Boston Celtics: is the center position the team’s Achilles’ heel?

BOSTON, MA. - FEBRUARY 27: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics fouls Enes Kanter #00 of the Portland Trail Blazers in the last second of the first period of the NBA game as Jaylen Brown #7 and Daniel Theis #27 look on at the TD Garden on February 27, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty)
BOSTON, MA. - FEBRUARY 27: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics fouls Enes Kanter #00 of the Portland Trail Blazers in the last second of the first period of the NBA game as Jaylen Brown #7 and Daniel Theis #27 look on at the TD Garden on February 27, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty) /

The Boston Celtics are overall an extremely talented group and have good depth at almost every position. However, there remains one glaring exception…

The Boston Celtics starting lineup figures to be dazzlingly good in 2019-2020, so much so it has me seeing stars. All-stars, that is.

Few teams across the NBA have a realistic shot of sending as many players to the All-star game as the Boston Celtics. Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and if Enes Kanter is to be trusted as a talent evaluator, Gordon Hayward, could all be in the mix for All-star selections next February. Led by First-team all defensive selection, Marcus Smart, the Celtics’ bench is nothing to scoff at, either.

With such a bevy of talent at the guard and forward positions, one might be tempted to ask how could the Celtics lose in 2019-2020?

The glaring exception for these Celtics is the player who figures to be its starting center, outspoken big-man, Enes Kanter, as well as the center position generally. Kanter and the center position are far and away the biggest x-factors for the Green heading into the fast-approaching season.

For all the talk and concern about whether Hayward can improve on an abysmal showing last year, if he weren’t to improve, the team’s depth at the wing position should be enough to cover its butt. However, if Kanter cannot establish himself as a dependable member of the starting unit, on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court, it won’t be long before there are serious problems over at 226 Causeway Street.

Unfortunately, there’s good reason to think Kanter can’t be counted on…

Enes Kanter entered the NBA as one of the most highly touted prospects in his draft class, due to his precociousness on offense and as a rebounder. Teams were so taken with these aspects of Kanter’s game that he was selected third overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, the same position in his draft as Celtics phenoms Tatum and Brown were taken in theirs.

The one knock on Kanter prior to his being drafted had been his evidently poor defense. But teams were enamored by the rest of what Kanter had to offer. And thus they were willing to bet that even if he never became a great NBA defender, he’d at least work his way around to becoming a respectable one.

Man, were they wrong, or what?

Regrettably, not much has changed for Kanter over the past eight years.

He’s still an enticing talent on offense and when it comes to crashing the boards. Beginning with the 2014-2015 season, Kanter has averaged a stellar 21 points and over 13 rebounds per game, when projecting his statistics to 36 minutes of gameplay. Such superb output in these two prized areas of basketball production ranks Kanter amongst the most productive centers in the NBA in this regard over that span of time.

However, Kanter hasn’t appreciably improved his defense since the day he was drafted way back in 2011, if at all. There’s even a very convincing argument to make he’s currently the worst defensive center in all of the NBA.

Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal eloquently summed up Kanter’s defensive limitations prior to last season’s playoffs,

“When he’s dragged out of the restricted area he becomes a true turnstile. Put Kanter in a pick-and-roll, and he’ll conflate disparate coverages before picking the wrong one and betraying his teammates with athletic disadvantages. Ask him to guard an isolation set, and his compatriots may as well shield their eyes from the ensuing carnage.”

Yes, Boston Celtics fans, Enes Kanter’s defense really is that bad.

And his miserable defense is the sole reason that despite just having turned twenty-seven years of age, placing him smack dab in the middle of a player’s prime years, Kanter has already spent time with five organizations. The Jazz, Thunder, Knicks, Trail Blazers, and now your Boston Celtics.

If Kanter were just half as good a defender as he was at being an engaging member of social media, there’s little chance any team would be dumb enough to let a talent like his slip through their fingers. Even the perpetually dysfunctional Knicks wouldn’t be so stupid.

“Twenty and ten” guys don’t just grow on trees, you know?

Moreover, Kanter would likely be playing under a max contract, instead of the meager (by NBA standards) two year, $10 million deal he signed with the Celtics this summer.

But fans cannot reasonably expect significant defensive improvement from Kanter this season. He’s a veteran player entering his ninth year in the league, having already amassed a lengthy resume as it pertains to his defensive exploits.

As any psychologist worth his or her salt will tell you, the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior.

How will Kanter’s lamentable defense hold up against a Philadelphia 76ers’ front-court comprised of Joel Embid and former Celtic Al Horford?

How will Kanter cope with having to switch onto league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo at the top of the key before the Greek freak drives the ball to the basket? The mere thought of these regrettable albeit inevitable in-game scenarios should be enough to give Celtics fans nightmares.

Taken as a whole, the rest of the Celtics depth at the center position is one “big” question mark. Get it? Big

The team’s center depth includes mostly unproven commodities. There’s talented youngster Robert Williams, who played only a handful of games last season; a new to the NBA, EuroLeague transfer in Vincent Poirier; and, potentially, the fan favorite Tacko Fall. Fall still has to beat out the training camp competition to earn the Celtics’ final roster spot. Daniel Theis is the only Celtics backup big-man with “significant” NBA experience, having played two mediocre, injury-riddled seasons with the team.

Thus, if Kanter cannot prove at least a representative defender within head coach Brad Stevens’ team-defense concepts, expect there to be “big” trouble in 2019-2020.

Get it? B

(Ok, I’ll stop with the “big” thing.)

Stevens has already signaled the Celtics will likely be forced to lean on all of its centers this upcoming season, an approach which inspires memories of the Boston Red Sox closer by committee debacle of the early 2000s.

Boston sports fans readily recall how poorly that turned out.

Stevens’ comments are quite revealing in the sense that there’s a reason teams resort to not investing in one player at a given position — that reason of course being there aren’t any good options to choose from.

So as with that ill-fated Red Sox team from the early 2000s, ultimately undone by its poorly performing bullpen, the center position could be the Celtics Achilles’ heel in 2019-2020.

Ahead of this upcoming season’s trade deadline, Celtics fans shouldn’t be surprised if they see rumors flying which suggest Danny Ainge is scrambling to add a center to this Celtics’ roster.

He’ll have to see to his team’s glaring hole at the position, a need he failed to properly address this offseason.

Next. IT needs a Celtics reunion ASAP. dark

Will Kanter and the lack of established depth at the center position be the Boston Celtics undoing? Can a move at the deadline remedy the situation?

As always, thank you for reading, and I’d love to learn what you think by hearing from you in the comments’ section.

(Special thanks to Harwood Houdini commenter Hughie Johnson for the suggestion on what to write about this week.)