Should the Oklahoma City Thunder Start Enes Kanter or Steven Adams at Center?
Everyone wants to be the starter.
Any true competitor wants to be on the court when the game starts -- not glued to the bench.
But how does a team make a decision between two polar opposites such as the one the Oklahoma City Thunder face with Enes Kanter and Steven Adams to be their starting center? How will it affect the team? How will it affect your fantasy team?
The Case for Enes Kanter
Acquired the day after Kevin Durant was lost for the season in Febraury, Kanter helped fill the scoring void with 18.7 points and 11.0 rebounds in 26 games with Oklahoma City. Entering his fifth year, and still only 23 years old, Kanter profiles to be one of the top offensive centers for many years to come.
The case for Kanter to start on this Thunder team begins and ends on with his offensive skills.
In addition to his double-double average, his Offensive Rebound Percentage of 17.5 percent with the Thunder would have ranked him second in the NBA. He was very efficient with the Thunder, shooting 56.6 percent from the floor, due in large part to getting the rock deeper in the post; he took 59 percent of his shots within 3 feet of the hoop, converting 65.7 percent of those attempts. Compare that to only 45.2 percent of his attempts within 3 feet with the Jazz, and you can see that he benefited from the better surrounding talent and change of scenery.
With the Thunder last year, Kanter’s Usage Rate was 27.9 without Russell Westbrook on the court, averaging 21.4 points and 16.5 rebounds per-36 minutes, though in a very small sample size. His Usage was still 24.7 percent with Westy. Not bad, right? But remember, KD was out the entirety of Kanter’s Oklahoma City stint last year; now he is back and ready to re-capture the league scoring title.
With both Westbrook (32.5% Usage Rate) and Durant (29.1%) on the court last year, the next highest in Usage Rate was Serge Ibaka at 18.6%. And don’t forget, Ibaka only played 10 games with Kanter because of his own injury.
It would seem there wouldn’t be enough possessions to go around for Kanter to get enough touches if he were in the starting lineup with their Big 3.
And let’s not talk about Kanter’s defense. Why? He doesn’t play any to speak of.
Alone, Kanter cost his team 2.3 points more than a league average player per 100 possessions. This is because he allowed opponents to make 57.1 percent of their field goal attempts within 5 feet. Um, is that bad? The worst. Literally the worst. Kanter was the most inferior defender of anyone with at least five attempts against (inferior interior defender?).
Last season he blocked 1.1 percent of opponents' 2-point field attempts, a paltry rate for a starting center, and generated 0.9 steals per possession. If he’s not going to get the ball in this offense, well shoot, Kanter isn’t even good at taking up space on defense.
We have Enes Kanter ranked at 65th overall in our fantasy projections, but his ADP in fantasy drafts is adversely affected by the prospect of him coming off the bench.
Right now, you can catch a draft day bargain in both Yahoo (ADP 91.6) and ESPN (ADP 96) thanks to his situation.
The Case for Steven Adams
If Kanter isn’t the answer, it would seem Steven Adams is Oklahoma City’s best choice at the center spot in their starting unit.
Only 22 years old himself, Adams has made steady progress after only one year at the college level. After playing 15 minutes a game as a rookie, the 7-footer from New Zealand jumped to 25 minutes per game last year, with all his counting stats nearly doubling in accordance, up to 7.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks.
With a Usage Rate of 14.3 percent, Adams fills an important role the Thunder’s offense: he doesn’t the need the ball. That’s kind of a big deal when the “Fashion Icon” Westbrook and Durant occupy the ball as much as they do. However, Adams is nimble enough to run the pick and roll game and get to the rim, as 65 percent of his made field goals were assisted on and 21.3 percent of those were dunks. That’s efficient, folks.
What Adams provides the Thunder is defense. He is not an elite defender -- unless you are comparing him to Kanter, that is. The big Kiwi saved his team 1.8 points per 100 defensive possessions, or a swing of 4.1 points compared to Kanter.
Adams finished 19th in the league with a Block Rate of 3.8 percent, while his Steal Rate was a hair better at 1.1 percent. And lastly, Adams gave up a far better 48.8 percent of opponents' field goal attempts within 5 feet.
From a fantasy standpoint, Adams isn’t elite in any category, not nearly enough so to counter his 50.2 percent free throw percentage. Adams is going undrafted in almost all Yahoo (3% ownership) and ESPN (4%) standard leagues. Our projections rank him at 217th overall.
Until his offensive repertoire improves, he is a better real-life contributor than fantasy asset.
Thus far, Adams has started all but one preseason game, averaging 10.2 points and 7.4 rebounds in 25,4 minutes per game. Meanwhile, Kanter has come off the bench for 2 of 3 games he’s played in, averaging 14.7 and 8 rebounds in 24.7 minutes. It seems Billy Donovan has seen all he needs to and already made up his mind.
The truth is that Donovan needs the skill sets from both of his big men as Oklahoma City sets their sights on the Western Conference championship. As a starter, Adams combines with Ibaka to protect the rim and allows Westbrook to gamble for steals in the passing lanes. We all know the Dynamic Duo can fill it up without peers, but with a healthy roster, a greater emphasis on defense will help the Thunder advance in the tough West.
On the other hand, Kanter becomes lead dog of the second unit. Full of 3-point sharpshooters Anthony Morrow, D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler and wanna-be marksman Dion Waiters, the second unit will be aided by Kanter’s skill in the low post, and he can clean up stray shots with his elite offensive rebounding.
Plus, Kanter will also enjoy the benefit of matching up against lesser skilled post players; while dominating them on the offensive end, his defensive deficiencies will be less exposed. Who would guess this $70 million man’s talents would be best utilized off the bench?
For both real-life and fantasy basketball purposes, both the Thunder and fake owners are better off with Steven Adams in the starting five and Enes Kanter leading the second unit. Besides, does it really matter who starts, so long as it helps the Thunder dethrone the defending champion Warriors -- and helps you win your fantasy hoops league?