For NBA executives in Chicago at the NBA pre-draft combine last week, seeing Enes Kanter on the court was akin to a Big Foot sighting. Kanter was a European basketball prodigy prior to coming to the United States. But since arriving here, the only actual games he and his size-16 shoes have played in were a few at Stoneridge Prep in California and in the 2010 Hoop Summit in Portland.
[+] EnlargeEnes Kanter
Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty ImagesNot many folks have seen Kanter play, but he has All-Star potential.
Since the NCAA ruled Kanter permanently ineligible at Kentucky for receiving impermissible benefits from a Turkish professional team, he has been a mystery man to most basketball fans. So, in anticipation of him likely being taken among the first five selections in June's NBA Draft, here's the latest scouting report:
While Kanter hadn't been well known to many in the NBA until recently, international scouts have been following him since he burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old. He not only appeared in Euroleague games for Fenerbache at that age, but also became, arguably, the dominant big man in his age group in Europe.
Last spring, against a very talented Team USA front line that consisted of Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones and Patric Young, Kanter broke Dirk Nowitzki's Hoop Summit scoring record by dropping 34 points in only 23 minutes. He was, at times, literally a man among boys.
Unfortunately, Hoop Summit is still not an event that is covered by most NBA decision-makers, so the performance could be judged only on video or by word-of-mouth from their scouts.
At 6-foot-11, 260 pounds, Kanter easily has the requisite size and mobility to play power forward and, at times, center in the NBA. While power forwards in the league come in all shapes and sizes, Kanter is a throwback to the days when they operated around the basket and didn't mind throwing their weight around. Given the success that guys like Zach Randolph, LaMarcus Aldridge and Al Horford are having, teams are looking for someone like Kanter who can match up physically with them.
While Kanter will never be confused with a track athlete, he is surprisingly athletic for his body type and runs the floor easily for a man his size. In addition, he has pretty good lift and is a reasonably good "second jumper" off his feet.
Kanter was impressive at the combine because it was evident that he was in near-peak condition after spending the last few weeks at Tim Grover's ATTACK Gym. NBA teams seemed to be impressed with the work he has put in, especially after missing the entire basketball season.
Kanter will spend most of his NBA career around the basket and, to that end, he has fundamentally sound low-post footwork. In addition, he possesses a nice shooting touch inside and can shoot the turnaround jump shot and the jump hook. Given that he is a big man who has often been double-teamed, he has a good passing aptitude and court vision.
What will surprise fans is how well he can shoot from the perimeter. Again, his shooting fundamentals are very sound and he will be able to be accurate out to the NBA 3-point line. I witnessed a private workout at ATTACK last week and came away impressed with that aspect of his game.
Kanter has always loved contact and always competed with a fiery mentality. It is a part of his basketball DNA. So, the combination of that attitude about physical play and his body type will likely keep him close to the basket most of the time. While he'll get pushed around early in his career, it shouldn't be long before the 19-year-old is dishing out as much as he is getting.
Although Kanter could not play for Kentucky this past season, he was tutored in the NBA game by the Wildcats' coaching staff every day. Kenny Payne, Rod Strickland and Tony Delk all played in the league and worked hard to develop Kanter's NBA game, especially Payne. How much it helps Kanter may not be quantifiable, but it adds another layer of preparation for him.
Best-case scenario: Al Horford
Before you sneeze at the comparison, remember that they are similarly built and have a similar playing style. In some ways, Kanter is ahead of the curve in comparison as he starts his NBA career two years younger than Horford.
Horford, who attended high school in Lansing, Mich., was not recruited by Tom Izzo and Michigan State and was, at best, considered a top-50 recruit when he signed with Florida. After averaging 10 points and almost eight rebounds in Gainesville, Horford was the No. 3 selection in the 2007 draft as a 21-year-old junior. This season, he made his first appearance in the All-Star Game.
Even if Kanter is not an All-Star, he has a chance to have the same career trajectory as Horford. At worst, he is a good player for Kanter to model his game after.
While international players are still met with skepticism by some, ultimately evaluating them is no different than evaluating a player in the Big Ten or ACC. International draft busts are not the only kind found in the first round.
Kanter's situation is unique in that there is a small body of work that shows a high level of potential for success in the NBA. Some NBA teams will see Kanter's situation as a crapshoot. Cleveland has three viable options with the No. 1 pick -- Kanter, Duke's Kyrie Irving and Arizona's Derrick Williams. If I were the Cavaliers, I'd analyze Kanter closely before passing on him at No. 1. I don't see him being available when they select again at No.4.