NBA Playoffs: Enes Kanter’s Abysmal Defense Will Quickly Sink the Trail Blazers
When Jusuf Nurkic suffered a double compound fracture to his tibia and fibula in his left leg on March 25, things looked like they could not get much worse for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Two weeks later, the Trail Blazers are lined up to play the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs – a team that swept them during the regular season.
Not only did the Thunder sweep them, but Paul George absolutely bullied the Trail Blazers. Now, we have a matchup of two teams who both had extremely disappointing postseason performances last season.
Overall, the loss of Jusuf Nurkic, which results in Enes Kanter getting starting minutes for the Trail Blazers, will be why the Thunder quickly sink the Trail Blazers in this playoff series.
Few players enjoyed playing an opponent more than Paul George did against the Trail Blazers during the regular season this year. In four regular-season games against the Trail Blazers, George averaged 38 points, 10.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 2.77 steals per game on 44% shooting.
The Trail Blazers will probably use some combination of Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless to try and contain George, but Aminu and Harkless may have their work cut out for them.
Inside of 30 feet from the basket, George shot a minimum of 40% from each zone outside of 10-14 feet from the basket against the Thunder during the regular season this year. Within five-nine feet, George shot 53.1%.
From 15-19 feet, George shot 40%. From 20-24 feet, George shot 41.2%. Finally, from 25-29 feet, George shot 43.5%. To make things worse for the Trail Blazers, of the 23.4 field goal attempts per game that George shoots against the Trail Blazers, 7.3 of them come from within the restricted area of the paint (2nd only to above the break 3’s, which George shoots 8.5 per game against the Trail Blazers) where George shoots 51.7%.
The reason that George’s paint shooting against the Trail Blazers is so devastating is that without Jusuf Nurkic, Enes Kanter is responsible for taking the bulk majority of his minutes. The thing about Kanter is, he cannot really play defense, at all.
The only positive part of Kanter’s defense is his ability to rebound the basketball. During Kanter’s limited time as a member of the New York Knicks this season, the Knicks defensively were 3.9 points per 100 possessions worse on defense with Kanter on the floor.
Since being bought out by the Knicks, the Trail Blazers defensive rating with Kanter on the floor is over 10.0 points per 100 possessions worse than before Kanter began playing for, “Rip City.”
Kanter’s defensive player impact plus-minus is -1.7, Kanter’s defensive box plus-minus is -0.3, and Kanter’s defensive rating plus-minus is -1.46, which ranks Kanter at 71st out of 72 centers in the NBA who qualified. The only center with a worse defensive rating plus-minus this season has been Willy Hernangomez of the Charlotte Hornets.
Off the bench, the Blazers options at power forward and center are Zach Collins, Meyers Leonard, and Skal Labissiere. On the season, Labissiere is averaging just eight minutes per game, so the odds of him being a factor are slim.
At just 235 pounds, Collins does not have the strength to compete with players like Steven Adams or even Paul George, who is roughly only 10 pounds lighter than Collins while being several inches shorter.
Finally, there’s Meyers Leonard, who has never posted a positive defensive box plus/minus season in his career, has posted a -0.84 defensive rating plus-minus this season, and has a real plus-minus of 0.01 on the season as well.
For a team like the Thunder who are sixth in the NBA this season in points in the paint per game at 51.8, not having a real rim protector/paint defender will be the Trail Blazers ultimate downfall. The loss of Jusuf Nurkic will be the ultimate reason why the Thunder will advance past the Trail Blazers into the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.