Enes Kanter the Great Scapegoat

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Enes Kanter's role and minutes this season have been inappropriate. Let me tell you why.

I try to be reasonable about things. I like to weigh the pros and cons and look at situations from all angles and sides. There are a lot of opinions about how the Jazz should be run and how this season was and is supposed to play out. Some opinions are reasonable and some are not. You know who you are.

But I can't find angles and reasons or justifications for how Enes Kanter has been handled this year. Let's discuss.

Just the facts

Enes Kanter came into the NBA as a 19 year old with very little basketball experience relatively, who had just abstained for the previous year from competitive basketball. He certainly needed to be eased into the professional game. There were a lot of reasons Kanter only managed 13 mpg, but it was certainly appropriate and justifiable. You could call it a successful season. For reference sake, I will provide lists of players in the NBA history who had similar production from a bare-bones stats perspective. To avoid manipulation of numbers to an extreme, lets look at a list of 18-19 year old rookie big men who played 10 mpg and recorded a PER of 12 or better.

Screen_shot_2014-01-27_at_9

In his second year, Enes made an expected and natural progression, not in minutes, but in production. His Per-36 scoring jumped from 12.5 points to 17 and his rebounds stayed at a similar rate. He was a much improved player from both the stat jump and the eye-test. Enes was still in the same statistical area as this list of 18-20 year old bigmen in their first two seasons, with 7 or more points, 4 or more rebounds and a PER of 15 or better.

Screen_shot_2014-01-27_at_10

Six Months Ago

Fast forward to July of 2013 and the Jazz had allowed both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to walk away, opening up room for Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors to play a large handful of minutes together in the front court, if not starting together. It was a foregone conclusion. It seemed that Kanter starting was the only point of debate in the matter.

At this point in the story, it would be very easy to become emotional and angry and unreasonable, since we know what has happened in the last 6 months. But let's take a collective deep breath and list the pros and cons of giving Enes Kanter a load of minutes.

The Pros

Enes Kanter puts up big numbers and production and helps the team win games

Enes Kanter's confidence increases dramatically as he improves

The Jazz get to see how Favors and Kanter play together

Enes Kanter puts up big numbers but does not work with Favors or in terms of winning, but is now a 21 year old center putting up 16 and 8 on a daily basis

The Cons

Kanter and Favors are disastrous together

Kanter is overwhelmed by the starting role and plays horribly

Kanter loses his confidence

Marvin Williams or Richard Jefferson are personally insulted by the fact they only get 10 mpg and hate the Jazz organization

Reality

You may add more pros and cons to this list and I'd love to hear your comments, but let's evaluate what has happened up to this point 44 games into the season.

Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter struggled to play together to start the season's first 18 games. They struggled to both score and defend while on the floor together. The Jazz started 1-13 and looked like one of the worst offensive teams in the history of the NBA. Trey Burke was inserted into the starting lineup after 14 games, just one game after Marvin Williams replaced Enes Kanter as the starting power forward and since those changes have been made, the Jazz have been a much improved team since having won 14 of 30 games.

Kanter the Scapegoat

It was, and has been, easy to put a lot of blame on Enes for the Jazz's horrific start. Afterall, his defense was pretty bad at times and the team looked like a wreck defensively. It was obvious to almost everybody that all the Jazz needed was a little more space offensively, which Marvin Williams could give them, in order to be successful.

The problem with this theory is that there is literally no way to test it. When the Jazz were 1-14 and the laughingstock of the NBA, the team made 3 rather significant changes. One was to replace Kanter with Williams. The second change was making Trey Burke the starting point guard and relegating John Lucas III to the bench. The third change came a couple of games later when the Jazz stopped putting Derrick Favors 20 feet from the basket on pick and roll defense and let him sag in the paint and defend the rim.

There is no question that all three of these changes helped the Jazz be a more competitive team. The problem is that we have no real way of knowing which one helped more, since all were made at the same time. What if Trey Burke was 90% of the reason for the improvement and the defensive change accounted for the other 10% and leaving Kanter in the starting lineup would have caused essentially the same improvement in the team? It's certainly plausible. That's the problem with adding three variables to an equation. You might ascribe significance to an insignificant change, or not appreciate another change as much as you should.

What Happened?

Looking back at the pros and cons, I think we can evaluate which of them happened and which did not. The Jazz got a chance to see how Kanter and Favors played together and it is obvious that they need to improve, probably both through personal improvement and coaching scheme. Again, there is no way to tell if Kanter and Favors could have made improvements together with a little more time, a better defensive scheme and a competent point guard.

Kanter did put up numbers despite the team's poor performance. Kanter averaged 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and shot 50% from the field in the first 14 games all against starter-level players. One of the theories of Kanter's poor season is that he couldn't handle the jump from playing bench players to starters. While this may be true to a degree, it can't be overlooked that offensively, Kanter's numbers have been very similar as a starter opposed to a being a bench player.

Screen_shot_2014-01-27_at_12

What I think unquestionably happened is that Enes Kanter lost his confidence when he was benched. I mentioned Kanter's numbers in the first 14 games: 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 50% from the field in 32 minutes per game. In the next 17 games Kanter played 21 minutes per game and put up 8.2 points and 4.5 rebounds on only 42.6% shooting. Luckily Kanter has been able to find his confidence and is putting up 13.3 points, 7 rebounds in 22 minutes per night while shooting 55.8% from the field the last 12 contests. But in short, I think it's hard to argue that benching Enes Kanter is what helped him find his game again. The exact opposite may be true.

