Kanter vs Hernangomez: The Battle of the Knicks Starting Center

Enes Kanter could average close to 20 points and 10 rebounds this year for the Knicks, but ultimately it's going to hurt the team and Willy Hernangomez.

Enes Kanter has been putting up numbers for the Knicks in the preseason. Every place he goes, the narrative is the same - he's going to give you consistent offensive production but he's not going to stop anyone on defense. 

Let me preface this argument by saying this - Kanter could easily win the Sixth Man of the Year award if he played 25 minutes off the bench. He's got no one really to take his shots away from him, and there's plenty of spacing around him to allow him to go to work in the post. Winning that award could be the only way to find a trade for him to get his contract off the books. 

The issues on defense are glaring already. Kanter played plenty of minutes at center while Michael Beasley played as the power forward against the Wizards. With Ramon Sessions or Jarrett Jack at the point, Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr on the wings, the Wizards waltzed into easy layups time after time. 

There was an atrocious play where John Wall received an inbounds pass after the Knicks scored a bucket, and he was able to zoom past Kanter and Beasley straight to the bucket. Neither of those two had even passed the three-point line on defense yet, such was their lack of pace. 

The biggest issue that arises from this is what happens to Willy Hernangomez? The young Spaniard started to find his feet as a defensive pairing with Kristaps Porzingis towards the end of last year. Hernangomez was less susceptible to pump fakes on the perimeter, and covered power forwards occasionally, which allowed Porzingis to protect the rim.

Hernangomez is not a good defender, but at least he slides his feet and gets back in transition. With Kanter on the court, there is nowhere to hide him. There are so many excellent pick and roll bigs, or stretch fives that expose Kanter. His only hope really is to play against bench centers of the same throwback style, like Greg Monroe or Al Jefferson. 

Make it known that the Knicks will find plenty of use for Kanter. There's a lot of pressure on Hardaway and Porzingis offensively this year. Having Kanter and Beasley as options to chip in 20 points occasionally should theoretically help their development. 

Having said that, the Kanter/Porzingis relationship has many of the same qualities that made the Derrick Rose/Porzingis relationship difficult. Porzingis spread the floor, covered mistakes on defense and made the game easier for Rose. He should do the same thing for Kanter this year. But it's not the same going the other way. Kanter doesn't spread the floor as well as Hernangomez projects to. He certainly won't be a positive on defense, and his passing out of the post isn't good enough to find Porzingis spotting up frequently. 

What's best for the Knicks?

After the first 30 games, it should be fairly clear which frontcourt pairing works best. Joakim Noah actually looked a lot better against the Wizards than he did in 90% of his games last year. Kyle O'Quinn has seemed to have dropped out of favor at this point. He deserves better than that - but his contract should be easy enough to pawn off for a mid to late second round pick if there's a hole on a playoff team's roster mid-season. 

Either one of those guys projects to be the best defensive pairing with Porzingis. Hernangomez should be the most balanced option, and certainly the only one worth investing plenty of time into. Kanter should provide the most offensive value, which cannot be underrated now that Porzingis doesn't have Carmelo Anthony alongside him. 

There seems to be no real answer to what the Knicks should do. They're going to struggle no matter what, but coach Jeff Hornacek indicated that he wants the team to play fast, rather than look for second-chance opportunities and rebounds. With that in mind, perhaps Hornacek will lean more towards Hernangomez and or even Noah when he returns in regards to finishing the game. 

Kanter will likely start, but honestly, everything is up in the air at this point. 

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