So Much Depends Upon ... Enes Kanter

Get used to this image. We're gonna see it a lot. - USA TODAY Sports

This is the first of a series of posts I am doing analyzing our "real" team for next season. As has been pointed out by many (most frequently in my Twitter timeline, Peter Novak), for the Jazz to be a non-lotto team it will require a major breakout to superstardom by one or two guys. So I'm looking at what kind of things we should look and hope for from our main players, i.e. not Biedrins.

The first I heard of Enes Kanter was when Basketball John snarked about the 2011 Draft Combine and how Enes looked like he was playing on a 7' hoop in the videos. During his rookie year, he seemed to me surprisingly solid. And I felt like his future was the #2 post scorer beside Favors.

But then I wrote something that makes me now feel smart. I wrote that we really wouldn't know what Enes could do as a scorer until after his second season.

And what a second season!

54% FG, 80% FT, 59% True Shooting ... scoring-wise, the jump from rookie year to second year was stunning. And the question now, of course, is whether he do this with a more playing time and a bigger role?

The Millsap Doctrine and Limiting Factors

One of the more interesting observations I have ever come across is the Millsap Doctrine. It was first mentioned by Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus (now an ESPN insider and, with Kevin Arnovitz and Zach Lowe, easily one of the most insightful analysts you can find) and SBN's Tom Ziller. The idea is simple: players will put up similar production regardless of minutes played. In fact, many players actually improve with more playing time and a starting role.

However, the critic will always point to a guy like Jeremy Evans and ask: Do you really think he'll shoot 65% if made the starting PF and given 20 shots a game?

No, I don't.

The reason is something additional I look at: limiting factors.

Basically, I ask: What factors could limit a player's ability to do as well with more playing time and a bigger role?

With Jeremy Evans, the major factor is obvious: he has shown limited ways he can score. So with Evans there's a huge tradeoff: either he takes a lot of shots besides dunks, and thus lowers his FG% tons, or he still only takes dunks and never gets more than 4-5 shots per game. Jeremy Evans, the 65% shooting 25 ppg guy simply is not possible with his limiting factors.

Kanter ... Without Limitations

With Kanter, we have to look at both the Millsap Doctrine and examine any limiting factors ... because he has played only limited minutes thus far.

Well, look at Kanter's shots last season:

  • At Rim: 184 shots — 65% FG — 40% assisted
  • 3-9 Feet: 92 shots — 45% FG — 56% assisted
  • 10-15 Feet: 50 shots — 40% FG — 85% assisted
  • 16-23 Feet: 52 shots — 46% FG — 88% assisted

That, friends, is one of the most beautiful sets of shot data I have ever seen. He's above average from all areas of the court. At the same time, he takes significantly more shots from the most effective spots. This is one of the big things that hurts players ... taking more shots from lower percentage areas. Kanter has not had that problem at all to date.

Smart players get good at mid-range jumpers to open up opportunities to score at the rim. Less smart players get good at mid-range jumpers so they can jack up a bunch of them. So far, thankfully, Kanter fits the smart scorer profile.

About 50% of his shots are at the rim, about 25% close, and about 25% from the entire 10-23 foot range. Additionally, Kanter focuses his jumper in drive and kick situations (look at the number of assisted shots) rather than jacking up contested jumpers just because. At the same time, you can see that he is fully capable of creating shots for himself on his own ... look at that lower assist percentage in close.

Basically, as long as you have guys who can drive and kick, Kanter's scoring is 100% scalable given bigger minutes and a bigger role. So sit back and smile, because we have Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke on our team.

There are no limiting factors here.

In fact, I think we have a perfect Super Millsap Doctrine candidate (a guy whose production exceeds when given more minutes). Here's why:

  • Kanter's shooting improved in all areas from his rookie to 2nd season. This fits the profile of a player who does even better in year 3.
  • Kanter has already generally done well when given more minutes. And because we've watched the Jazz the past two years, we know we don't have to worry so much about the correlation/causation questions.
  • Trey Burke excels at getting big-men easy layups and dunks down low. He did it in college. He did it today to Gobert. He's going to do it for Kanter this year. He's going to get more shots assisted in the paint, and his FG% there will reap the benefits.
  • I'll be honest, this last point is a mystery at this point. But there's been a bit of chatter of Kanter going out to the 3-point line. I've seen him hit near half-court shots in warm-ups. He shot 14-25 from three at his pre-draft combine. There's a difference between hitting them in drills and in games, however. A big difference. But let's be honest: if Kanter can give us Memo 3-point shooting, it's over.

Even excluding the final point, it's pretty reasonable to hope that Kanter becomes a monster-scoring big man.

Other Areas

There's more to basketball than just scoring however, even if a guy is scoring 20+ ppg at a 60% True Shooting clip. His rebounding, of course, is good. But his defensive rebounding took a bit of a dip last year, and it will be a huge benefit to see it get back to his rookie rate. But that's small compared to some other areas that he needs to improve if the Jazz are going to be better than a 30-win team.

His turnovers have been very, very high. That has to improve. As does his passing. 1 assist per game (his per-36 minute assist stat last year) is not what the team needs. The good news is that his passing is already showing a major trend of improvement (300% higher last year compared to his rookie year). But there's still a long, LONG way to go. He's going to command double-teams, and he's going to have 3-4 teammates who can spot up effectively. He has to be able to find them.

And I'm curious about his defense. His steals and blocks improved from his rookie year. Hopefully that continues. He has also shown flashes of terrific 1-on-1 defense, against both scrubs and elite players. But it's easier to play great defense for a possession or two. It's a lot harder to do it again and again and again over 35+ minutes every game. It is going to take work to see him continue to be an effective defender.

Summary

Enes Kanter will be one of the most important players on the Utah Jazz this year. Kanter's ability to help the Jazz be as good as possible lay in the following eight key areas:

  1. Maintaining both good shooting percentages AND smart distribution of shot locations
  2. The Trey Burke effect getting assisted close shots
  3. Increase in assists as he finds spot-up shooters and cutters off double-teams
  4. Maintaining his improved steal and block rates
  5. Cutting the turnovers
  6. Maintaining his strong 1-on-1 defense over 35+ minutes vs. 15 minutes
  7. A return to his rookie defensive rebounding rate
  8. The 3-point shot
As many have already said, I'm so excited to see what Enes Kanter turns out to be next year. Very good appears to be his absolute floor.
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