Enes Kanter Is an Advanced Stat Anomaly
Analytics are not for everyone. All-encompassing, one-number metrics, in particular, are certainly not everyone's cup of tea.
Those kinds of stats only tell so much of the story, almost always lack necessary context by themselves, and are all too often used blindly in debates by the uninformed, without any serious consideration given to how they are calculated or what they actually mean.
That said, if you looked at the league leaders in the more widely accepted advanced metrics in hoops, like Player Efficiency Rating (PER) or Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (WS/48), you'd mostly see players that have prominent household names, or who are at least All-Stars. These are players who not only light up the box score but who also pass the eye test as being simply better than everyone else.
The list of players that rank in the top 10 in both PER and WS/48 is exclusive. That group includes only seven players, and they are truly the game's best: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, and Enes Kanter.
That's right. With a PER of 23.8 (9th) and WS/48 rate of .235 (6th), Enes Kanter joins arguably the top six MVP candidates so far this season on the top-10 list of both widely known advanced metrics. That's the same Enes Kanter that is coming off the bench and playing 20.1 minutes per game for the Oklahoma City Thunder, while contributing 11.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, and little else. Everyone else on the aforementioned list of seven is starting for his team, playing big minutes, averaging at least 18.0 points per game, and otherwise filling up the box score.
What exactly has Kanter done to gain admission into this elite club?
He did get paid like a star this past summer, receiving a four-year max contract from the Thunder, estimated to be worth approximately $70 million. The hefty price tag comes from an offer sheet that Kanter -- then a restricted free agent -- signed with the Portland Trail Blazers. The Thunder ultimately matched the deal, trying to keep stars Durant and Westbrook properly supported for what could be their final title run together. An understandable move, sure, but one that still came with criticism.
Even with the upcoming bump in the salary cap, an average annual salary of $17.5 million is a large sum to pay your backup center; especially when said center is such a known defensive liability.
Kanter's Defensive Real Plus-Minus of -1.96 ranks him 73rd out of 75 centers that have played in the NBA this season, beating out only Andrea Bargnani (-2.01) and Jahlil Okafor (-2.03). The Thunder have a stellar Defensive Rating of 97.0 this season when Kanter is off the floor, compared to a whopping 105.8 when he's on it. He allows opponents to shoot 52.5% against him at the rim on 5.1 attempts per game, which is one of the worst marks in the league.
Since both PER and WS/48 factor in defense (PER a little less so), how in the world does Kanter rank so high in both when he's essentially one of the worst defensive bigs in the Association?
The answer is that he's so ridiculously efficient on the offensive side of the ball that it barely matters.
Kanter ranks fourth in the league in field goal percentage at 56.7%, while also shooting a respectable 77.7% from the free throw line. The result is the league's eighth-ranked True Shooting Percentage (weighted two, threes, and free throws) of 61.4%. His individual Offensive Rating is bloated, coming in at 123.2 (per Basketball-Reference.com), which is the sixth-best mark in the Association.
Another factor that helps Kanter perform so well in PER, WS/48, and even Offensive Rating is the way he creates extra possessions for his team through offensive rebounding. His Offensive Rebound Percentage of 16.1 is tied with Andre Drummond for the best mark in the league. His Total Rebound Percentage of 20.8 ranks him fifth in that category, while his 25.0 Defensive Rebound Rate (18th) shows that he contributes at least something on the other side of the floor as well.
So, while Kanter is a sieve on defense, he is essentially efficient enough on offense to cancel out his deficiencies on the other end and then some (at least as far as most advanced metrics are concerned). He simply doesn't miss a lot of shots, and he tracks down rebounds so tenaciously that he produces more possessions and points for his team than he gives up on the other end.
He might be too soft on D to earn more minutes or a starting role for OKC, but his contributions as a reserve have been enough to rank him among the NBA's best and brightest in some of the most well-known advanced metrics. He certainly doesn't seem to belong, though, as he just doesn't have the same superstar pedigree as most of his neighbors on those leaderboards. In the end, he exists as a bit of a statistical anomaly and a thorn in the side of those who use analytics to make arguments.
You know, like us.