Enes Kanter posted, bobbed, weaved and up-and-undered his way to a 17-point performance Saturday night in Chicago, and Gordon Hayward believes he’s seen that repertoire before.
The Celtics forward saw these moves, though probably not as refined as now, during Kanter’s first three NBA seasons in Utah. And Hayward had seen these moves even before that, from the player he knows was an early mentor to the young Turk — former Celtic Al Jefferson.
“I’ve played with two good post players specifically on that block. I don’t know if Enes will say that Al helped him. But certainly I think you can see some of Al’s game through Enes,” said Hayward. “When Al Jefferson was playing and Enes was a young player in the league.”
“I remember watching Al, and I’m sure Enes was watching him as well. I’m sure they had some sessions together. You’d have to ask Enes about that but certainly some of the moves are very similar.”
Jefferson, taken by the Celtics with the 15th pick of the 2004 NBA draft, and later the main part of a franchise-changing 2007 trade for Kevin Garnett, was from a bygone era, when pure post players still had an in-demand skill set.
The most common adjective affixed to them now is from the Jurassic era. But Kanter laughs when asked about his Brontosaurus reputation. Post offense is now considered inefficient.
“It’s weird, man,” he said. “If you look at the league there’s not many big men left playing with their back to the basket. But hey, I love that tough back-to-the-basket game — rebounds, like the old days.”
Kanter has certainly delivered on last summer’s free agent signing. Beyond leading the Celtics in rebounding (eight in 18.1 minutes per game) despite a bench role, and fitting in as the sixth leading scorer on the team (9.1) behind the so-called core five of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Hayward and Marcus Smart, Kanter has found a way to fit defensively.
He leads the league in offensive rebound percentage (16.5), with the next player on the list (Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams) three full percentage points lower. He’s third in overall rebound percentage (20.8) behind only Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Portland’s Hassan Whiteside.
And neither of those players has Kanter’s offensive role. Brad Stevens has found a way to blend a post player into his offense.
Though the Celtics coach doesn’t sound like he wants a steady diet of the throwback game, but he does now have someone on his bench who is highly efficient at it.
“Well I think he’s a really good post player. The reality is we all know the numbers — that’s been well-discussed — but there’s also certain times in games with certain guys in this league that you just go to,” said Stevens. “We don’t have a ton of post things in our arsenal either, but we have a couple in case we want to go to that.”
Kanter understands that by coming off the bench behind the less scoring-oriented Daniel Theis, his scoring opportunities have expanded.
“Especially when I’m with the second unit, we can score the ball inside,” he said. “When (the opposing) second big man comes in, most of the time it’s someone skinny or weak, or a pick-and-pop shooter. So I can put him in a spot where I can hurt the other team. If they send a double team you make the extra pass.
“It’s been very easy. Brad’s system has come so easy, especially when you add players like these guys — the game becomes so easy on both ends.”
There’s also the added bonus of how teams are designed to defend in this new perimeter-oriented NBA. Not every team has someone capable of defending a polished post scorer.
“True. They’re so focused on guards and shooting threes, if you have a good post player and you can dominate, then they have to send a double team,” said Kanter. “Then he can pass it and pick them apart.
“There aren’t many post players down there,” he said. “In the NBA, not many back-to-the-basket players. Probably a couple, (Joel) Embiid, (Nikola) Jokic a little bit, (Nic) Vucevic maybe. AD (Anthony Davis) is more of a face-up player, with a jump shot. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing — it’s a good thing, you can hurt them inside.”