Blueprint for Enes Kanter to Have Breakout Year with Utah Jazz This Season
USA TODAY Sports
For Kanter, there's no doubting his skill set. The 21-year-old was drafted third overall in 2011 for a reason. At 6'11" and 262 pounds, he's got more than enough size to match up with virtually any center. Yet the big man's also got some range to his jump shot and can maneuver well in the post.
This is the year he's primed to put it all together.
For one, with two seasons of experience under his belt, Kanter's workload only figures to increase. It doesn't hurt that two of the team's mainstays, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, have both moved on, opening even more chances for playing time.
He also made strides from Year 1 to Year 2, increasing his numbers across the board. That said, there are always areas for improvement, especially when you're 21 years old with a ceiling through the roof, as Kanter is.
Most importantly, making those adjustments isn't an overwhelming task. There's already a base there to work with.
Now it's about refining those skills to maximize the potential.
Increased Playing Time
This one seems pretty obvious, right? In order to be a breakout player, one must garner enough minutes to break out. As far as Kanter is concerned, he should get more than his share of minutes on the court.
Kanter's been brought along slowly for a multitude of reasons. He was relatively raw upon entering the league. The Jazz were in the playoff hunt in his first two seasons. The team had better options in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Now, every one of those reasons is inconsequential.
Millsap and Jefferson are gone. The post has effectively been turned over to promising power forward Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. For better or worse, this is their time, and there are no longer any veterans holding them back.
While the Jazz were contenders the past couple campaigns, that no longer figures to be the case. This team has had a ton of roster turnover, and a lot of those voids have been filled by young players.
Granted, many of those youngsters have potential, but expecting them to carry Utah toward contention in 2013-14 is simply unrealistic.
Without much hope of qualifying for the postseason, the Jazz literally have nothing to lose. It's the perfect situation for a player like Kanter to develop. He'll get plenty of playing time to refine his skill, and losing a game likely won't come back to haunt the team down the road.
Kanter can jump from the 15.4 minutes he averaged in 2012-13. And given how productive he was in the time he was on the court, with more playing time, he should start posting the type of numbers that make people take notice.
Continue Improving on Defense
Everybody tends to get enthralled with offense. It makes sense. It's flashier, and high-scoring games tend to be more entertaining than grind-it-out contests. Yet the fact remains that defense still makes up 50 percent of basketball.
And Kanter has the ability to be an impact player on that side of the ball.
He already showed himself to be an above-average defender last season. According to 82games.com, Kanter held opposing centers to a player efficiency rating of 11.5. Considering that 15.0 is league average, the 21-year-old made it difficult on the opposition. However, there are a couple areas in which he could get even better.
For one, Kanter could improve his shot-blocking ability. Last season, the center was No. 119 in the NBA in block percentage (2.3 percent). To put that into perspective, ahead of him were point guard Eric Bledsoe and a host of small forwards, including Kevin Durant, Moe Harkless and Shane Battier. He was also 118th in blocks per 36 minutes (1.1), showing a common trend.
Now, Kanter's never been known as a shot-blocking specialist. He doesn't have the type of leaping ability conducive with the skill set. And having Derrick Favors, who's an excellent shot-blocker, playing next to him doesn't hurt. But if the 21-year-old can just become a sufficient rim protector, it would add to one of the few defensive areas he's lacking.
As a center, one of his other priorities is cleaning up the glass. On that end, Kanter has certainly been respectable, averaging 10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career.
Yet he has the skills and size to be more than just a respectable rebounder.
Kanter could be great.
His total rebound percentage of 16.5 is ranked 57th. Kanter's in roughly the same range in rebounds per 36 minutes, coming in at 63rd overall. Both of those figures, while not great, are certainly serviceable.
However, his work on the defensive boards need a serious uptick. His defensive rebounds per 36 (5.6) come in at 133rd overall. Once again, several small forwards come in ahead of him. He's also ranked 120th in defensive-rebound percentage (18.6).
