The foliage hasn’t even fully turned and we’re already deep enough into the NBA season and ready to take some trends to heart. Small sample size theater can turn into a gory drama pretty quickly in a basketball season, as Domatas Sabonas’ disemboweling of Enes Kanter on Halloween night reminded us.
After that showing, there’s already concern about what happens to Kanter from here. While his mammoth cap hold virtually assures Enes of starting next season in a different uniform, there’s still the rest of this year to worry about. The Knicks already banished one center in 2018 and it would be a bad look to do it again, especially one who’s gone to great lengths to profess his love for the city and the organization, recent pouting aside.
There’s some thought that moving him back to the starting lineup would get him back to his productive, albeit flawed, self, but with the success of the current group, that’s tough to imagine. It also goes against one glaringly bad early season statistic.
Through eight games, 14 Knick duos have eclipsed 100 minutes of court time together1. Of those, the worst net rating easily belongs to Kanter and Tim Hardaway Jr. at minus 15.2 in 166 minutes.
To give you an idea of how bad that is, through Wednesday night, 250 player duos had enough minutes together to have their net ratings qualify on the NBA.com/stats league lineup page. Of those, Kanter and Hardaway Jr. ranked 234th in efficiency. Of the 16 combos below them, seven belong to the abhorrent Bulls and four to the quad-A Hawks.
Is it too early to call the pairing of New York’s two highest paid players an untenable combination? Let’s dig a little deeper.
According to Cleaning the Glass, when Hardaway Jr. is on the court without the Turkish big man, he has a positive 1.4 net rating. That’s not great, but it’s a world’s better than when they share the floor.
When Enes plays without the former Wolverine? Things get even better, as the team is 3.7 points per 100 possessions better than the opposition during this time.
Is there noise in these numbers? Certainly … eight games is still less that 10% of the season. Kanter has also only seen about 50 minutes of action when Tim hasn’t been on the court, so that number can change in a hurry.
If nothing else, this seems to confirm that these two probably shouldn’t be playing together very often, and if we go on the premise that Tim isn’t leaving the starting lineup anytime soon2, that means Kanter will have to figure out a way to make it work from the bench.
An encouraging sign that goes against all semblance of common sense: of the six Knicks that Kanter has shared the court with for at least 70 minutes, he has by far the best net rating with new bench buddy Trey Burke, coming in at minus 1.9 in 157 minutes of action. It makes little sense that these two would ever be able to survive together because of their defensive limitations, but so far at least, they’ve been doing enough scoring to make up for it.
It’s a situation that bears watching, but the simple answer is probably that the Knicks former starting center just needs to be better. The good news is that after Wednesday night, he can’t get much worse.