The Utah Jazz's coaching staff seem wary of putting Enes Kanter on the court right now, as they should be. Kanter is a bull in a china shop, though that could change with more experience.
Kanter has had some promising games, most notably against the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 17, when he contributed 10 points, going 4-of-7 from the field, while adding five rebounds in 22 minutes. Those 22 minutes were a season high; he is averaging only 13.9 minutes per game through the Jazz’s first 15 games.
Looking at weighted output (production per 36 minutes played), Kanter leads the team with 13.1 rebounds per game. His shooting percentage is a bit under 50 percent (48.1), but that is largely attributable to the lack of comfort he has on the floor given his limited minutes.
Though it would help both the team and Kanter getting him more experience, it is difficult given the talent in front of him.
Al Jefferson is having a monster season, averaging a near double-double with 18.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. His Hollinger player efficiency rating (PER), a calculation of per-minute production, is a steady 22.0, well above the league average of 15.0.
Though Big Al’s numbers have dropped from his peak production years with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he averaged 23.1 points and 10.9 rebounds during the 2008-09 season, his decline is partially due to the overall talent surrounding him now. He no longer has to score as much, grab every rebound, or be the main focal point of the offense every night.
That “help” is No. 24, Paul Millsap.
Millsap understandably takes (some) minutes away from Kanter. Granted they play different positions, it can be argued that a Kanter-Jefferson lineup would occur more often if Millsap was not available, though that combination may be in the works as Corbin and the coaching staff tweak the rotations.
How good is “Sap” playing right now?
Lately Millsap is on fire. A simple illustration of that are his point totals from the last seven games: 19, 29, 18, 26, 20, 16 and 26. In three of those game he pulled down at least 12 rebounds, while in five of those seven games he pulled down at least nine boards.
Add in the fact that he is shooting a ridiculous 58.9 percent from the field in January and it is easy to understand why he was included on the 2012 All-Star ballot, and why the Jazz are giving him so many minutes on the floor.
The Young and the Struggling
Last but not least in Utah's powerful frontcourt ahead of Kanter is Derrick Favors, who has recently slid into a mild slump.
After recording back-to-back, quality performances against the Golden State Warriors (12 points, 10 rebounds) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (14 points, five rebounds) in early January, he has scored a total of 15 points in the last six games (though he did have seven rebounds against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 21). Whether or not this trend continues may be a major factor in Kanter getting additional minutes. (For the sake of the team, it would be good to see Favors getting back on track.)
With what Jefferson, Millsap and Favors bring to the floor, the rationale for giving Kanter more time is not clear, but in order for the Jazz to compete at a high level, they need one of two things.
Either they need to have many long-range shooters, something they lack with only three players averaging above 30 percent from the arc; or
They need to dominate the paint.
This is where Kanter the bull comes in.
Kanter can hold his own against most any player in the NBA in term of sheer size. He is listed at 6'11” and 267 pounds, but (like a bull) he is more agile than many think.
Kanter's ability to use his size to get rebounds puts him at seventh in total rebounding percentage in the NBA (11th for offensive rebounding percentage). His combination of size and strength is indeed his "strength," and the Jazz need to tap into that in order to make sure teams are unable to be productive within 10 feet of the basket.
Without time on the floor Kanter simply cannot get comfortable against other big men in the NBA. The Jazz are not a three-point shooting team, but they do have a competitive frontcourt, and Kanter should play a much bigger role in where the team goes as the season progresses.