Is Kanter the draft’s most intriguing prospect?
There are several reasons that while Kyrie Irving is considered the
NBA Draft’s best prospect, Enes Kanter could be considered the most
interesting and the most complicated.
Now that there’s a chance
the Cavaliers could get both, let’s take a look at Kanter — his journey,
his talent level and what could be ahead…
1. Kanter is a skilled,
nearly 7-footer who turns 19 on May 20. Part of what makes his case so
interesting is that he didn’t play basketball at all last season. He
enrolled at Kentucky but was ruled ineligible by the NCAA after it was
determined that he received excess compensation while playing for a
professional team in his native Turkey. He wasn’t under contract with
that team because he was under 18, but an NCAA investigation revealed he
received “above his actual and necessary expenses” and therefore
forfeited his amateur status.
2. Kanter was a known commodity to
NBA scouts long before the NCAA ruling. He came to the U.S. in 2009,
landing in California, and originally committed to Washington before
changing his mind and signing with Kentucky. In the 2010 Hoop Summit, a
high-level all-star game that pits top U.S. prospects against a team of
young international stars, he scored 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.
Much of that work was done on the block against Jared Sullinger, and a
loaded U.S. squad that included Irving, Harrison Barnes, Brandon Knight
and Terrence Jones had to rally late to win that game. Kanter was the
biggest reason the World Team built a big lead, and his performance
included both polished post moves and a nice mid-range game. Clips of
a John Calipari joke. He could have stayed in Europe and signed a
lucrative contract on his 18th birthday, but he chose to finish high
school in the U.S. and point towards playing a year of college
basketball before heading to the NBA. He spent last season as a “student
assistant coach,” which was basically Calipari’s way of allowing him to
practice with the UK team and keep him active. Kanter is listed at
6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, and it’s obvious he has NBA strength and
enough skill to score in the post at the game’s highest level. There are
questions about his ceiling and whether he can be a true center; a team
willing to use a high pick on Kanter must be confident that he can
answer them and fit their system and needs.
4. That Kanter
declined an invitation to again play in the Hoop Summit last month — and
reportedly has declined early invitations to work out against any other
draft-eligible players — is a little alarming. After a year, shouldn’t
he be itching to go against live competition? There are questions about
his athleticism and whether he’ll ultimately be a tough and unique
matchup for true centers or just another space-eating power forward.
Teams considering him high in the draft are pretty sure he’ll rebound
and that he’s ready to score, at least at some level, but must look at
his upside and take into account how the year layoff may have affected
him. He’s young, and a team that thinks his best basketball is ahead
will take him high in next month’s draft.
5. How high? That’s the
(multi) million-dollar question. The Timberwolves, at No. 2, always are
unpredictable, and may already have a slightly shorter Kanter in Kevin
Love. The Jazz at No. 3 will take a long look but just traded their
franchise point guard for young big man Derrick Favors last winter. The
Cavaliers are next at No. 4 and have plenty of options, including
trading down, addressing a pretty glaring need at small forward or going
for another European developmental prospect. Maybe Kanter’s time in the
U.S. makes him a little more of a sure thing, at least in the short
term, to NBA teams. Maybe European players projected to go high in the
draft like Jan Vesley and Jonas Valanciunas bring more upside or a more
appealing skill set. I’m the wrong person to ask about them. I do know
Kanter brings a certain level of skill and strength and a certain
(albeit small) level of, well, certainty. Maybe that’s enough for the
Cavaliers. Maybe that’s enough for a team ahead of the Cavs to take him.
Between now and June 23, he’s a guy to watch. And almost every eye in
the NBA will be watching.