Kanter is out, so how do you replace him?
If you haven’t heard by now, Enes Kanter suffered a fracture in his right forearm after punching a chair on Thursday night in Oklahoma City. We here at Up The Thunder take this injury very seriously, and while we’ve touched on the injury itself, the impact, and the injury from a alternative point of view, we have yet to discuss how can the Thunder replace Kanter’s on-court production.
Let’s look at some of the best hypothetical options.
Dakari Johnson was a part of the historic 38–1 Kentucky Wildcats platoon in 2014–15. However, he was noticeably less NBA-ready compared to the other six Wildcats entering the draft. He arrived to the combine overweight; which led to the Thunder drafting him with the 18th pick in the 2nd round of the 2015 Draft.
At age 21 and two with D-League seasons under his belt, Dakari is on the cusp of signing a professional contract. Averaging 12 pts, 8 rebs, 2 ast, and 1.6 blocks per game, Dakari played all 50 games last season and was honored with a spot on the NBA D-League All-Rookie Team.
Dakari is a noticeably strong play-maker; often using his vision to assist on back door cutters. The reasons for bringing Dakari in now would allow Joffrey Lauvergne to continue playing heavy minutes at the PF, where he seems to thrive most. Johnson is a tenacious offensive rebounder — a trait which will help replace the elite offensive rebounding of Enes Kanter — averaging 3.3 offensive rebounds through 28 games this season. And while Dakari lacks the floor stretching capability of Kanter, his massive 7' 2" wing span will allow him to be the happy receiver of many Cameron Payne/Russell Westbrook alley-oop passes.
So Dakari Johnson is a good and cheap replacement, but the Thunder has no free roster spots, which means someone needs to be voted off the island. Without even asking the rest of UTT, the unanimous decision is Kyle Sinlger — I cried a little writing that. Long live The Kingler. How do the Thunder go about doing this? Well, they could give him away to whoever will take him for a heavily protected 2nd rounder, or Presti and ownership could agree to pay his salary and just release him.
What I think is the most interesting option, the Thunder could tag itself in as a the third team in a trade — MAYBE MELO? —and help even out the salaries by dumping him on someone — *cough cough* Knicks.
If you did not get to witness the joy that was watching Larry Sanders play NBA basketball, I’m truly sorry. Sanders comes in as a Tyson Chandler prototype — play great defense, rebound well, and jump for dunk opportunities. While Sanders theoretically lacks the ability to be a twin towers combination with Adams, a Westbrook-Oladipo-Roberson-Sanders-Adams lineup could be interesting against teams like San Antonio and Memphis.
Sanders could provide the second unit with a very different brand of Center in regards to Kanter. This would push Cam Payne and Alex Abrines into the lead scoring roles — a role that I believe Payne is ready for; so for Sanders, covering all 14 of Kanter’s points may not be necessary with the added defense he gives you.
There are three road blocks in the way of OKC signing Sanders.
First is the aforementioned roster spot needed.
Second is the fact Sanders could create a small bidding war for himself — the Celtics reportedly worked him out earlier this week, as will several other playoff teams needing an extra boost.
And third, Sanders is an open marijuana supporter — the Thunder is not a fan of said attribute, as we all learned with Mitch McGary. This is middle choice for a reason, because it makes sense as a Presti back-up plan rather than first option.
The man. The myth. The one and only Silverback in the locker room. Kendrick the legend Perkins. (As a side-note, I really encourage you to watch that entire exit interview. You will be crying laughing, Steven Adams is amazing.)
Now for many Thunder fans, the name Kendrick Perkins brings back both good and bad memories. Many of you might have even screamed no, clicked out of the article, and wrote how stupid this piece is — I’d like to say, I totally agree — but the average fan may not understand how much of an impact Perk had on the organization.
