The Portland Trail Blazers have signed veteran center Enes Kanter after his release from the New York Knicks. The Blazers coveted him in 2015 when they made a free agent offer to him. They now have their man at a substantially-reduced price. Acquiring Kanter at a veteran minimum price was a no-risk, potentially-decent-reward move for the Blazers.
The Overall View
Kanter is 26, 6’11, and has honest-to-goodness playing time under his belt, including three trips to the playoffs. He’s logged almost 12500 regular-season minutes, 411 in the post-season. He’s a good per-minute scorer and rebounder. His assist percentage is good for a center, mitigated somewhat by a nearly-corresponding turnover rate. His work on the offensive glass is marvelous. He has range out to the three-point arc, though his mid-range game is spotty and his career three-point percentage hovers around .300. 80% of his career shot attempts have come within 10 feet of the bucket.
If this sounds a bit like Jusuf Nurkic, that’s probably not accidental. The Blazers have gotten a center who can run their scheme passably...a huge difference from their current second-unit setup. Kanter is not Nurkic, but he doesn’t have to stay at a Holiday Inn Express to figure out how to fit in to Portland’s system.
Defense has always been an issue for Kanter. He’s ranged from barely OK to downright awful. This is a strong contributing factor in the sea of red (negative) numbers that accompany his on-court/off-court stats across multiple teams.
Here are the people and things Kanter will be good for (plus a few he’ll be less good for).
Portland’s second-unit offense. They already had Seth Curry and Rodney Hood in the fold. Kanter will bring frontcourt scoring potential to match. Terry Stotts should have fun with this group.
Jusuf Nurkic’s knees. Nurkic will not want to give up major minutes any time soon, but when he needs rest, Kanter is a better direct substitute than anyone the Blazers currently field.
The salary cap. They’re only paying Kanter and Hood a couple million more than they paid Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin to fill those same two slots. Technically they could have left their 15th slot open and saved themselves $4 million in salary and tax burdens, but the cost was cheap for a center they’ve been interested in for four years.
Portland’s defense. One of the critiques when the Blazers tendered the offer to Kanter back in 2015: Portland’s defense would stop looking like a leaky sieve and start looking like a full-on waterfall with him on board. (Kevin Love fans: we’ve said the same thing about acquiring him.)
Kanter playing with the second unit will mitigate the concern somewhat. The bench’s job is to keep the margin reasonable until the starters get back in, maybe adding a few points if possible. Nowhere does it specify whether that should happen through good offense or good defense. But yeah...the bench squad will need to produce points now, or things could get ugly.
Meyers Leonard and probably Zach Collins. One of those players still ranks highly in the future of the franchise. The other...doesn’t. Both will be impacted by this move, which is a referendum on big-man readiness even if it also qualifies as a no-brainer. Garbage time awaits Leonard and Collins both, but only one will likely recover in Portland.
Jury’s Out On
The playoffs. This move brings more depth, but it doesn’t fundamentally change Portland’s structure or position in the West. The margin between the non-Warriors Western Conference teams is so thin that a Kanter-sized edge could make a difference in seeding. It doesn’t make the Blazers clear-cut contenders, nor much more likely to win once they arrive in the post-season.
Little Effect On
The long-term future of the franchise. This move does signal that the Blazers are aiming to win. That’s important for Damian Lillard (contract expires in 2021), the fans, and potential future free agents. Kanter’s contract presumably expires this summer, as does Hood’s and Al-Farouq Aminu’s. They won’t all be with the Blazers next fall. It’s possible that none of them will be.
This is another smart, short-term move in the same vein as Hood, bolstering the bench for a stretch run, providing insurance in case a starter goes down. At this price, it’s impossible to fault the signing. The amount of difference it will make ultimately is up to debate, but given the strictures the Blazers now operate under, this was a good transaction.