After winding road, Enes Kanter finally taking control – at least offensively on the court

AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Enes Kanter badly wants to control his basketball career.

When he began playing the sport in Europe, he plotted his NBA future before even knowing how to pronounce the league’s name. “I was saying N-B-Ah,” Kanter said. He’d move to America in high school, because it’d be easier to assimilate when younger. He’d play college basketball and get drafted by a team that coveted him. Then, he’d have a long and fulfilling pro career.

But reality had other plans, thrice leaving Kanter without control and pleading with someone who held great influence over his future:

1. After a year at a California prep school, Kanter enrolled at Kentucky. But the NCAA deemed him ineligible due to benefits he received while playing for Fenerbahçe – despite Kanter rejecting a multi-million-dollar offer from the Turkish team to come to the U.S.

“I told the NCAA, ‘Let me play. Let me not play my first year. Let me play my second year,'” Kanter said.

Kanter insists he would’ve stayed at Kentucky another season, even though his draft stock remained high. But the NCAA ruled him permanently ineligible. So, Kanter declared for the draft.

2. The Jazz picked him No. 3 overall in 2011, but he never seemed happy in Utah. He later described his time there as “a three-and-a-half-year frustration” and implied the Jazz weren’t professionally run.

Kanter requested a trade last year.

This time, the powers that be acquiesced. Utah traded him to the Thunder.

3. Kanter played well for Oklahoma City, and he wanted to stay. But he was a restricted free agent last summer, and the Thunder didn’t make a suitable contract offer.

So, Kanter signed a max offer sheet with the Trail Blazers – even though his team preference remain unchanged.

“I was like, ‘Please match it. Please match it,'” Kanter said.

The Thunder did, and Kanter is finally seizing control.

For the first time in his career, Kanter looks on track. He dominates offensively coming off the Thunder’s bench, averaging 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds in just 21.0 minutes per game. This role suits him.

Kanter deserves strong consideration for Sixth Man of the Year. He ranks second in win shares to Tristan Thompson among potentially eligible players:


*Jared Dudley will be eligible only if he comes off the bench for the Wizards tonight.

Not that Kanter is thinking about the award.

“Right now, my focus is on really playoffs and trying to win a championship,” Kanter said. “If you asked me, honestly, I don’t even know my stats. I don’t even look at my stats, because I don’t worry about it. I don’t want to stress about it.”

Jazz fans can decide whether the believe that selflessness, but there’s little reason for Kanter to stress.

Frequently and deservedly criticized for his defense, Kanter is much more often positioned to succeed now. The Thunder score better, defense worse and play worse overall– though still outscore opponents – with Kanter on the court. But on a team previously lacking depth beyond Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, Kanter helps Oklahoma City hold its own when those stars sit.

There’s no getting around Kanter’s defense. It’s abysmal, inside and out. He can’t protect the rim. He gets lost on pick-and-rolls, which are already hard enough for him considering a lack of lateral quickness.

But what Kanter does well, he does extremely well.

Kanter carries a big load offensively, scoring efficiently on pick-and-rolls and in the post. He has also learned to blend when sharing the court with Durant and Westbrook. His pick-and-roll chemistry with Westbrook is particularly impressive. And instead of floating for inefficient mid-range jumpers, Kanter crashes the offensive glass hard. He leads the NBA in offensive-rebounding percentage, creating many opportunities for putbacks.

As a general rule, there’s a tradeoff between usage and efficiency. Theoretically, a player’s shot selection starts with his best shots. Ask him to take more shots, and that means adding worse shots than in the initial arsenal. As usage increases, shooting percentage decreases.

That’s what makes Kanter so impressive.

