Knicks’ Kanter a vanishing breed in NBA: Big man with inside moves

Enes Kanter speaks during Knicks media day at MSG Training Center in Greenburgh on Sept. 25, 2017. / James Escher

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Enes Kanter considers himself a throwback, a center who can play with his back to the basket and hurt teams with an array of post moves.

Those players are few and far between in the NBA, which is playing smaller and faster. But the Knicks hope to use Kanter’s skills to their advantage, and the Turkish big man believes he has multiple ways he can hurt teams.

“If you look at the NBA right now, you cannot give me three guys that play back to the basket anymore,” Kanter said after practice Thursday. “If you have a back-to-the-basket player and he can play, and he’s got the footwork, it’s over because if they’re going to send a double-team, if you make an extra pass, that’s it.”

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Kanter said that’s what the Knicks’ coaching staff has been stressing to him: “If you’re one-on-one, go score the ball. But if you’re double-teamed, make an extra pass and find an open man, make your teammate better.”

The Knicks acquired Kanter and Doug McDermott from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Carmelo Anthony. The trade puzzled some because the Knicks have a number of big men, and they want to develop Willy Hernangomez. But Kanter and McDermott fit in different ways, and both could be impactful for the Knicks, who will face the Wizards in their second preseason game Friday night.

McDermott is a very good shooter who could flourish when the Knicks play fast or as the recipient of kick-outs when their big men are double-teamed. Kanter is a productive scorer inside and one of the few Knicks, along with Kristaps Porzingis, who could see consistent double-teams.

“There’s different ways we can get threes,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “You can just come down and jack them up or you power it inside and eventually teams are going to have to double that and then you get some kick-outs. Enes gives us a powerful inside presence that we can go to try to score the ball.”

Kanter’s weakness is defense, and it limited his minutes when he was with Oklahoma City. But he’s an effective and efficient scorer and one of the most productive NBA players off the bench.

The 25-year-old has averaged 11.3 points over 21.3 minutes per game and shot 53 percent from the field for the Jazz and Thunder.

Kanter, who came into camp at 235 pounds, about 15 pounds lighter than he ended last season, scored 17 points in less than 17 minutes in his Knicks preseason debut Tuesday against the Nets. He shot 4-for-8 and had three shots roll off the rim.

“He’s proved that he’s one of the best centers in this league now,” said Hornacek, an assistant with the Jazz in Kanter’s rookie year. “He just keeps working.”

The Knicks open the regular season Oct. 19 at Oklahoma City. Kanter already has thought about how he will be received by the Thunder fans and whether his old teammate and friend, Russell Westbrook, will talk to him. Westbrook’s attitude is that anyone on the other team is the enemy.

“I’ve actually wondered if he’s going to say hi to me or not,” Kanter said. “We’ll wait and see.”

Kanter thinks he will be treated differently than Kevin Durant was in his return to Oklahoma City. “I didn’t leave,” he said.

Kanter jawed at Durant, who signed as a free agent with the Warriors, during one game against Golden State last season. Kanter, a Westbrook disciple, said he will always chirp at Durant.

“I talk a lot of trash, man,” Kanter said. “I don’t hate that guy. I respect him. He won a championship. He was MVP, but whenever I’m on the court, I will try everything to get in his mind.”