On Saturday night in Salt Lake City, Enes Kanter put his hand up to his ear when hearing his name announced in the pregame introductions to encourage the Utah faithful as they booed the former Jazz player in his return to Salt Lake City.
Kanter said before the game that even though he might miss the mountains in Utah, he likes playing in the Sooner State better and his play since joining the Thunder has backed that up.
In Oklahoma City, he’s been a center that both rebounds and scores at a high rate. That’s a normal thing for most teams in the NBA, but it’s something Thunder fans haven’t seen since the team came to OKC.
Kanter is averaging a double double on 56 percent shooting as the big man for the Thunder, and all of his stats are up since being sent away from Utah.
The fourth year pro is putting up 17.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, in 30 minutes per game in Oklahoma City, which is up from 13.8 points and 7.8 boards with a 49.1 percent field goal percentage in 27.1 minutes as a member of the Jazz.
But, there’s an obvious difference playing in the Sooner State rather than the Beehive State:
First of all, there is no one close to Russell Westbrook’s ability in Utah. The triple double machine has been playing at an MVP level, and that has elevated Kanter’s game.
The biggest factor with Westbrook is the pick and roll. Kanter is scoring 105 points per one hundred possessions with the Thunder as the roll man, which is up from 82 points per one hundred possessions before being traded.
That is if a game consisted of Enes Kanter setting a screen and rolling to the basket 100 times you’d expect Utah Enes to score about 80 points and OKC Enes to score just over 105 points.
It’s easy to see why Thunder fans love OKC Enes better than the boo birds in Salt Lake City.
Obviously, this is all playing with Russell Westbrook, right?
The MVP candidate’s team scores only a little less than 40 percent of the time when Russ is the ball handler on the pick and roll. That’s 102nd in the NBA.
Before being traded to Oklahoma City, Kanter scored 40 percent of the time he rolled on the pick and roll, so it seems unlikely that the two would team up to make an almost unstoppable pick and roll duo.
Yet, the play has been very effective for the Thunder offense as OKC scores at least one point 51 percent of the time it uses Kanter as the roll man.
And Kanter’s game has been assisted by Westbrook’s game.
More accurately, Westbrook has an assist on 51 of 126 Kanter buckets made since joining the Thunder.
The pair has made the pick and roll almost unstoppable leading Oklahoma City to the fourth best offensive rating since the All-Star Break.
That has propelled the Thunder into the eighth seed despite its poor defense in the second half of the season.
The Westbrook-Kanter pick and roll gives the defense a tough dilemma: either double team Russell and raise his assist total as he makes an easy pass to Kanter, cover the big man and let Westbrook blow right by the defender for a layup or go under the screen and hope Russ misses an open jumper.
So basically, two points for OKC.
How else has Scott Brook’s squad made it easier on Kanter?
By getting him to shoot closer to the basket.
Since switching teams at the trade deadline, the 22-year-old’s average shot distance has been just less than six feet from the basket. It was at nine feet in Utah.
Let’s check out Kanter’s shot chart in Utah:
And in Oklahoma City:
That’s the difference between playing on a lottery team and playing with a possible MVP.
Kanter is shooting near the rim over three-fourths of the time he takes a shot since coming over to Oklahoma City compared to 60 percent of the time in Utah.
It’s easy to score when the defense is trying its best to stop the arguably the most explosive player in the league from scoring on a layup.
It’s even easier to score when you are closer to the basket and getting open looks. That’s something a change of scenery has provided to Kanter and the 4th year pro has taken advantage.
Jazz fans have their right to boo Enes Kanter, but the Thunder offensive scheme is why Kanter enjoys playing basketball better in Oklahoma City.