Steven Adams missed the Thunder’s game in Dallas on Friday night with a strained right elbow, suffered in pregame. But never fear. With a backup center like Enes Kanter, Billy Donovan’s move was clear. Into the starting lineup, Donovan just slipped in … Nick Collison.
That’s not just because Collison is quite the trusty hand. It’s also because Donovan knows a good thing when he sees it.
Kanter off the bench has been an absolute success for the Thunder. The $70 million man is a defensive liability, but Donovan has found ways to make it work with Kanter.
Kanter is playing more and more with either Adams or Serge Ibaka, so there’s usually a shot blocker behind Kanter.
Kanter is often finishing games with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and Kanter has proven to be superb at both pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop plays with Westbrook.
Heck, Westbrook appears to be the chief cantor for Kanter. Friday, Westbrook labeled Kanter the best choice for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award.
“It’s not even a question,” Westbrook said.
Well, it’s a question. Kanter’s numbers are good — 11.7 points and 7.5 rebounds a game, while a shooting 56.7 percent from the field. The latter number is fourth-best in the NBA.
But among primary bench players, Kanter ranks just 10th in scoring. New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson averages 16.7 points off the bench; Denver’s Will Barton averages 15.5.
Part of the reason: Kanter is averaging just 20.4 minutes per game. That’s 57th in the league among primary bench players. Kanter is 10th in the NBA in rebounds per minute.
Sorry to break it to Westbrook, but Kanter is not going to win Sixth Man. First, that award usually goes to a guard. Since 2000, the only non-guards to win were Lamar Odom in 2011, Antawn Jamison in 2004 and Corliss Williamson in 2002. The last true center to win was Bill Walton in 1986.
Kanter might have a chance if his minutes increased dramatically. Went from, say, 20 to 30. Then Kanter might be averaging 17.5 points and 11.2 rebounds. Then Westbrook would have a parade behind him.
But Donovan’s use of Kanter can’t be criticized. Even Friday night in Dallas, with no Adams, Kanter played just 24:11. Half the game. He had 16 points (on 7-of-10 shooting) and nine rebounds. Excellent production. But give Kanter more minutes, and his defense would be more exposed.
On a roster with Adams and Ibaka, in a league that more and more is using smaller lineups, it’s hard to squeeze in more minutes for Kanter. The minutes he plays now minimize the defensive liability and maximize the offensive production.
Some say a guy making $17.5 million a season ought to be playing more than 20 minutes a game. But you can’t make playing-time decisions based on paychecks. That’s a way to lose a locker room and a bunch of games.
The Thunder’s financial commitment to Kanter, much debated in the summer, is in the past. Kanter’s getting the money no matter what.
Donovan’s charge is to get the most out of his players, regardless of how much money they make. Through 45 games, Donovan is getting plenty of out of Enes Kanter.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.