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Evaluating Enes Kanter: Do the Trail Blazers Have a “Type”?

Dan Marang charts at all the things Enes Kanter does well. It looks...familiar somehow.

NBA: New York Knicks at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

What do Portland Trail Blazers fans have to look forward to when Enes Kanter joins the team for the final push, post All-Star break? Dave Deckard already covered the overall scope of Kanter here, discussing the good and the bad of the signing. I’m here to look at the fit, form, function and utilization of Kanter as a matter of play-style based of historical trends and data- and it how compares to Jusuf Nurkic.

Kanter is listed at 6’11” and 267 pounds- Jusuf Nurkic is listed at 6’11” and 275 pounds. Personally, I’d so both are a bit larger than that but I think we can all agree that both are in the heavyweight division in the NBA. But it’s not just their height and weight that are close, how and where they go about their offense is remarkably similar. In the most flattering way possible, Kanter and Nurkic are the hippos of “Hungry, Hungry Hippos”of the basketball world. They gobble up rebounds on the offensive end better than nearly anyone in the league- their appetite there endless. This appetite for rebounds is supported by the put-back data currently available via Synergy Sports Technology.

If you look over the last two years you can see where both rank in total points off of offensive rebounds.

Per Synergy Sports Tech
Per Synergy Sports Tech

Kanter earned a podium place last season with the 2nd most points off of put-backs and this season (even with limited opportunity) he’s sitting 5th overall. Meanwhile, it’s 12th and 6th place for Nurkic. That instantly makes this pair of bigs far and way the most capable and dependable duo in the league.

If you’re looking for the difference between the two, field goal percentage is where you’ll find it. While both are dominant on the glass, only Kanter is entirely efficient about it. If you’re the glass half full kind; “there’s room for improvement for Nurkic!” If you’re the realist at heart, “maybe Nurkic should kick a few of those out” springs to mind. Whatever the case, the Blazers now have two incredibly dominant bigs on the offensive glass who can score without needing to have a play run for them.

The natural progression here is to look at how Kanter fits when he DOES have a set run for him. What should come as no surprise, Kanter operates in primarily two places outside of the offensive glass: Post Up and Pick & Roll-Big Man. While the post and the mid-range have died off plenty, Kanter has bucked the trends and stayed inside (as discussed by Robert Flom here last week). Again, profiles, play type & shot type similarities for Kanter and Nurkic are plentiful on the offensive end as shown here by these heat maps.

Enes Kanter Heat Map
Jusf Nurkic Heat Map

While Nurkic has toyed with the idea of shooting from outside the paint, Kanter was born in the paint. Nurkic thinks the paint is his ally; Kanter was born into it, molded by it.

The Blazers are following a pattern, impossible to ignore on the offensive end. Neil Olshey went out and got a guy in Kanter who doesn’t just amplify and solidify the bench but could also likely replace or fill in for Nurkic in the starting lineup if there were injury, foul trouble, etc. In many cases, Kanter is actually the BETTER offensive option- able to create for himself with and without the ball at a more efficient rate than Nurkic.

Now if you’re looking for deviation between the two, it comes on the defensive end. Their create-a-player skill points were spent differently. A little extra offensive power was added to Kanter at a very heavy cost on the defensive end.

The small gains that Kanter has on Nurkic on the offensive end are nowhere near the chasm between the two on the other side. While their size profiles are very similar, Kanter isn’t nearly as effective in the two primary tracking areas; Pick & Roll-Big and Spot Up scenarios. As the NBA is dependent on those two primary actions, those are the most prevalent for both- occurring roughly the same amount for each- with vastly different results.

Another area to pay attention to as Coach Stotts works his new rotation is how many shooters are on the floor. If Kanter is indeed the backup five now, as Stotts said before Wednesday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors, then that’s one less potential floor stretcher out there. Meyers Leonard has been shooting obscenely well in his limited minutes and Zach Collins still has the backing of the organization to grow into today’s hybrid “3 & D” bigs. The addition of Kanter leaves less wiggle room.

If Evan Turner is going to continue running the second group, perhaps we see, Seth Curry, Turner, Rodney Hood, Jake Layman and Kanter out there. That gives the Blazers a 10-man rotation and Coach Stotts a lot of decisions to make.