Enes Kanter's Deal Puts OKC Back In The Western Conference Conversation
With the Warriors now sitting as the champs of the NBA and the Spurs making moves this summer to assemble the Western Conference’s best roster, there is little talk surrounding a team that was, at one point, the most discussed in professional basketball.
There was Durant’s MVP season in 2013-14, followed by Westbrook’s equally impressive one-man demolition derby during the 2014-15 seasons when Durant was injured.
Two of the league’s most electrifying talents on the same team, but, save for a 2011-12 Finals run, a group yet to crack the Western Conference playoff code.
The Oklahoma City organization does one of the better jobs of drafting in the NBA, but they let 2009 pick, James Harden, get away while focusing their efforts on retaining specimen center Serge Ibaka.
Ibaka provides energy and defense and has shown improvement on his jumper, even out to the three-point line. But, his real value is on the defensive end and can even be an offensive liability.
Reggie Jackson provided some quick scoring while in OKC, but there were chemistry issues there, and he is now in Detroit.
Nick Collison has had a great career, but he doesn’t prompt defenses to alter their game plan.
For quite a while now, the Thunder have needed a low-post offensive threat to bring a defense down away from the Westbrook- and Durant-dominated three-point line.
They thought Ibaka might become this guy, and they were wrong. Though it will cost them a pretty penny moving forward ($70 million over four years), they now have the final piece of the puzzle to vault them back into the Western Conference contender conversation in Enes Kanter.
Kanter is a former number three overall pick with great size and fantastic fundamentals. Until he was traded by Utah last year, he may have been the quietest number three pick of all time.
He came to the United States from Turkey and signed to play for John Calipari at the University of Kentucky before being ruled ineligible.
He still hung around Lexington, though, undertaking the team's training regimen and sitting on the bench during games without seeing a single minute of action.
He was then drafted to a Jazz team, possessing one of the deepest front courts in the NBA at the time, and he had a hard time carving out significant minutes for himself.
It wasn't until he received more of a headlining role for an injury-depleted Thunder team that he finally burst onto the scene.
He rebounds well and has a variety of self-sufficient scoring moves. After his OKC arrival, Kanter recorded 17 double-doubles in 26 games.
No Thunder center had ever recorded a 20-point, 10-rebound game since the team’s move to Oklahoma, but he quickly changed that by etching 11 of them in his abbreviated season with the team.
Granted, he was playing at a time when the team was without Durant, but his scoring acumen will keep defenders honest, and could result in better looks for the backcourt duo when their defenders sag to help on the Turkish big.
His massive frame will allow him to effectively screen for his cannonball point guard, while his soft hands will snag any ball whipped at him as he rolls to the basket after setting the pick.
He also has a nice mid-range shot, which will be of added value when he is forced to clear out of the paint to make room for a streaking Westbrook.
The Spurs and the Warriors will be the most dangerous teams in the league next season, but the addition of a legitimate offensive big man makes the Thunder the type of well-rounded team capable of making noise in the loaded Western Conference this year.
Kanter is only 23, so if Durant and Westbrook stick around the Thunder, they are also my early favorite to surpass the aging Spurs within the next three years to sit atop the West with Golden State.