NEW YORK - Enes Kanter's brash statement at the 2011 NBA Draft media day on Wednesday was odd to those present. The media scrum was momentarily shocked when Kanter declared that if he had stayed at Kentucky instead of being ruled ineligible last season, he would have been the No. 1 pick in this draft. The natural reaction was to ask why, even though the answer was clear as day. When Kanter responded as expected by saying he feels he's the best player in the draft, putting into words the implication that everyone should have realized right away, it created a storyline for all sorts of people on the Internet to craft.
Clearly, it was surprising. But was it something that truly came out of left field? You get the sense that it wasn't. Ultimately, it's all part of the sell job Kanter has been forced to use after he was ruled ineligible.
"I believe if I could have played [at Kentucky], I would go with the No. 1 pick," he declared. "I believe I am the best player in this draft."
That unintended year off has created questions that not even the most carefully-researched NBA team can't answer. It has been 14 months since Kanter last played in an organized game in front of scouts, and that was in the Nike Hoops Summit. So Kanter has gone out of his way to sell himself on the idea that he is the prototypical big man that loves banging bodies and will solve any team's frontcourt issues.
One such team is the Washington Wizards, and you get the sense that Kanter is especially singling them in his sales pitch. At the 2011 NBA Draft combine in Chicago last month, Kanter proclaimed his desire to play in Washington D.C., essentially claiming it as his preferred destination. On Wednesday, he reiterated that desire when asked about it.
"I would love to go to D.C. It's [an] international city, and Obama loves basketball," he said. "I would love to play with John Wall. I think it's a great team."
The fit seems perfect on the surface. Kanter would be reunited with Wall, with whom he is close. Wall has said that the Wizards need frontcourt upgrades, and Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee don't inspire a ton of confidence on their own. Kanter has also fallen in love with Washington D.C. and sees it as a great city for an international player like himself.
This is why Kanter is the Great Hope of so many Wizards fans. In a poll on Bullets Forever, 69 percent of fans picked Kanter to be higher on the site's hypothetical draft board than Kyrie Irving, the likely No. 1 pick in the draft. Irving is a point guard like John Wall, but in an era of Best Player Available, that speaks volumes.
But do the Wizards want him badly enough? In a draft this weak, it's highly unlikely Kanter slips to No. 6. A report surfaced on Wednesday that he's in play as high as the Timberwolves' pick at No. 2, though that has been denounced as a smokescreen designed to drive trade interest in the pick. There have been reports that the Wizards have tried to trade up to land Kanter, but the team shot those down to Michael Lee of the Washington Post. It's the silly season, but it does seem like Kanter wants the Wizards more than the Wizards want Kanter?
Why is that? It goes back to the reason Kanter is selling himself like he is. There's just so little known about him. An NBA team could be as comprehensive as possible in its background checks and still come away with very little information on Kanter. When tape surfaces of him in high school, it was almost like the Dead Sea Scrolls being discovered. How wise is it for any GM, especially one like Ernie Grunfeld who cannot miss in this draft, to sacrifice real assets to move up for a guy with so little game tape to evaluate?
Kanter doesn't believe that should be a big factor. He said he went harder than usual in practice, and he didn't feel like he would have gained as much as people think by playing in 30 or so games in college.
Even if I could have played, I would have just played like, 22-24 games, because we'd have won many games by 30," he said. "I don't think I missed anything."
But game experience is impossible to recreate, and Kanter simply doesn't have the recent game experience of his peers. That's one reason why the Wizards increasingly are leaning towards Czech forward Jan Vesely, who may be somewhat raw, but has years of big-game experience for European powerhouse KK Partizan Belgrade, the Serbian League champions. There's more known about Vesely, as crazy as it sounds, than Kanter.
Will the Wizards end up changing their mind and sacrificing something to get Kanter? It will depend on Ernie Grunfeld's evaluation of Kanter's skills. Either way, it will be a leap of faith greater than any leap of faith the Wizards will make on any prospect in this wretched draft.