Before the 2019-20 NBA season, Enes Kanter signed a two-year contract with the Boston Celtics. He didn't end up lasting that long with the team.
After averaging 8.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game for Boston, Kanter was shipped out as part of a three-team draft-day trade. The Celtics received future draft capital, the Memphis Grizzlies received the 30th pick in the draft, and Mario Hezonja, and, of course, Kanter went back to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Kanter had spent the final 23 games of the 2018-19 season with the Trail Blazers and played for them in the playoffs as well. He was nothing short of terrific in that role, so the Blazers were happy to reacquire Kanter and use him as a backup big for the team.
Kanter has proven to be much more than that. When Jusuf Nurkic went down with a wrist injury, Kanter stepped into the starting lineup and produced at a great clip. He's averaging a career-high mark in rebounds (11.9) and just had a game that saw him log 24 points and 30 boards.
Now, Kanter will look to exact revenge on the Celtics, but that may not necessarily be easy. That's because Kanter's replacement, Robert Williams, is one of the most improved players in the NBA this season.
Kanter surely is aware of Williams' play. He always knew of his former teammate's sky-high upside, which he spoke about when the NBA bubble first opened.
"He was actually downstairs working out. He looked amazing. He looked amazing to me,” Kanter said of Williams back in July after the NBA's layoff, per John Karalis. “I feel like he didn’t even lose anything. Because we all just took off for, like, what, three months, and this guy just came back in the gym dunking anything. I’m like, how? Give me the secret."
After continuing to improve in the bubble, Williams began the year as a key reserve for the Celtics. But in recent weeks, he has emerged as a starter. The lanky, athletic big man has a knack for making big-time blocks, converting dunks, and serving as a low-post presence for the C's.
In his last nine games, all starts, Williams has produced at a similar rate to Kanter on the offensive side of the floor. But he's a bit more of an imposing threat as a defender, as you can see from the numbers.
|Enes Kanter||Stat (Per Game)||Robert Williams|
Of course, Williams' stats as a starter have come in smaller sample size, and Kanter has only started off and on since Nurkic's return. Nonetheless, when Kanter and his former understudy face off on Tuesday night, it should provide a good test for the Blazers' big man -- and for the rest of their offense, too.
If the Blazers want to get back to their winning ways, they'll need Kanter (and Nurkic, for that matter) to step up. But Kanter's performance will be particularly important against a team he knows so well.