Celtics

Celtics Spotlight: There's more to Kanter than off-court persona

Celtics Spotlight: There's more to Kanter than off-court persona

BOSTON -- There is no mistaking the light-hearted, easy-breezy demeanor of Enes Kanter and how at this point in the Celtics’ franchise, it is an ideal fit.

From his opening press conference in Boston, picking jersey No. 11 and doing a little bit of trolling in the process (No. 11 was Kyrie Irving’s old number), he has quickly endeared himself to Celtics fans.  But as we’re coming to find, there’s so much more to who Kanter really is. 

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He is not one afraid to speak his mind, evident by him consistently being outspoken against the government of his native Turkey. Despite the laughs and positions he takes politically, lost at times is the fact that he’s a pretty damn good basketball player particularly when it comes to scoring and rebounding, which, at the end of the day, is why he’s a Boston Celtic.

It’s a successful season for Kanter if… 

...he consistently delivers in Boston the way he has with his previous teams. Kanter, selected with the No. 3 pick in the 2011 draft - two spots behind Irving, six spots ahead of Irving’s replacement, Kemba Walker - is one of the best when it comes to double-doubles. And considering the holes left in the frontcourt with Al Horford (Philadelphia) and Aron Baynes (traded to Phoenix) gone, the Celtics will need double-double Kanter more nights than not. Last season, he had 32 double-doubles. To put that in perspective, Kanter’s total was more than Boston’s top-2 double-double leaders last season, Kyrie Irving (21) and Al Horford (10). 

It’s a disappointing season for Kanter if… 

...Kanter’s biggest shortcoming as a player - his defense - becomes such an issue that not even the best efforts on head coach Brad Stevens’ part, can cover it up. He is one of the few players on this Celtics roster who can dominate one end of the floor, and disappear for long stretches at the other. 

So far in camp, it appears to not be a huge issue. But there's no denying that defensively, Robert Williams III and Daniel Theis are ahead of him - and it's not just because they played for Boston last season, either. But this is the preseason and while it has value, it by no means serves as a true indicator of how things will be when the games truly count. 

For example, Nikola Vucevic did not play in Boston's 100-75 preseason win over the Magic. Vucevic is a player who would challenge Boston and, just as significant, result in Kanter having to guard him. Kanter must also play well enough to stay in a rotation that is going to be crowded for the team’s bigs, with chief challengers Williams and Theis.

2019-2020 Outlook

Kanter comes in the season motivated to not just play, but be a major cog in the team’s success. Last season’s run with Portland gave him a feel for what it takes to make a deep playoff run. It's something he’s hoping to replicate with the Celtics. His ability to provide inside scoring, rebounding, solid defense and leadership, will go far in determining both the success of the Celtics and his future in Boston or elsewhere. Signed to a two-year, $9.77 million deal, Boston - on paper at least - is getting a tremendous bang for its buck. And Kanter, like most free agents who sign a short-term deal with the C's, is hoping a strong showing will allow him to cash in on a bigger payday when he hits free agency whether it means returning to Boston or signing elsewhere. 

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Final week focus for Celtics fans: Grizzlies pick and the No. 6 seed

Final week focus for Celtics fans: Grizzlies pick and the No. 6 seed

The Boston Celtics have clinched the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and their final two seeding games inside the bubble seem fairly perfunctory.

But there’s still plenty to be determined over what amounts to the final week of the NBA’s (not-so) regular season.

WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THE GRIZZLIES PICK?

While Boston’s playoff seeding is locked in, the Grizzlies team they play on Tuesday evening is most certainly not.

Here’s the deal: The Western Conference will have a play-in game this weekend to determine the conference’s final playoff representative. The team with the eighth-best record in the West will play the team with the ninth-best record, but the No. 9 team must win twice in order to steal the final playoff spot. One win by the No. 8 team secures that spot for them.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Grizzlies, which begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

The Grizzlies enter Tuesday clinging dearly to the No. 8 spot in the West but there were three other teams within one game in the Blazers, Spurs, and Suns. Memphis isn’t just trying to hold onto that prime No. 8 real estate to make the play-in easier, they’re trying to avoid getting bounced from the play-in all together.

Which is why Tuesday’s tilt means a whole bunch to Memphis. But the Celtics have some motivation of their own to try to knock the Grizzlies out of a playoff spot and it centers around the Grizzlies' first-round pick that Boston is in position to collect this offseason.

If Memphis sneaks into the playoffs, they’ll avoid the lottery and deliver a pick somewhere between spots 15-17, depending on whether their post-bubble record is better than Orlando and Brooklyn.

If the Grizzlies fall out of the playoffs, they’ll land in the lottery and almost certainly convey the No. 14 pick to Boston. There’s a 2.4 percent chance that pick could vault into the top 4, which would trigger Memphis’ protections and cause Memphis to instead deliver a 2021 unprotected first-round pick.