There's no reason Kanter can't take a big step forward in this regard. After all, he's 6'11" and 262 pounds with a 7'2" wingspan. He just needs to learn how to use his size and strength in an advantageous way.
And becoming more effective on the glass is an integral step in his ascension.
Get to the Free-Throw Line on Offense
At 73.4 percent for his career, Kanter's actually a pretty good free-throw shooter. He's even better when you consider he's a center—a position not normally associated with accuracy from the charity stripe. The 21-year-old needs to use that to his advantage by getting to the free-throw line more often.
For his career, Kanter averages 4.1 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes. Last season, that number was at 3.9, which ranked 123rd in the NBA.
How many points do you expect Kanter to average this season?
As a center, Kanter's liable to get the ball close to the basket. There's less room to operate in the post, and high-percentage looks are increased, leading to more congestion and more fouls. It should be a prime opportunity to draw contact and get to the charity stripe.
Besides, Kanter's oftentimes got the strength to finish when he's fouled. That leads to and-1 opportunities. And even if he's unable to finish the shot, with his accuracy from the line, he's still got a pretty good shot at coming away with two points.
That's a pretty good proposition, and it's an easy way for the center to increase his scoring.
Become More Efficient Outside the Restricted Zone
At this point in his career, Kanter's done most of his damage from within three feet of the hoop. That's not uncommon for a center, and it's also a high-percentage shot. However, by expanding his game further from the basket, he can become lethal on offense.
In 2012-13, Kanter knocked down 65.2 percent of his 184 attempts within three feet of the rim. Yet from three-to-nine feet, he only hit 44.6 percent of his attempts. That figure dropped to 40 percent from 10-15 feet. By raising those percentages away from the hoop, he'll have more ways of impacting games and will be that much more difficult to defend.
One way to do this is to increase his range on some of his existing moves. For example, Kanter knocked down 64.7 percent of his hook shots. That's an excellent percentage. However, he only attempted 34 hook shots.
If he became more comfortable utilizing the shot, he'd have more options for scoring when not hovering at the hoop.
The same goes for Kanter's jump shot, which he hit 41.4 percent of the time. When he was drafted, one of his strong suits was his ability to knock down jumpers.
Compared to most centers, he's still got an advantage in this regard.
Yet if he became more consistent from 10-15 feet with the jumper, he'd have another weapon to work with. As is, opponents need to stick with him in that range because he's capable of knocking it down, which in turn opens space in the paint. In that sense, his range accomplishes one goal.
By consistently scoring with it, he'll do more than simply opening up the lane for others.
Cut Down on Turnovers
The one area Kanter didn't make much of an improvement last season was turnovers. He actually got worse from Year 1 to Year 2 in this area. So at a time when increased experience should lead to fewer gaffes, the center actually had more.
His turnovers per 36 minutes went from 2.2 to 3.4, while his turnover percentage rose to 19 percent. That turnovers per 36 minutes was 438th last season.
Meanwhile, his turnover percentage came in at No. 409.
As Kanter's minutes increase, the number of touches he's sure to get on offense will also increase. When playing only 10-15 minutes a night, one or two turnovers might not kill a team. Over 25-30 minute span, as the number of turnovers increases proportionally, it becomes a more glaring issue, and the totality of it could be enough to contribute to a loss, especially on a team whose margin of victory (when it does win) doesn't figure to be much.
It doesn't seem like a huge deal, and in the grand scheme of things, it's not. But it's one more piece to the puzzle he can improve on next season. Besides, unlike some of the other tweaks, a lot of this one is about a mental adjustment, not a physical one.
On the one hand, that should make it easier to solve with increased attention to detail. On the other hand, like with any physical adjustment, it'll take some work.
Theoretically it'll progress with more experience, but as Kanter showed last season, that's not the only piece to the equation.
It's about learning from that experience.
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Unless stated otherwise, all stats are from Basketball-Reference.
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