Last year, Enes Kanter did most of his damage against second-team big men as a bench player and then struggled this year when confronted with playing in the starting lineup against first-team bigs.
Tyrone Corbin has done a nice job staggering Kanter’s minutes with Favors, allowing Kanter to play primarily against second-team big men. So when he struggled miserably against Minnesota in two games against starters Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, it felt like a huge setback for Kanter.
His performance Saturday night against Washington, however, may have been the culmination of a gradual improvement against main-line bigs over the last month.
In early January, Kanter got back on track with a good game against Milwaukee where Corbin matched him almost exclusively against the Bucks’s fourth-string big Miroslav Raduljica. Kanter followed with a nice night in L.A. against the injury-riddled Lakers frontcourt of Ryan Kelly, Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre. It was more of the same against Oklahoma City as Kanter made inroads on rookie Stephen Adams but was quiet against veteran Nick Collison.
With his confidence increasing, Kanter started playing against better bigs. Against Cleveland he got rolling against the limited Tyler Zeller, but continued a good first half against Anderson Varejao. In the next game against Denver, he was solid playing against Kenneth Faried, Timofey Mozgov and the defensively poor J.J. Hickson.
Playing with great confidence, Kanter had a career-high 24 points in San Antonio. However, almost all those points were against Jeff Ayers.
Then in Detroit, Kanter lit up Andre Drummond and the Pistons.
After the two poor games against Minnesota, Kanter was going to have to play a front-line big against Washington’s combo of Nene and Marcin Gortat.
Looking at Kanter’s 11-for-13 shooting night, you can see that he did an equal amount of damage on Gortat as he did on the Wizards’ second-team bigs.
This is the next step for Kanter in his third year in the NBA: playing head-to-head with first-line big men.