To put it simpler: The Celtics can better their potential draft spot by up to three positions if the Grizzlies don’t make the playoffs. The Memphis pick is set to be the best of Boston’s three potential first-round picks in the upcoming draft (they also have their own and a pick from Milwaukee).

WHO IS GOING TO GET THE SIXTH SEED IN THE EAST?

Boston’s spot is set but their first-round playoff opponent is still very much in the air.

The Heat and Pacers played the first of their two remaining head-to-head matchups Monday with Miami cruising to a 114-92 win and taking sole possession of the No. 4 seed. Indiana sits a half-game ahead of the No. 6 Sixers, who are the most likely first-round opponent for Boston. Appropriately, Philadelphia had a nearly 76 percent chance of meeting Boston, based on projections by ESPN’s Basketball Power Index.

But those numbers could shift, especially if Pacers can't top the Heat in their second meeting. A look at each team’s remaining schedule:

MIAMI: 8/12 vs. OKC, 8/14 vs. IND

INDIANA:  8/12 vs. HOU, 8/14 vs MIA

PHILADELPHIA: 8/11 vs. PHX, 8/12 vs. TOR, 8/14 vs HOU

Remember, some of those matchups might look more daunting than they really are if some of the NBA’s top seeds downshift over the final week of seeding games.

While the conversation surrounding the Celtics’ first-round opponent has often centered on who might be the easier out — with Philadelphia’s recent injury woes seemingly making the Sixers a more agreeable draw — remember, too, that there could be value in the 4-5 winner being able to push one of the top seeds. It might be in Boston’s best interest if Milwaukee had to play a team like, say, the Heat in Round 2 given their regular-season struggles against them.

WHAT ELSE CAN BOSTON TAKE FROM ITS FINAL TWO GAMES?

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he will use the final two seeding games in order to ensure his team’s conditioning is adequate given the minimum three-day break the team will endure between Thursday’s matinee finale and the potential start of the playoffs next Monday. Still, we’d be surprised if Boston’s key rotation players log heavy minutes in Thursday’s game against the Wizards. 

A few things that Boston can still gather from these two games:

1) More minutes for the starting 5: A group that played only 188 minutes during the regular season can continue to build necessary continuity at the start and end of halves. With Kemba Walker’s minute restriction set to lift in the postseason, it will allow Boston’s core players to share the floor even more frequently and Stevens can continue to nail down his primary rotations. Daniel Theis did land on the injury report for the Memphis game but he’s probable with right foot soreness. And even if he can’t go it could given Stevens a better chance to experiment with his bigs including … 

2) Is it Timelord’s time? Second-year big man Robert Williams has put together consecutive quality outings against Toronto and Orlando. He’ll get two more games to build Stevens’ trust as a potential option off the bench. Kudos, too, to Enes Kanter, who was one of the more impactful players early in Boston's seeding games while the team shook rust, and has dealt with a reduced workload in recent games.

The Celtics essentially know what they’ve got in Kanter and Stevens seems to be using these games to figure out what he’s got with Williams. The split of postseason playing time for those players could be dictated by matchups. But Williams needs to continue to put his best foot forward this week to ensure Stevens is willing to lean on him in big-game situations.

3) Another audition for rookies: The Celtics played some of their best minutes of scrimmage play with Grant Williams at small-ball center but he’s struggled to consistently make perimeter shots in the seeding games and was a DNP against Orlando. We’re not ready to say that he’s out of the rotation — we can see Stevens leaning on him as much as Williams or Kanter in certain matchups — but as Semi Ojeleye fires away and makes 42.9 percent of his 3s over the past six games, the veteran is making a case to be that stout body that Stevens leans on when he needs a little extra muscle on the court.

Romeo Langford should also get another chance this week to show he’ll be ready to provide solid wing defense if called upon during the postseason. Every minute in a real game is an opportunity for Boston’s youngest players to make an impression and all of them should be motivated for the uptick they’ll see this week. Any floor time they get starting next week should almost certainly be in much small doses.

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NBA Rumors: 76ers star Ben Simmons expected to miss rest of season

NBA Rumors: 76ers star Ben Simmons expected to miss rest of season

The Philadelphia 76ers' 2020 NBA title hopes have taken a major hit.

Sixers star Ben Simmons left the Orlando bubble to undergo surgery on his left knee after injuring it in Wednesday's game against the Washington Wizards. Now, it looks like his season is over.

Simmons had the surgery in Philadelphia to remove a loose body in the knee, and he'll stay there for rehab. According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Simmons isn't expected to return to the bubble for the 76ers' playoff run.


Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Grizzlies, which begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

That's obviously a huge blow to a Philly team that currently holds the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. Without one of their most important players for the postseason, it'll be extremely difficult for them to gain any kind of momentum.

The news directly impacts the Boston Celtics, who are locked into the No. 3 seed in the East. As of Monday, the 76ers would be their first-round opponent. But Philadelphia still has to wrap the season up with seeding games against the Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets.

Simmons averaged 16.4 points, 8.0 assists, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.1 steals per game during the 2019-20 season.