May 19, 2011

Is Kanter the draft's most intriguing prospect?

There are several reasons that while Kyrie Irving is considered the NBA Draft’s best prospect, Enes Kanter could be considered the most interesting and the most complicated.

Now that there’s a chance the Cavaliers could get both, let’s take a look at Kanter — his journey, his talent level and what could be ahead…

1. Kanter is a skilled, nearly 7-footer who turns 19 on May 20. Part of what makes his case so interesting is that he didn’t play basketball at all last season. He enrolled at Kentucky but was ruled ineligible by the NCAA after it was determined that he received excess compensation while playing for a professional team in his native Turkey. He wasn’t under contract with that team because he was under 18, but an NCAA investigation revealed he received “above his actual and necessary expenses” and therefore forfeited his amateur status.

2. Kanter was a known commodity to NBA scouts long before the NCAA ruling. He came to the U.S. in 2009, landing in California, and originally committed to Washington before changing his mind and signing with Kentucky. In the 2010 Hoop Summit, a high-level all-star game that pits top U.S. prospects against a team of young international stars, he scored 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Much of that work was done on the block against Jared Sullinger, and a loaded U.S. squad that included Irving, Harrison Barnes, Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones had to rally late to win that game. Kanter was the biggest reason the World Team built a big lead, and his performance included both polished post moves and a nice mid-range game. Clips of that game are all over YouTube — like here, and a bonus clip here.

3. He chose this route because he wanted to be a pro — and that’s not a John Calipari joke. He could have stayed in Europe and signed a lucrative contract on his 18th birthday, but he chose to finish high school in the U.S. and point towards playing a year of college basketball before heading to the NBA. He spent last season as a “student assistant coach,” which was basically Calipari’s way of allowing him to practice with the UK team and keep him active. Kanter is listed at 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, and it’s obvious he has NBA strength and enough skill to score in the post at the game’s highest level. There are questions about his ceiling and whether he can be a true center; a team willing to use a high pick on Kanter must be confident that he can answer them and fit their system and needs.

4. That Kanter declined an invitation to again play in the Hoop Summit last month — and reportedly has declined early invitations to work out against any other draft-eligible players — is a little alarming. After a year, shouldn’t he be itching to go against live competition? There are questions about his athleticism and whether he’ll ultimately be a tough and unique matchup for true centers or just another space-eating power forward. Teams considering him high in the draft are pretty sure he’ll rebound and that he’s ready to score, at least at some level, but must look at his upside and take into account how the year layoff may have affected him. He’s young, and a team that thinks his best basketball is ahead will take him high in next month’s draft.

5. How high? That’s the (multi) million-dollar question. The Timberwolves, at No. 2, always are unpredictable, and may already have a slightly shorter Kanter in Kevin Love. The Jazz at No. 3 will take a long look but just traded their franchise point guard for young big man Derrick Favors last winter. The Cavaliers are next at No. 4 and have plenty of options, including trading down, addressing a pretty glaring need at small forward or going for another European developmental prospect. Maybe Kanter’s time in the U.S. makes him a little more of a sure thing, at least in the short term, to NBA teams. Maybe European players projected to go high in the draft like Jan Vesley and Jonas Valanciunas bring more upside or a more appealing skill set. I’m the wrong person to ask about them. I do know Kanter brings a certain level of skill and strength and a certain (albeit small) level of, well, certainty. Maybe that’s enough for the Cavaliers. Maybe that’s enough for a team ahead of the Cavs to take him. Between now and June 23, he’s a guy to watch. And almost every eye in the NBA will be watching.

Is Kanter the draft's most intriguing prospect?
Zac Jackson

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