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Enes Kanter of the Utah Jazz Can Win NBA's Most Improved Player of the Year

November 19, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Enes Kanter (0) signs autographs prior to a game against the Houston Rockets at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Andy BaileyFeatured Columnist IVNovember 21, 2016

Utah's Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Alec Burks may all have a legitimate shot at the NBA's Most Improved Player of the Year award in 2014—that is if they can outplay their teammate Enes Kanter.

Turk, as Hayward called him at this year's rookie dance-off, has perhaps been the most impressive player early in training camp for the Jazz.

But that shouldn't be surprising.

And it probably isn't to fans of the team who saw Kanter in limited action last season.

In 2012-13, he played only 15.4 minutes a game behind Al Jefferson, and his averages of 7.2 points and 4.3 rebounds don't come close to telling the once-backup big's story.

Per 36 minutes, those numbers jump up to 16.9 and 10.2. And in games in which he played over 20 minutes (which happened 12 times), he posted 14.1 and 8.0.

Some are rightfully wary of those kind of figures being used to make a case for a bench player because they came against other backups, but there are a couple of examples of Kanter producing under more difficult circumstances.

In a November game against the Thunder, Kanter scored 18 points and grabbed seven offensive rebounds in 15 minutes. And a lot of that production came against defensive specialists Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison.

When he started in place of an injured Jefferson against Charlotte in March, he went for 23 and 22 (yes, I know how bad the Bobcats are). Only six other players had nights in which they produced at least that many points and rebounds last season.

With Jefferson now gone, Kanter will spend a lot less time on the bench this season and big nights like that from the Turk could be more common. Assuming his minutes double—and with only Rudy Gobert and Andris Biedrins behind him, they should—I see his production nearly doubling as well. 

And that's not just based on raw numbers.

When you actually watch the Jazz play, you can see that the 6'11", 260-pound big man has the potential to dominate in all three phases of the game—offense, defense and rebounding.

 

Offense

Feb 8, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Enes Kanter (0) is defended by Chicago Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer (5) during the first half at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Kanter may only be 21 years old, but he's wise beyond his basketball years, possessing a skill set most of his American counterparts at center lack.

He possesses deft footwork from a different era of NBA big men, touch to finish from a variety of angles, a smooth jump shot and a nose for offensive rebounds (more on that one later).

It's the jump shot that might be the most valuable aspect of his offensive arsenal, because it will make life a lot easier for his frontcourt mate Derrick Favors.

Opposing centers have to respect Kanter's range, as he hit a higher percentage from outside 16 feet (over 46) than known midrange snipers LaMarcus Aldridge and Chris Bosh. When defenders follow him out to the perimeter, it will create space in the lane for Hayward and Burks to drive and Favors to finish.

 

Defense

During the 2012-13 season, Utah's opponents scored about eight fewer points per 100 possessions when Kanter was on the floor.

He isn't a stellar shot blocker, but again, Kanter's a great complement to Favors. He has the size and strength to bang around the rim, leaving Favors free to roam and block shots.

He's also mobile enough to be a nuisance against the pick-and-roll.

 

Rebounding

Generally speaking, Kanter is solid on the boards, as he's averaged 10.7 per 36 minutes over his two years in the league.

Where he's truly special is as an offensive rebounder.

He didn't play enough minutes to qualify for the league leaderboard, but if he had, Kanter's offensive rebounding percentage would've been third in the NBA behind Reggie Evans and Roy Hibbert.

This was a common scene when Kanter was on the floor last year:



Opposing centers often found themselves on the wrong end of a box-out before the shot even went up, because of Kanter's anticipation and quickness.

Don't be surprised to see him average five or six points a game on putbacks alone.

 

Most Improved Player

Barring injury, Kanter is almost certain to break out in 2013-14. The combination of physical gifts and skill that he possesses should lead to quite a few double-doubles this season. 

And even though he has a lot of competition on his own team, that kind of production should make him a front-runner for Most Improved Player of the Year.

 

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

 

 

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