Enes Kanter has never been known for his defense. In fact, any mention of him regarding his work on the aforesaid end of the court would invariably concern his glaring lack thereof. Still, let it not be said he isn’t trying; he is, hard, and to the point where, over the last two years, advanced metrics have painted him to be a wash at the slot. No doubt, it’s a reflection of his increased importance to the Knicks. Whereas he used to be counted on as an offensive spark plus during his days with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he’s now required to start games.
To be sure, even casual observers would be hard-pressed to argue that they foresaw Kanter helping the New York Knicks with his defense. Yet, that’s exactly what he wound up doing in yesterday’s triumph over the East-leading Bucks. Interestingly, recaps of the match noted that he blocked leading Most Valuable Player candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo’s under-the-basket stab at the end of overtime to preserve the outcome. In truth, he simply stood his ground with his arms fully extended upwards — which proved to be more than enough under the circumstances.
Despite the absence of any proof of the late-game effort in official stats for the contest, Kanter and the rest of the Knicks will take the offshoot. If nothing else, he knew exactly what he needed to do under pressure. He didn’t foul, didn’t take a swipe at the ball, didn’t even body up; he knew well enough that Antetokounmpo was too near the baseline not to contort backwards just to try and get a shot up, and that staying where he was with his hands up was precisely the right stance to take.
In retrospect, what Kanter did has become typical of him in recent memory. Looking at the big picture, it also serves as a prime example of what the Knicks are these days. They’re not long on talent, but they’re sure to leave nothing in the tank whenever they trek to the court. As head coach David Fizdale noted, making the journey fruitful is just as important as reaching the destination. “Are we getting better? Are we competing at our highest levels? Are we growing each game from what we’ve been through before?” “They’re a hard-working, competitive group,” added Bucks counterpart Mike Budenholzer. “Different nights can be different guys (contributing). Impressed with what they’re doing.”
Indeed, the Knicks are scrapping under Fizdale’s steady hand. The playoffs may not be on the radar for them, but they’ll battle from opening tip until the final buzzer. And, once in a while, they’ll slay giants by being, well, themselves. Ask Kanter. He knows.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.