Should Kanter be Fifth Man, not Sixth Man, for OKC?

He’s one of the most productive players in his first round series and in the entire NBA playoffs, if you project him over 48 minutes. But there’s no guarantee Enes Kanter will get more than his usual supply of 21 minutes in the next game against the Dallas Mavericks, or for the rest of the playoffs.

On the surface, that’s sheer lunacy. Kanter is averaging 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes against the Mavericks leading into Game 5. He’s doing more damage against Dallas than Kevin Durant. A big man blessed with a dancer’s footwork and a diamond cutter’s touch, Kanter can score and is a decent rebounder yet is still being punished for his defense which, real or imagined, is shoddy and plants doubt in the head of coach Billy Donovan.

And so the question is this: Is he really that bad a defender that it’s necessary to prevent Durant and Russell Westbrook from having a very solid third wheel for half a game?

In Game 4, while Kanter was doing a number on Dallas once again — he finished by making 12 of 13 shots, one by falling on the floor — Donovan reflexively tried to remove him from the game. It took the intervention of Westbrook, who told the coach to chill out, that kept Kanter on the floor.

“I was going back and forth, whether to keep him on the floor,” Donovan admitted. “But Enes was playing so well.”

Westbrook: “He’s been doing a great job all season and it goes unnoticed.”

If that’s true, then you only have Donovan’s substitution pattern to blame. Kanter averaged only 21.0 minutes during the season, yet averaged 12.7 and 8.1 rebounds anyway. Donovan starts Steven Adams, who’s tougher and sets meaner picks and yes, a notch above Kanter defensively. Crazy thing, though: Kanter’s minutes go unchanged even when Oklahoma City plays teams that lack an opposing big man who can score. And so, the question begs to be asked again: Is Kanter really so bad defensively that he can’t even defend centers who don’t touch the ball?

Donovan’s reasoning is that the two-headed center of Kanter and Adams works best for Oklahoma City, and Adams’ blue collar work is valuable for a finesse team. There’s also the feeling that Kanter doesn’t rotate well and therefore doesn’t offer “help” defense, especially on the pick and roll. Perhaps.

But it’ll be curious to see how Kanter is used should the Thunder eliminate the Mavericks as expected and face the Spurs in the next round.

He had success against the Spurs during the season, averaging 15.8 points and 14.8 rebounds in 27.9 minutes. He’d be matched against Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan, who are older yet very crafty. Duncan has been an afterthought for much of the season and particularly in the Spurs’ sweep of Memphis, but is Timmy showing his age, or merely laying low until the Spurs need him, which will be the case against Oklahoma City? Last season Duncan was tremendous in San Antonio’s seven-game series with the Clippers, and the Spurs can expect a similarly strong challenge from the Thunder.

Kanter finished third in the voting for the Kia Sixth Man of the Year Award and Westbrook thought the wrong guy won.

“All due respects to Jamal Crawford, but I don’t believe it should’ve been close for sixth man with Enes, a guy who shoots 68, 69 percent form the field. He’s been doing it all season.”

Well, that’s a question Westbrook should ask of his coach: If Kanter can do this all season as a sixth man, shouldn’t he start or at least get starter’s minutes? Shouldn’t he fill the role of the “missing” third wheel in OKC, especially in the fourth quarter, when he’s often on the bench?

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