It’s time to start Enes Kanter over Daniel Theis
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Celtics all season long was how they’d fare against teams with big, talented centers after the departures of Al Horford and Aron Baynes. It didn’t seem to hinder them over the course of the 2019-20 season, as they finished the third-best net rating in the NBA and clinched themselves the third seed in the East.
But as they get set to take on the Sixers in the first round, they’re going to have to answer that question and in a major way going against Joel Embiid. And even though Daniel Theis has started at center all year, done a terrific job and deserves to start in the playoffs, Boston should go with Enes Kanter in this matchup.
We’ve seen it play out time and again. Theis simply can’t guard Embiid. He’s an undersized center as it is going against the closest thing we’ve seen to Shaquille O’Neal. Warranted or not, Theis averages 6.7 fouls per 100 possessions and Embiid is adept at drawing fouls, so even if he can create a few stops, Theis would likely be in foul trouble all game anyway.
Kanter, meanwhile, isn’t exactly a defensive ace but presents as a big body in the post to keep Embiid from generating great position down low every trip down. It’ll make it easier for the Celtics to send double teams and get back to shooters if Embiid manages to get a clean pass out.
The issue with Kanter is his mobility, especially in pick and roll coverages. He can’t contain ball handlers on switches at all, so the Celtics typically play drop coverage with him on the floor, leaving them vulnerable to pull-up jump shots.
Fortunately for him though, the Sixers aren’t exactly the most potent pick and roll offense. Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson and Shake Milton figure to be Philly’s primary ball handlers with Ben Simmons out for the year. While solid players in their own right, none of them are beating you as a primary ball-handler in the pick and roll.
Harris ranks in the 53rd percentile for pick and roll ball handlers, Richardson is in the 51st percentile and Milton ranks in the 63rd. The Sixers are simply ill-equipped to exploit Kanter’s primary weakness on the defensive end, which means Brad Stevens can get away with playing him heavy minutes one-on-one with Embiid.
Then, Stevens can play Theis during the crucial non-Embiid minutes with presumably Horford manning the middle for the Sixers. Philly is nearly six points per 100 possessions worse when Embiid is on the bench, and considering the offensive load he’ll have to carry to keep the Sixers close in this series, they’re going to need those lineups to play well. Playing Theis along with maybe Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown with the second unit would make it hard to lose those minutes.
The playoffs are all about adjustments and generating favorable matchups. Stevens has only played Kanter in spots he knows he can succeed all year, so I’ll obviously defer to his judgment on this one. But why wait for Embiid to wreck Theis in Game 1 to make the move for Game 2 when you have all the evidence necessary to make the change now?
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