When the Carmelo Anthony trade finally went down, most of the focus was placed on his departure from the New York Knicks – and rightfully so.
Little was made of the package the Knicks received in return, which included two players: one, a floor-spacing wing, and the other, a bulking big man with known issues on one side of the floor.
Nevertheless, Doug McDermott and Enes Kanter have turned heads with their surprisingly excellent play thus far this season.
The former is hitting 40.8 percent of his 2.8 nightly three-point attempts, meaning he’s doing exactly what was expected of him. But it’s the latter, who is enjoying by far his most productive season as a pro, that we’re here to discuss.
For starters, Kanter has always rebounded at an elite clip, and that hasn’t changed.
What’s more, the 25-year-old has scored an absurd 119 points off of put-backs in 2017-18, the second-highest total in the league, trailing only Andre Drummond.
Using his stout frame and relentless energy, it’s nearly impossible to keep Kanter away from offensive rebounds.
“It’s hard to keep him off the glass because he’s ultra strong and gets low to wedge you under,” Philadelphia 76ers big man Trevor Booker said of Kanter’s offensive rebounding. “He goes after every rebound. A lot of times, he does his work early in the possession and works you under the basket before the shot is taken.”
Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner also gave us his thoughts regarding Kanter’s ferocity on the glass, telling HoopsHype: “He waits for you to play help defense and gets good position when you’re trying to recover and gets you out of the way.”
With shoulders seemingly made of titanium, the Knicks big man has also continued to shine as a post-up menace.
Among players with over 100 post-up opportunities this season (passes included), Kanter ranks No. 3 in points per possession (PPP) at 1.04. That mark only trails Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic (1.09) and Minnesota Timberwolves freak Karl-Anthony Towns (1.05), per Synergy Sports Tech.
“On the block, his footwork is great,” Kings’ Garrett Temple told HoopsHype. “He knows angles and uses fakes well!”
Turner, who himself produces an impressive 1.03 PPP on post-ups (passes included), said: “[Kanter] uses his body pretty well in the post and he makes good reads.”
It’s those reads out of the post that Turner mentioned which have made Kanter a more complete player this season.
After being mostly a black hole with the ball in his hands throughout his career, the New York Knickerbocker is now averaging 1.4 assists per contest. Prior to 2017-18, Kanter had never averaged more than 0.9 nightly dimes, making his vast improvement as a distributor all the more impressive.
No one’s going to be mistaking him for Jokic or fellow avid passer out of the post Marc Gasol any time soon, but Kanter is doing a far better job of keeping his head up, sensing hard doubles and finding open shooters on the perimeter.
Specifically, when Kanter has been double-teamed on the left block this season, his passing out to shooters has produced 1.35 PPP, the best rate in the league, per Synergy.
Sure, some luck is involved in that, as his teammates do, after all, have to knock the shots down. Regardless, their center is giving them pristine looks.
Offensive improvements aside, Kanter is also on pace to finish the season with positive scores in both Defensive Box Plus/Minus, as well as NBA Math’s Defensive Points Saved – a feat the 6-foot-11 bruiser has never accomplished before.
Overall, Kanter is averaging 13.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per outing. He’s hitting a career-high 59.3 percent of his field-goal attempts and a career-best 88.7 percent of his freebies.
Considering New York budding superstar Kristaps Porzingis has publicly stated (multiple times) his aversion to playing center, it’s possible the Knicks have found themselves the perfect, rebound-gobbling big man to pair with their franchise cornerstone.
The duo aptly covers each other’s deficiencies. Kanter isn’t the best rim-protector; Porzingis is fourth in blocks per contest (2.2). Porzingis struggles on the glass; Kanter feasts on rebounds.
How much longer the fearsome twosome remain together will go a long way in determining the Knicks’ immediate future.
Despite the fact Kanter is under contract for one more season with his current team (while letting it be known how much he loves playing in New York City), he does own a player option on the final year of his deal.
With his play reaching such productive heights, is it conceivable Kanter would opt out and test the open waters of free agency anyway, passing on an obscene $18.4 million in the process?
For the aforementioned reasons (his love for the situation he’s in and the amount of money the Knicks owe him if he sticks around in 2018-19), a Kanter opt-out doesn’t seem likely.
But if he keeps performing at the level he’s presently at, it shouldn’t be entirely ruled out, either.
You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.
HoopsHype’s own Alex Kennedy contributed to this article.