Since the NBA began tracking turnovers in 1977, players have matched Kanter’s combination of usage percentage (23.4) and true shooting percentage (62.6) just 14 times:

  • 2015-16 Stephen Curry
  • 2014-15 Stephen Curry
  • 2013-14 LeBron James
  • 2012-13 LeBron James
  • 2009-10 Dwight Howard
  • 2008-09 Shaquille O’Neal
  • 2007-08 Amar’e Stoudemire
  • 1990-91 Charles Barkley
  • 1989-90 Charles Barkley
  • 1988-89 Charles Barkley
  • 1987-88 Charles Barkley
  • 1986-87 Kevin McHale
  • 1984-85 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • 1979-80 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

In all but one of those cases (Shaq with the 2009 Suns), the player received – or with Curry this year, will receive – MVP votes. Kanter won’t – nor should he receive any consideration.

But players with Kanter’s scoring prowess typically receive immense adulation.

Why is he different?

Defense is huge, and it limits his overall impact. Being drafted No. 3 raised expectations. So does his max salary.

But Kanter is a backup now, and his peers – other than the rare Andre Iguodala or Manu Ginobili – are also flawed. That’s why they’re backups.

Salary-cap rules prohibited the Thunder from spending Kanter’s money on someone else. So, it was him or bust at any price for Oklahoma City – which the Trail Blazers obviously knew when they extend the offer sheet. They also knew last summer was the last before the cap skyrocketed under the new national TV contracts.

It’s time to stop worrying about what Kanter isn’t. He’s not a defender. He’s not a traditional max player. He’s not a franchise cornerstone.

But he’s someone who, after trying and failing to avoid an uneven path to this point, is having a very nice season for a contender.

That deserves a little more commendation.

NBA says Horford foul on Butler correct call, as was added time


While Game 6 will be remembered as the Derrick White game, a series of controversial moments on the previous play set the stage for the winning shot.

There was the Heat’s Jimmy Butler driving left, getting bumped by Al Horford and fumbling the ball, recovering it and starting to dribble again (which appeared close to earning a double-dribble call). Then Butler drew a shooting foul on Horford initially called inside the arc with :02.1 seconds left, but after Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla challenged and it was ruled a 3-point attempt (it clearly was) at the :03 second mark. The referees added 0.9 seconds to the clock, ultimately enabling White to get the game-winning putback with O.1 left.

The referees got all that right, the NBA said in its Last Two Minute Report from Game 6. The report found just two incorrect calls in the final five minutes:

Caleb Martin should have been called for a lane violation on Jaylen Brown‘s missed free throw with 1:01 left in the game.
Gabe Vincent should have been called for a foul on Jayson Tatum‘s stumbling layup attempt with :31 remaining.

None of that changes the results, the Celtics escape Miami with a 104-103 win to force a Game 7 on Monday night. Even though that is a Game 7, it will be hard for that game to surpass the drama of Game 6.

Nick Nurse reportedly enticed by idea of working with Morey again with 76ers

Coach Nick Nurse in Canada vs Czech Republic - FIBA Men's Olympic Qualifying
Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

When news came out about the Milwaukee Bucks hiring Adrian Griffin to be their new coach, one part of that was a report that Nick Nurse pulled himself out of consideration for the job. That felt a little chicken and egg — did he pull out because he realized he would not get the job?

Either way, he is interested in the Philadelphia 76ers and particularly working again with Daryl Morey, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inqurier. Morey was the GM of the Rockets when Nurse was the coach of their G-League team, the Rio Grand Valley Vipers.

Sources have said that reuniting with Morey is very much enticing to Nurse…

A source has confirmed that Nurse pulled out of being considered for the Milwaukee Bucks head-coaching job, leading to the team hiring his former Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin on Saturday. Nurse interviewed with the Sixers on Monday before meeting with the Suns on Thursday. The 55-year-old coach is pondering the best destination for him, according to sources. However, a source would not say if the Sixers offered him the gig.

Nurse makes intuitive sense for the 76ers or Suns, an out-of-the-box coach who won a championship four years ago to teams with title aspirations next season and beyond. His connection to Morey has had some around the league thinking that would be his ultimate destination from Day 1.