Perk is a large reason why Steven Adams is the player he is today. His toughness and screen setting should be studied by every big man today. And the defensive end was always where Perk shined. At age 32, his defense will be nowhere near top-tier level, but intangibles count for a lot when you have Russell Westbrook on your team. Russ will give Perk looks right underneath the basket, where he can shoot a max of three shots per game.
On the Vertical Podcast with Woj, Perk detailed how he could still play around 15 minutes a night, and fittingly, that is the most Billy Donovan would ever give him. Where Perk excels is off the court, but having a defensive minded Center would assist in covering Kanter’s 14 PPG by allowing at least four less of Kanter’s allowed points. Then to cover the remaining 10 points, Cam, Russ, Dipo, Abrines, and Adams picking up two more points each would be a breeze. (Realistically Russ could probably cover all 10 if he wanted)
This another backup plan for Presti, as Perk is probably only marginally better than The Kingler. However, his off-court impact would prove invaluable for the second youngest roster in the league.
This is a strange option, because with Kanter going down, Presti may be inclined to make very unPresti-like moves. Like — for instance — trading for Carmelo Anthony!
Now to most NBA fans, Melo is a washed up player who doesn’t do anything outside of isolation basketball; and while Carmelo utilizes his isolation too often, he has the potential to be one of the best second fiddles in the NBA.
Melo has never played with a point guard on the level of Westbrook — Allen Iverson was past his prime when they played and Chauncy Billups was never as good as Russ. Sorry, Chauncey. Furthermore, Carmelo has never played with a supporting cast as strong as OKC’s, with the right blend of youth and skill to be effective into Melo’s aging years.
So how does Melo fit with the Thunder? Well, he fits as both a catch-and-shoot floor spacing forward and a devastating screen setter for Westbrook. So let’s look at his catch-and-shoot potential. First, in transition:
With two points that flourish in transition, the Thunder look for fast break opportunities wherever possible. The Knicks are a bad team with two unreliable point guards, whether Melo shares the court with Russ or Cameron Payne, he would see a lot of these open transition threes.
Now if I was Billy Donovan, I’d bring Melo off the bench as the leagues best Sixth Man, but Melo would be unlikely to accept that. But in a perfect world, I would sub Sabonis out for Melo at 7 minutes and allow Russ and Melo to run for the next 4 minutes before giving the 2nd unit to Melo.
Putting Melo on the floor without Russ allows Melo to play in isolation. This would allow him to play in his high-post set while spacing the floor with shooters.
With better shooters, the right play is to pass to the open man beyond the arch, but that shot is still a better shot than a Brandon Jennings three. However, with shooters like Alex Abrines and Anthony Morrow, Melo will either rack up assists by passing out of the double team, or score over the lone defender.
So if Carmelo Anthony is a good fit, why is he the least likely target? Well, a lot of reasons. This is the only candidate on this list that must be traded for, meaning the Thunder must change its current makeup, and that alone is scary for a team with such strong chemistry brewing.
Melo is also really expensive and would require some serious assets in return. Outgoing assets could include Oladipo, Cameron Payne and Morrow. Oladipo’s strong chemistry with Westbrook makes him a much-needed asset — not to mention his contract extension, although a lot of money, was a discount from the max that he was expected to demand. At age 32 — only 121 days away from 33 — Melo is at the end of his prime.
On the flip side, Melo would provide OKC with a second fiddle Westbrook deserves, and more importantly, give the team a chance to capitalize on any injuries sustained by the top three teams come playoff time.
However, the move is unlike anything the Thunder has ever made. It is dangerous, but theoretically awesome. According to Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio, the Thunder is interested in exploring a deal, but not set on making a move. If Presti can drive the price down and the Clippers fail to pull the trigger on a deal, it’s not out of the question to catch a ‘Melo to OKC’ Woj bomb come Feb. 23rd.
Those are just a few theoretical options in replacing the on-court production of Enes Kanter. Now we all get to sit back and wait to see what Sam Presti has up his sleeve.