It remains to be seen what will happen with New York Knicks center Enes Kanter next offseason, but the hustling big man certainly hasn’t let the Knicks’ youth movement have a negative effect on his professionalism.
After starting New York’s first five games this season, the normally outspoken Kanter has shown through some careful, measured, short responses and with his body language, that he hasn’t been happy with his demotion to the Knicks’ bench in favor of rookie second-round draft pick Mitchell Robinson as head coach David Fizdale tries to see what he has in developing his team’s collective youth and potential upside for the future.
Following his first season as a Knick last year — when he averaged the second-most points of his career (14.1 per game) on a career-best 59.2 percent shooting and a career-high-tying 11 rebounds per game — Kanter might’ve chosen to sulk in that scenario. But that also wouldn’t be in Kanter’s best interest no matter where he ends up next year. Whether New York chooses to extend Kanter (a free agent next summer) beyond the current $18.6 million he’s earning this season, or whether he’s demonstrating his wares for his next team, Kanter is the typical vet who would seemingly be highly motivated during a contract year.
Still, that doesn’t automatically mean that every player in that situation would respond with the same kind of pride, effort and production that Kanter has shown since moving to the bench. Many players might even cause a rift in the locker room or with the coaching staff, especially if demoted behind a raw (albeit dynamic and athletic) 20-year-old 36th overall pick like Robinson.
But not Kanter, whose production has remained just about as steady as Robinson’s backup over the Knicks’ past six games as it was when he started New York’s first five games of the season.
Kanter began the year with 16.8 points on 57.4 percent shooting and 10.8 rebounds in 28.8 minutes per game as a starter. Since being moved to the bench, he has still averaged a solid 14 points per game on a respectable 51.5 percent shooting, while upping his rebounds to 12.5 in 25.3 minutes per contest over that time.
Remaining ready and productive was especially on display in New York’s latest game on Monday night, during a 116-115 double-overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden.
Making his sixth straight start, Robinson only got two shots off (missing both) and pulled down just three rebounds while being limited to just 11 minutes.
Replacing Robinson, Kanter shot 8-for-14 for a second straight game, and posted his third 20-20 game as a Knick, with a team-high 23 points and game-highs of 24 rebounds and nine offensive boards in 41 minutes. Kanter also added a game-best seven assists, making him the first NBA player to record at least 20 points, 20 rebounds and five assists off the bench since Charles Barkley in 1986.
On a night when New York tipped off with the youngest starting lineup in their 72-year-history, it was Kanter’s contributions off the bench that kept the Knicks in a game to the end which the Bulls should have otherwise won more easily.
“He played great,” Fizdale said of Kanter. “Mitchell didn’t have it tonight, so we said, ‘Let’s roll with Enes.’ His effort and his will tonight were fantastic.”
Chances are, that will continue this season no matter what role Kanter is asked to fill, even if he often has trouble defensively or making the correct decisions with opportunities to pass out of the post.
There is, of course, a long way to go, with 71 regular season games left, and subsequently, part of the offseason to evaluate how and if Kanter may or may not fit into New York’s future plans (or perhaps that decision may come sooner, before the NBA’s February trade deadline). However, at least one thing is clear: whatever he is asked to do, Kanter intends to remain ready and productive and to make the Knicks’ eventual decision on him as difficult as possible.