Portland Trail Blazers – Denver Nuggets: What to do with Enes Kanter?

Portland Trail Blazers, Enes Kanter (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Portland Trail Blazers, Enes Kanter (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

It’s not hyperbole to say that Enes Kanter was one of the Portland Trail Blazers most important players during the regular season. His superb finishing and knack for grabbing offensive rebounds played a vital role in keeping Portland afloat during February and March when Jusuf Nurkic was recovering from a wrist injury. That being said, over the course of his career, Kanter is notorious for being a step (or two) behind on the defensive end – something the Denver Nuggets have exploited relentlessly in Games 2 and 3 of their first-round series against the Blazers.

In Game 2, Denver’s bench unit led them on a 21-10 run to start the second quarter, extending their lead from six to 17 in four and a half minutes of Kanter action. Portland would never get closer than within four points of the Nuggets for the rest of the game.

Then, in the first quarter of Game 3, the Blazers were outscored 19-4 in Kanter’s five minutes of first quarter action, which resulted in Terry Stotts opting to go with the smaller, more agile Rondae Hollis-Jefferson instead of Kanter when Nurkić took his second half rest. After the game, Coach Stotts was specifically asked about his decision to go away from Kanter after the first quarter:

"“We had a bad stretch. He was a minus 15 in that five minutes. It was a tough matchup so [we] decided to bring Rondae in in the second half… It’s kind of obvious.” – Terry Stotts"

After a rough Game 3 showing for Enes Kanter, how will Terry Stotts and the Portland Trail Blazers’ coaching staff respond in Game 4?

Now I’m not here to argue in favor of Kanter’s defensive capabilities, but it’s important to note that Kanter cannot be the only one responsible for these momentum-changing runs that occur when he’s on the floor. For one, the other two players that come off the bench with him are also far from above average defenders in 36-year-old Carmelo Anthony and inexperienced Anfernee Simons. So, while it is Kanter’s job to protect the rim, it becomes a lot harder for him when the team’s perimeter defenders are constantly getting beat.

By this point in the season, the Blazer’s coaching staff has to know what they’re getting from Kanter defensively. It’s on them to put him into positions where he can be successful – or not play him at all.

The Carmelo Anthony/Enes Kanter pairing has been a sieve on defense all year, allowing 118.9 points per/100 possessions per Cleaning the Glass. To put them both on the floor with the greatest playmaking big man of all time in Nikola Jokic is simply asking for trouble. Back in April, after a loss to the Utah Jazz where Portland was outscored 29-10 in the 8:48 that Anthony and Kanter shared the floor, Coach Stotts was asked whether he thought the Melo/Kanter defensive pairing would be an issue:

"“We have to get better because those two guys are going to play off the bench. It’s just the way it is… With those two on the floor it has to be a net positive. If we lose a little bit on defense, we have to make up for it on offense.” – Terry Stotts"

While those lineups may be able to outscore below-average competition in the regular season, the playoffs are a different ballgame and outside of a ridiculous first quarter shooting performance from Carmelo Anthony in Game 1, Portland has not been able to weather the storm. Through the first three games of the series, Anthony and Kanter have played 57 possessions together and have a defensive rating of 164.8. For context, the Sacramento Kings had the worst defensive rating in the NBA this season and it was 117.6. Now obviously this is a very small sample size, but even so, it’s safe to say that these two have been a disastrous defensive pairing this series. Carmelo was on the floor with Kanter when Denver made their runs at the beginning of the second quarter of Game 2 and to close out the first quarter of Game 3.

So how will Coach Stotts respond in Game 4? With their backs against the wall, the Blazers cannot afford to let the game slip away from them when Nurkic comes out of the ball game, so it’ll be fascinating to see what adjustments the Blazers coaching staff makes to the rotation. Rondae Hollis Jefferson put in some solid minutes in Game 3, will they go back to him? Maybe they decide to give Kanter his run alongside more athletic perimeter defenders in Derrick Jones Jr. and/or Robert Covington? Whatever they decide, It will all unfold today at 4PM ET on TNT.

Next. What we learned from Game 3 of POR-DEN. dark