Celtics

Enes Kanter a wild card for the Celtics, both on and off the court

Enes Kanter a wild card for the Celtics, both on and off the court

BOSTON -- Kemba Walker was nearing the end of his media scrum on Wednesday when Enes Kanter, trying to fit in with the group as best a 6-foot-10-inch NBA player who just signed an eight-figure contract could fit in, chimed in with a question

“How much are you going to pass the ball?” Kanter asked. 

“Zero,” quipped Walker who later added, “I got you.”

One moment Kanter is asking questions to fellow athletes, the next he’s showing off some moves for his post-basketball career as a WWE wrestler, or trolling All-Star Kyrie Irving by wearing jersey No. 11 (same number worn by Irving when he was a Celtic) followed up by an explanation for the jersey number selection that’s straight out of the How-to-be-a-great-troller playbook. 

But there’s a more serious side to Kanter as well. 

The Turkish big man has been an outspoken critic of his homeland’s government shifting more towards an authoritarian state, which has led to Turkish officials suspending his passport in addition to issuing a red notice (arrest warrant).  Because of that, Kanter has not traveled to Canada to play against the Toronto Raptors since the suspension (He’s hoping a meeting with Sen. Ed Markey will allow him to play at Toronto this season) for fear of being arrested.

Indeed, the 27-year-old is a complicated man, zig-zagging back and forth between being silly one minute, and serious the next. 

And that unpredictability is just as pronounced when you talk about his game, making for some wild and crazy times from a player who — on paper at least — may be one of the biggest wild cards for the Celtics this season. 

Selected with the No. 3 pick in the 2011 draft, two spots after ex-Celtic Kyrie Irving and six spots ahead of new teammate Kemba Walker, Kanter has shown himself to be a productive player in the NBA while sporting career averages of 11.9 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 54.1 percent from the field. 

And while he has shown signs of improvement on defense, it has been without question his biggest weakness as a player. 

That does not bode well for a Celtics team that was gutted in the frontcourt via trade (Aron Baynes) and free agency (Al Horford), moves that have left Boston significantly weaker defensively. 

Despite Kanter’s shortcomings defensively, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens still sees Kanter as a great fit for what the team hopes to accomplish this season. 

“Enes has always given us fits, first with his energy and effort to run the floor,” Stevens said. “Second, on the block with his variety of moves. And then the other thing is, he destroys us on the glass.”

A career 29.4 percent shooter from 3-point range, there are some questions as to whether Boston can get a similar bump from the perimeter from Kanter that they received from big men Al Horford and to a lesser extent, Aron Baynes.

“He hasn’t hurt us quite as much behind the (three-point) line,” Stevens admitted. “But then I saw him shooting in here a couple weeks ago and it looked pretty good, too.”

Stevens added, “He brings a lot of different ways he can take advantage of hs skillset. There’s not a lot of guys in the NBA right now who can take advantage of post-mismatches or even post in their position. He’s one of the guys that you can throw it to; he demands attention with his ability to score and rebound.”

Indeed, there’s clear value in what Kanter brings to the table as a basketball player. But if that were all he was about, the Celtics would know exactly what they’re getting into. 

But he is an active voice on social media platforms. He is outspoken on global events that have nothing to do with basketball. And he’s always up for a good laugh at the expense of himself or someone else. 

And when bringing him aboard, the Celtics knew they were getting all of that along with the talent. 

So when you add all that up, it only reinforces the notion that Kanter will go into this season as one of the wildest of wild cards for the Boston Celtics. 

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Jayson Tatum explains what playing for Team USA is like

Jayson Tatum explains what playing for Team USA is like

The Boston Celtics are getting a chance to see some of their younger players and new talent develop ahead of the 2019-20 NBA season. The 2019 FIBA World Cup is taking place in Australia starting in September, and the Celtics are well-represented on the team.

One of the players that will be playing for the squad is Jayson Tatum. The 21-year-old is a budding star and is relishing the opportunity he has to play for Team USA and coach Gregg Popovich. He also explained how playing for Team USA was a bit different than playing in the NBA.

"Just playing with USA, you got to play in a different way," Tatum said per MassLive.com's John Karalis. "You have to sacrifice, because you are playing with 11 great other players. So, we all got to sacrifice something for the bigger goal at hand."

This could end up being a positive for Tatum. The Celtics' playing style last season sometimes became too isolated and moved away from the ball-movement system that had worked so well for Brad Stevens in the past. Tatum is a great scorer, but he possesses very good passing skills as well. So, perhaps working with Team USA will accelerate his development in that area.

Tatum also expressed excitement about getting to work alongside a few of his Celtics teammates with Team USA. He was hopeful that the quartet would have some time to learn to play together ahead of the NBA season.

"It’s pretty cool. There is four of us on this team," Tatum said per Karalis. "Four of us get to embark on this journey together and build some real good chemistry for the season. Especially with Kemba, adding him to the Celtics, so should be fun."

Overall, it seems that the Team USA experience is positively impacting Tatum. That could end up being huge for the Celtics as they look for their third-year player to truly emerge as a star alongside Kemba Walker.

Where do Tatum, Brown rank on this year's '20 under 25'?>>>

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Aron Baynes: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are 'thirsty to go out and improve their game'

Aron Baynes: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are 'thirsty to go out and improve their game'

Aron Baynes is no longer on the Boston Celtics, but the Australian center is still a big fan of some of his former teammates.

Ahead of Australia's exhibition series with Team USA in the lead up to the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Baynes spoke about the potential of his ex-teammates, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Brown, 22, and Tatum, 21, are viewed as big parts of the Celtics' future, and Baynes indicated that both were on the right path to becoming top-tier players in the NBA.

"Those younger guys [Tatum and Brown] are thirsty to go out and improve their game and there's no better place than the summer time playing international ball against some of the best players in the world," Baynes said per ESPN's Niall Seewang. "Those guys are still in their rookie contracts and they're looking to prove themselves over the next couple of years and they definitely have all the tools to do it."

In particular, Baynes was complimentary of Tatum's skill set and said that he was ready for superstardom. Baynes pointed to Tatum's rare combination of offensive ability and desire to play defense as the primary reason for that.

"He's so talented," Baynes said per Seewang. "Even from the first day I played with him when he was a rookie in his first preseason, you could see how talented he was offensively and he also wants to work on the defensive end which isn't common in the NBA. Some guys live on that offensive talent but he wants to develop his all-round game."

Seeing Tatum continue to develop would certainly be nice. He didn't quite live up to the lofty expectations set for him ahead of his second season, yet he still averaged 15.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game, all improvements over his rookie season. If he can continue to make strides during the 2019-20 campaign and improve upon his league-average shooting percentage, he should have a chance to be a star. And that's one of the major reasons the Celtics were reluctant to include him in any trade packages this offseason.

Either way, it's nice to see Tatum and Brown earning some praise from a former teammate. Despite all of the chemistry issues the Celtics had last year, the team seems to be on the right track with their new core, and Tatum and Brown could be a big part of their retooled roster.

As for Baynes, he will be a member of the Phoenix Suns this year after the Celtics traded him on draft night. Baynes, 32, averaged 5.6 points and 4.7 rebounds for the Celtics last year while serving as a solid weapon on the defensive side of the ball.

Where do Tatum, Brown rank on this year's '20 under 25'?>>>

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