The Trail Blazers’ return from the NBA All-Star break featured an 18-point outburst from newcomer Enes Kanter in a 113-99 victory over the Nets. The Turkish big man took over reserve post duties in Portland’s victory and recorded a near-perfect 8-9 shooting mark in 20 minutes of work. After being placed on the shelf by the Knicks for the majority of the season, Kanter’s seamless insertion into the rotation is poised to boost the Blazers’ pursuit of home court advantage in the Western Conference.
Once Portland gets to the postseason, Kanter’s ability to fulfill a meaningful role will come under fire. It is early and his role inside coach Terry Stotts’ system will likely evolve, but here is a look at few things to keep in mind as Kanter adapts to his new team.
The Elephant in the Room
Kanter’s impressive debut on offense was met with an equally notable set of defensive lapses. Former Blazers big man Ed Davis produced just his seventh double-digit performance of the season on Thursday. Davis, who proved to be a proficient pick-and-roll finisher in Portland, benefited from Head Coach Kenny Atkinson’s Kanter-targeting approach.
The Nets recipe for second unit scoring is something that the Blazers likely started preparing for as soon as Kanter signed. The postseason is centered around teams exposing their opponent’s weak links on defense. Despite a solid night from Davis, Thursday’s victory did supply hope.
Kanter’s struggles to recover on defense where somewhat mitigated by Jake Layman’s hyper-active presence. The former Maryland standout recorded three blocks in the victory and played at the four spot for long stretches of the contest. If opposing teams allow Layman to linger close enough to the paint, it could allow Kanter to see more minutes in meaningful moments.
Offensively, Kanter showed that he is capable of imposing his will. This doesn’t come as a surprise and there is definite room for improvement. In an effort to confuse Kanter, the Nets switched to a zone defense. With the passing lanes occupied, Portland’s offense stagnated. Once Kanter gets a feel for the Blazers’ sets on offense, he has the tools (and teammates) to dissect that type of pressure.
Ghost of Postseason Past
The Thunder’s playoff push in 2016 featured 18 appearances from Kanter. Prior to Oklahoma City’s series against Golden State, Kanter registered at least 15 minutes per contest for an 11-game stretch. The Thunder’s first two postseason series against he Mavericks and Spurs allowed Kanter to feast on traditional matchups in the post. In a crucial Game 4 victory over Dallas, he exploded for 28 points by going 12-13 from the field.
Kanter’s 2016 postseason quickly unraveled against the Warriors. Golden State’s ability to use smaller post players exposed Kanter’s defensive deficiencies—making him borderline unplayable in the final four games of the Western Conference Finals.
As always, playoff matchups will dictate Kanter’s effectiveness for the Blazers. If Portland intends to utilize its newest addition’s scoring punch off the bench, an opening round matchup against Houston could prove disastrous. The Rockets’ offense is fueled by deadly pick-and-roll operators and is supported by respectable outside shooting. That combination would lead to Kanter being left on an island on defensive possessions.
How quickly Kanter immerses himself into the Blazers’ offense will ultimately define his success with Portland. Jusuf Nurkic will be relied upon in crunch time, but a second unit featuring Kanter must take advantage of favorable looks. If he can feast on offensive rebounds and draw extra attention in the post, the Blazers’ second unit should have enough firepower to overcome defensive lapses.