to receive more minutes and start at center, but Kanter’s offensive prowess is taking time away from Serge Ibaka, the Thunder’s starting four-man, especially in the fourth quarter.
In the playoffs when it matters most, Kanter is putting up even more efficient numbers. His scoring per-36 minutes is second among his position and has the best numbers of anyone who is still alive in the playoffs. His PER saw an upward tick as well posting a 25.20 score.
Now that we have all those numbers out of the way, I feel this needs to be said. Kanter deserves to receive more love from BBN. He has the charisma and personality off the court that fans look for in their beloved stars and he has a one-of-a-kind story to boot. Most Kentucky fans, however, continue view Enes as a step-child since he never suited up in an official game for the Wildcats.
I know it can be hard to root against Lebron or the Baby-Faced Assassin in the playoffs, but Kanter is one big reason to cheer for the Thunder for the remainder for the postseason. Regardless of where your professional basketball allegiances align, we all still bleed Blue and White. No one else is quite like the Big Turk. Like the Walls, Cousins, and Davises of the world, he is a top performer that merits fandom. Just because he did things a little different should not take away from his allure.