So What?

At this point, you probably haven't changed your mind on how you feel about management's handling of Kanter's role and minutes. But I haven't even addressed what the biggest problem is with the Jazz benching and limiting Kanter. The development of Enes Kanter has been all fine and dandy if the Jazz have an unlimited amount of time to figure out if he can work well with Derrick Favors. The problem is that the Jazz are running out of time to figure that out. Next offseason the Jazz will be able to negotiate a contract extension with Kanter. If they don't know what kind of player he is and how he fits with the other future pieces, they will be uninformed in how much to offer him. On top of that, any team will be able to make him an offer and try to steal him away in the summer of 2015. As of today, the Jazz are going to be very ill prepared for both of the next two off seasons regarding any decisions with Kanter.

Kanter is going to get a hefty offer in 2015

If you look at the players that Enes Kanter's numbers have been most comparable with, they all received large second contracts, other than Milicic.

Again, even with Kanter's small downturn in production this season, the list of big men who put up equal to or better than 11 and 7 in 20 mpg at the age of 21 or younger is 17 players long including Kanter. Twelve of those players received the equivalent of a maximum contract extension after their rookie contracts. The others (Nene, Eddy Curry, Shawn Kemp, Brad Daugherty) either got large paychecks, or played in an area with strict salary caps.

It would certainly make for a healthy debate and I would love for people to show me where I might be wrong about this, but historically, I can't see Kanter making less than $10 million a year on his next contract. In 2015, Kevin Love will be the big free agent available, most likely, and if teams that need a rebounding and scoring big man miss out on Love, you better believe they will offer Kanter money. Lots of it. Big men get paid in the NBA and skilled big men, get PAID.

To see how valuable young, big men, even big men who don't get a lot of playing time are, let's look back at the summer of 2004. There was a backup center who had just finished a season averaging 9.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 22 minutes per game on 53% true shooting percentage (Kanter's career TS% is 55). The Jazz offered this player a six year, $50 million deal, which is equivalent to a 4 year, $48 million deal today. That player's name was Mehmet Okur.

Kanter's Trade Value

If you are familiar with any of my tweets or opinions (I don't expect you to be), then you may know that I don't think Kanter's fit with Favors and the Jazz moving forward is good enough to justify the millions of dollars he will be offered in restricted free agency. In fact, I have gone as far as to say that Enes Kanter will not play out his next contract in a Jazz uniform.

Let's just pretend that the Jazz decide in the next 18 months that Enes Kanter cannot play effectively alongside Derrick Favors. The Jazz's two options then become to either have Kanter or Favors be the 3rd big, or else to trade one of them. And let's pretend further that Kanter is in line for a 4 year, $40 million deal and that the Jazz prefer to keep Favors over Kanter.

The biggest problem that the Jazz have created for themselves is that they have severely damaged the product of Enes Kanter and he may be their best trade chip in the next 6 months. Kanter has gone from a player who can put up 14 and 7, to a bench player who is only getting 22 minutes and putting up 11 and 4. He hasn't really changed as a player, but he looks like a worse player to the general public. Admit it. You have wondered to yourself the last month or so, if Enes Kanter is any good. You've bought into the fact that he was the reason for the Jazz being so poor to start the season. Don't get me wrong. Enes Kanter has a long way to go and a lot of work to do to improve his game, but he's better than what he has received from Coach Corbin and the Jazz this year. And they are only shooting themselves in the foot.

One of the players that Enes Kanter is often compared to production-wise was traded after his 3rd season for a 10 time all-star in 2007. Here are that players' numbers:

Screen_shot_2014-01-27_at_3

Are these numbers those of a much better player at the age of 21 or 22 than Enes Kanter is now? Not at all. This is Al Jefferson. Al Jefferson was the center piece in a trade for Kevin Garnett along with Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, and a protected 2009 draft pick (Wayne Ellington).

At worst, the Jazz should be holding onto a talented, young prospect who is one of the best trade chips in a potential deal this summer. Right now, we have fans questioning if he will ever be a starter. He's 21.

The Coup De Grace

I have no problem with Enes Kanter getting benched. It's over and what is done was done. I understand the need to teach players and let them regather their games. I do have an issue with blaming Kanter with the Jazz's early problems and attributing his comeback to his benching. They just don't add up. On top of that, he started the year injured. He's a young player who needs time and he's very productive. This last couple weeks of play should not be a surprise.

But it's time to start featuring Kanter again. Start him or not, he needs 30+ minutes and he needs to play a lot with Derrick Favors. The coaches need to take the onus of making it work. That's their job.

WIns and Losses don't matter this season. I'm not sure Ty Corbin got the memo. And really fixing the offense shouldn't be a priority either. It's not on the list of important things Dennis Lindsey has ever mentioned. And Marvin WIlliams hasn't been very good for the last 20 games or so.

In fact over the last 20 games the pairing of Favors and Kanter has thoroughly outperformed the duo of Favors and Marvin Williams. Favors and Williams have been outscored by more than 6 points per 48 minutes while grabbing only 74% of available defensive rebounds the last 20 games. Kanter and Favors are outscored by only 5 points per 48 minutes the last 20 games and have grabbed nearly 79% of available defensive rebounds. They are improving.

It's time, coach Corbin. No more, "We'll see if we can get them together more" or "that's something we are thinking about." It's not rocket science. Just make it happen. Let Kanter spread the floor. Let him shoot three pointers. Do what you have to do. It's the right thing for the franchise. There is no reason to keep Kanter where he is right now. Not one good reason.

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