Enes Kanter could be worth more to the New York Knicks than previously thought, as evident by Friday night’s loss in Atlanta.
The New York Knicks came into Atlanta on Friday night leading the NBA in offensive rebound percentage. The Atlanta Hawks ranked dead last in defensive rebound percentage.
This was surely a game the New York Knicks could dominate on the boards.
Then came the news two hours before tipoff that starting center Enes Kanter would be out for the game with back spasms.
Despite early game success, leading by as much as 17 in the second quarter, the Knicks were left stunned in Atlanta.
A large reason for this was rebounding, something that the Knicks would have dominated with Kanter in the lineup.
The team was outrebounded by the Hawks 40-38. This was the first time the Knicks have been outrebounded by their opponent since Nov. 11 against the Kings.
The Knicks, averaging more than 11 offensive rebounds per game, grabbed a mere five against the Hawks.
If it was not clear before Friday night, it is certainly clear now.
Enes Kanter has managed to become an integral part of the New York Knicks.
“We saw a stat [that Atlanta was] last in defensive rebounds and that would have been an opportunity, as good as Enes is at getting offensive rebounds, to be dominating and get us some extra shots,” said Jeff Hornacek after the game.
One of the biggest reasons the Knicks could be in trouble if Kanter’s injury lingers is the struggles of Willy Hernangomez.
Hernangomez, who has seen little meaningful minutes this season, does not appear to have his conditioning in order. While the 23-year-old did not come into the season as a particularly good defender, he looked even slower than usual on Friday.
Kanter is by no means a defensive stopper. He is still going to get lost defensively and make boneheaded plays on the defensive side of the ball. However, he has made some strides as an interior defender this season.
He is currently 15th in defensive field goal percentage (minimum 4 DFGA per game).
While much of this can be attributed to playing next to a superb rim protector in Kristaps Porzingis, Kanter has been able to hold his own in the paint this season.
Hernangomez, on the other hand, was benched, despite much support from the Knick fanbase, due to his struggles on the defensive side of the ball.
Starting Hernangomez next to Porzingis spells disaster for the Knicks.
The second-year man is not going to help the Knicks any more defensively than Kanter.
It’s a positive sign for the youngster to finally seeing minutes to develop this season, but it certainly will not help the Knicks in the record book at this time.
The Knicks will likely start Kyle O’Quinn in Kanter’s absence, as they did on Friday night.
One way to evaluate O’Quinn’s effectiveness this season is by looking at his Defensive Points Saved and Offensive Point Added.
In layman’s terms, these advanced statistics attempt to measure the offense and defense of a player on a per-possession basis.
Based on DPS, or Defensive Points Saved, O’Quinn will likely be able to replace Kanter and more on the defensive side of the ball. He currently leads the Knicks in DPS by an incredibly large margin, per NBA Math.
However, the Queens product’s numbers do not look nearly as good on the offensive side of the ball. His OPA, or Offensive Points Added, is eight on the Knicks. Kanter is number two on this list.
It’s going to be difficult for the Knicks to cover the points lost without Kanter’s play while O’Quinn is in the lineup.
One option the Knicks could explore without Enes Kanter is playing Kristaps Porzingis at the center position.
This move to small ball would space the floor offensively for the Knicks but lead to various issues. If Doug McDermott were inserted into the starting lineup his defense would plague the Knicks.
Inserting Lance Thomas into the starting lineup could help shore up the team’s defense but Thomas’ 39 percent three-point shooting could have a negative effect on the team’s flow on offense.
The Knicks first game of the season without Kanter proved disastrous. It is not going to be an easy feat to replace the fifth leading offensive rebounder in the NBA. It will also prove difficult to find somebody who, at the same time, can provide adequate defense in the paint.
With tough games against Houston, Portland, Miami, and Orlando approaching, the Knicks could soon be realizing how vital Enes Kanter has been to their success.