However, the stars of those teams will have a say, as Giannis Antetokounmpo did in the Bucks hiring Griffin (a former player, something Antetokounmpo reportedly prioritized). How does Joel Embiid feel about Nurse? What about Kevin Durant and Devin Booker? Marc Stein reported that Booker endorsed Suns assistant Kevin Young for that job.

Both teams are reportedly getting close to deciding on their next head coach, but for contending teams that need to get this hire right they do not want to be rushed.

Report: Mavericks have no interest in Irving sign-and-trade with Lakers that brings back Russell

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving may say he doesn’t want to be in the middle of NBA free agency speculation, but when he sits courtside in Los Angeles at a couple of Lakers’ playoff games he has to know that will spark talk.

LeBron James has sent his not-so-subtle message he wants more help, and the rumors he’s open to a reunion with Irving are nothing new. All of that has driven a lot of speculation in recent weeks of a Lakers’ sign-and-trade to reunite the core of the Cavaliers’ 2016 title team. While Irving is a free agent, the Lakers have made clear they intend to re-sign Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura as restricted free agents, making signing Irving directly off the table (unless he wants to take a massive pay cut and play for the midlevel exception, which his actions indicate he does not). If Irving comes to the Lakers, it’s on a sign-and-trade.

Then who goes back to Dallas in this trade? The speculation centered on free agent D'Angelo Russell signing and trading to play next to Luka Dončić. However, the Mavericks have no interest in that, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

A popular topic all week, in the wake of Denver sweeping the Lakers out of the Western Conference finals, was the notion that L.A. could emerge as a potential sign-and-trade destination for Dallas’ free agent-to-be Kyrie Irving.

While we await a clear indication about the Lakers’ intentions there, with no verifiable signal to date that pursuing Irving is among their offseason priorities, league sources say that the Mavericks would have no interest in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers that features D’Angelo Russell as the primary Dallas-bound player. All indications are that the Mavericks remain intent on re-signing Irving

While the questions of fit between Dončić and Irving remain, when the Mavericks traded for Irving they committed to this path, both financially and on the court. If Irving walks in free agency Dallas has no way to replace him, and they are better off with him than without him. Irving is a much better player than Russell and with Dončić on the roster the Mavericks are a win-now team. Their preference is clear.

As for Irving, he wants to get paid (remember he opted in with the Nets rather than leave to play for less, then pushed for a trade when Brooklyn would not give him the extension he wanted). There is logic for both Dallas and Irving to work out a new contract and, if this marriage doesn’t work out, trade him down the line. The only questions are money, years, and does Irving really want to be in Dallas (he has said he does).

League sources have told NBC Sports that the Lakers’ front office’s primary focus is not on Irving. While the Lakers could clear as much as almost $30 million in cap space, free agency is not the path the Lakers appear to be walking. Re-signing Reaves and Hachimura and putting them next to LeBron and Anthony Davis — both of the Lakers stars make more than $40 million next season — plus rounding out the roster has the Lakers quickly pushing above the cap and into the tax, and the second tax apron is within sight. The Lakers are more likely to make moves like picking up the $16.5 million team option on Malik Beasley and trading him and or other players for the shot creation and shooting they want. A Russell sign-and-trade is certainly in play, or they could bring him back, just not on anything near the max Russell likely wants (more likely a deal starting around $20 million a year). Russell was good for the Lakers in the regular season and had a 31-point playoff game to close out the Grizzlies, plus a 21-point game against the Warriors, he just was in a bad matchup against Denver.

Irving to the Lakers is a long shot. But if LeBron wants it, and Irving wants it, nothing is off the table.

Reactions from NBA players to White’s game-winning putback for Celtics


It was an all-time classic game, one that could be part of a legendary chapter in Celtics’ lore. Boston was on the verge of being sent home for the summer by the Miami Heat when Derrick White‘s putback as time expired won the Celtics Game 6 and forced a Game 7 Monday night.

NBA players were as stunned and excited as fans everywhere. Check out the reactions from players around the league — and a few others — to the Celtics’ dramatic win.