Raptors HQ Draft Prospect Preview #3 - Enes Kanter

Continuing with their series of prospect previews, the HQ gets some help from their foreign correspondent, Tom Hurley, who breaks down one of they mystery men of this draft, Enes Kanter.

As we get closer to draft date it becomes more and more clear that this is one of the tougher drafts to get a good read on.

Sure, the top two are locked in, but after that?

Rumored trades, mystery prospects, teams with multiple picks...it all makes for some very interesting draft conversations.

To try and make sense of at least one component of the draft, the lesser-known International prospects, we turn to the HQ's foreign correspondent, Tom Hurley, who gives about as in-depth breakdown of Mr. Kanter as can be found.

 

Enes Kanter has been a hot name on the lips of NBA scouts ever since bursting onto the Turkish Basketball League scene with Fenerbahce Ulker at the tender age of just fourteen. Born in Switzerland to Turkish parents, Kanter grew up in Turkey's capital city, Istanbul, where from an early age, he would frequently wake up before dawn in order to watch live NBA basketball on television. After rising to Fererbahce's first team as a teenager, Kanter harboured dreams of playing in the NBA himself, and announced plans to pursue a collegiate career in North America. Upon hearing the news, both Fenerbahce and fellow Euro League club Olympiacos, of Greece, offered the then sixteen-year-old Kanter five year multi-million dollar contracts to stay in Europe, however the offers were politely declined.

In his final act before leaving for overseas, Kanter represented Turkey at the 2009 FIBA European Under-18 Championships, where the team was built around him. It is here where he first saw solid playing minutes at a high level, demonstrating his ferocious work ethic and dominating post play as he lead Turkey to the Bronze medal. Throughout the tournament, observers were impressed by both his offence and defensive play, particularly down low where he controlled the boards and was nearly impossible to stop one-on-one.

More of the same was to come when he enrolled at Soneridge Prepatory School in Simi Valley, California for the 2009/10 academic year. Unable to play high school ball due to finishing his secondary education in Turkey, it became very clear, very quickly, that his lesser skilled opponents at the prep level were no match for him on the court. His first season of North American basketball climaxed with an appearance for the international team at the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit. Despite starting from the bench, Kanter played an outstanding game, breaking Dirk Nowitzki's points record by scoring 34 points, picking up 13 rebounds in the process. What made this feat even more impressive is that Kanter nearly didn't play in the game at all thanks to picking up a back injury during training camp for the game, which caused scouts to label him as immobile and sluggish leading up to summit.

Now eighteen, Kanter was able to enrol at college and signed a letter of intent to head to the University of Kentucky. Shortly after enrolling at Kentucky, the freshman took the difficult decision to turn down a call-up to Turkey's full international squad for the 2010 FIBA World Championships, not wanting to miss a month of classes at his new school. Before the basketball season started however, Kanter was ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA due to education allowance benefits received from Fenerbahce when he was 14/15/16; including payments of $33,000. The NCAA ruling was a hot topic for national sports media, and on campus, where students began a ‘Free Enes' campaign, highlighting his popularity amongst his peers both in the classroom and players lounge.   Despite being unable to play and take part in full practices with the team, or play in games, Kanter remained at the school, practicing every day with assistant coaches and becoming a special assistant coach himself in order to be involved with the team on game days. As the Wildcats made their run to the 2011 Final Four, many of Kanter's team mates credited him for their success, stating he pushed them to become better players during practice and was a character guy in the room, feelings echoed by head coach John Calipari.

Studying video of Kanter, it is clear to see he is very different to the European big men Raptors fans have been familiar with in the past. He is aggressive in the paint, has a beautiful touch from the floor, works incredibly hard and is always there for the second, third, fourth and even fifth effort. He is very hard to defend under the basket, impressively being able to back into and turn defenders around, opening up the space to penetrate for layups and hook-shots - which he can make comfortably with both hands. Kanter is a physical player and not afraid to use his body to gain/hold position under the basket on both ends of the floor. This is one big euro who will hustle on every play and is happy to get dirty to help his team win. Don't' for one second think he is a soft player, think of Kanter more in the mould of Gasol, Ilgauskas and Nesterovic rather than former and current Raptors, Turkoglu and Bargnani.

 Don't let his frame fool you either; he is also a very athletic player with slick footwork and high agility levels who can continuously re-adjust when challenged. Although he has not played much at a high level, when he has done so, defenders have found it difficult to guard him one-on-one, with most coaches opting to double team him for most of the game.  It's not just his offensive play  post play, shooting and athleticism which stand him out from the crowd, he also had above average vision enabling him to dish to open team mates when being double teamed.

Another strong upside to Enes Kanter is that he is a clever player with a high basketball IQ, as shown by his passing, shot selection, defence and rebounding. He is a hard and intelligent rebounder, rarely bringing the ball below basket level on a rebound to deny opponents the chance of forcing a turnover. Anticipating the rebound is another strength, seemingly always expertly placing strong body in the best position possible to go up and come down with the ball. How many other European big men can you name that bring all of the above along with a gorgeous touch of a shot and the ability to hit nothing but net from all around the key, AND from behind the arc? The MVP of the 2010 Nike Summit also put on an impressive showing at the recent draft combine, where he became one of the first big men in combine history to fully complete the treadmill test.

Another point very much worth mentioning about Kanter, is that aside from his basketball ability and willingness to ‘leave it all' on the floor, he is also a pleasant and popular young man who is always sporting a gigantic smile. Everywhere he's played, team mates and fans have enjoyed his personality both on and off the court. In interviews he appears playful yet serious all at the same time; you get the feeling he will fit in extremely well with the youth movement currently developing in Toronto. The chemistry that exists between the likes of DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson appears to be the perfect slipper for Kanter to slip right into. With older figures like Reggie Evans and Alvin Williams in place, Kanter's work rate would also not be allowed to slip and he'd have more experienced guys around him to learn and absorb knowledge from on a daily basis.

Kanter is young (nineteen years young, to be precise), he's got the basketball tools and has most definitely got the engine and heart to be a well thought of player in this league. However there are some questions looming over him. Having played so little against high calibre players, is he able to bring the noise on a consistent basis at the NBA level? Will he be able to truly adapt to the North American game? How will he cope with returning to action after sitting out an entire season? And, perhaps most worryingly, will his body be able to hold up to the rigours of the NBA without breaking down?

 A knee injury hampered him for a long time whilst back in Turkey, and he has never played anything like the 82 game slate of an NBA regular season, lest forget summer league, pre-season and possibly even playoff games. If he wasn't as smart, as hard-working as likeable and as skilled a basketball player as he is, perhaps Kanter wouldn't be tipped as a high lottery pick, especially with having so little playing time at an elite level. But seeing as he is all of those things, it's anyone's guess as to how high or low he will go in this draft.

Could he be taken by Toronto with the fifth pick? It's possible. It would appear Kyrie Irving is destined to go first overall to Cleveland, with Minnesota taking Derrick Williams, while Utah are expected to go for a guard in Brandon Knight at three - which would then leave the lucked out Cavaliers with the second top-five pick at fourth overall. If they don't take Kanter there, then expect the self-proclaimed ‘UnderKanter' (he's a big WWE fan) to be shaking hands with David Stern while wearing a Raptors fitted. And if that happens, expect Andrea Bargnani to be on the first train out of Union Station headed to Tradeville.

Tom Hurley

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