Landing Spot

Kanter’s draft plight could parallel that of 2010’s Cousins

Big man Enes Kanter will likely be a top-10 pick.
Sam Forencich/Getty Images Sport
Editor’s note: Pistons.com continues a 15-part series leading to the June 23 draft with a look at one of the possibilities for their pick at No. 8, Turkish big man Enes Kanter. Next: Kemba Walker.

More and more, it looks like Enes Kanter is this year’s version of DeMarcus Cousins – the player generally considered the best big man in the draft, and one that probably will be out of reach for the Pistons, yet given a slight chance to drop to their range because of some nagging questions.

The questions are different with Kanter than they were for Cousins, but the level of uncertainty they create could have a similar effect.

On pure talent, Cousins should have been in the discussion alongside ex-Kentucky teammate John Wall to be the No. 1 pick in 2010. Concerns over Cousins’ temperament and maturity, though, sent up significant red flags in some NBA front offices. Cousins ultimately went fifth overall to Sacramento, which suspended Cousins midway through last season for an altercation with a teammate.

Kanter, likewise, would be worthy competition for presumptive 2011 No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving, Duke’s freshman point guard, had he played last season as a Kentucky freshman groomed to take over in the middle for Cousins.

And there’s the rub. Kanter has precious little game tape for NBA scouts to digest and get comfortable with the fact that what they see while watching the 6-foot-11¼ Turk in individual workouts will translate to five-on-five basketball.

The one game everybody has seen – over and over, most likely – was the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit, an annual international competition between a team of graduating American high school seniors and another featuring the rest of the world’s best at that age.

Irving was the point guard for Team USA and helped it pull out a late win with 15 points, five assists and no turnovers in 25 tidy minutes. But Kanter was the unquestioned star that day, scoring 34 points and grabbing 13 rebounds – going head to head with Ohio State’s then-incoming freshman Jared Sullinger, for the most part – in just 24 minutes on a day he didn’t know if he would play at all with a balky back.

“I didn’t show myself,” said Kanter last week at the Chicago draft combine. “I took like four painkillers for my back. Some player pushed me; my back was hurting. I talked to my coach and he said, ‘Tell me how you feel.’ I said, ‘I feel good – I took like four painkillers’ I didn’t play 100 percent. Even in practice, I couldn’t play 100 percent because of my back.”

More on Enes Kanter
College: Kentucky (ineligible)

Size: 6-foot-11¼, 259 pounds

Age: 19 on draft night

The good: Kanter has the size to play center and the skill to play either center or power forward. His shooting range should eventually extend to the NBA 3-point arc, yet he is comfortable with his back to the basket, as well. Soft hands are an outstanding trait.

The bad: The only rap on Kanter right now is lack of experience and exposure. He hasn’t played organized basketball in two years since leaving Turkey, where he played professionally at age 16.

The skinny: There is only a sliver of a chance that Kanter gets past Cleveland, Toronto and Washington – picking 4-5-6 – to get to the Pistons at No. 8. You can safely assume that if he were to fall that far, he would draw very strong consideration.

Kanter says he came to the United States two years ago after playing professionally in Turkey at age 16 – the root of his eligibility issues with the NCAA – for the educational opportunities, learning English on his own in that time.

He showed enough in that Hoop Summit outing that Kanter made the pulses of NBA scouts race. Kanter was also why Kentucky’s practices last winter under John Calipari were likely the most heavily scouted college practices ever. The NCAA ruled Kanter ineligible, but he was able to practice with the team while Kentucky appealed the ruling, which wasn’t finally denied until well into the SEC season.

“When the NCAA made me ineligible, I was so sad because I came to the United States for education,” Kanter said. “When they told me no, I cannot play because I am a professional, it just made me so sad, because I didn’t want to be a professional. That’s why I came here. But after that, I talked to my teammates, I talked to coach Cal, and I said, ‘I cannot give up right now.’ They said, ‘You have to be ready for the next level.’ ”

There isn’t much about Kanter’s game not to like. He has a fine shooting touch beyond mid-range. He’s strong, likes to play inside and has the frame to accommodate NBA pounding. While not a freakish athlete, he’s got more than enough athleticism to flourish. Scouts who saw him frequently at Kentucky practices – where two freshman teammates, Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, were both considered lottery worthy – say Kanter was clearly the standout prospect. Kanter’s soft hands draw consistent raves.

In today’s NBA, where power forward and center are virtually interchangeable, Kanter has the size and skill set to play either position, which means teams with a proven center can take Kanter without worry and put him at power forward, and vice versa.

It’s considered a near certainty that Cleveland will select Irving with the No. 1 pick. Kanter could go as high as No. 2, though, a pick held by Minnesota. The Timberwolves might spend it themselves on Kanter or they could be talked into trading the pick – it is widely believed Minnesota is interested in veteran help for a young team that needs a rallying force.

If Kanter doesn’t go No. 2, Utah would consider him at No. 3 and Cleveland might well wind up grabbing him at No. 4 – most believe the pick there will be Kanter or Jonas Valanciunas, another 19-year-old. Or Kanter could get snapped up by either Toronto or Washington, picking fifth and sixth. That’s considered Kanter’s likely floor in this draft – unless something is discovered over the course of the evaluation process that will play out over the next four weeks to scare teams away.

Kanter is spending that time, as he has much of the past two months, in Chicago working under renowned trainer Tim Grover. His body fat was an impressive 5.9 percent at the Chicago combine and Kanter said he’s working to expand his offensive repertoire.

“I think my game is a lot to play toughness,” he said. “I would say rebound and post moves, but right now I’m working on my face-up, my shooting, with Tim Grover. … In Europe, they put me in low post, but coach Cal told me, ‘You are not just a center; you can play power forward.’ Me and coach Cal just worked on my shot and worked on my quickness and worked on my face-up game, dribbling and everything.”