WASHINGTON — The Knicks understand Enes Kanter isn’t here to solve their defensive woes. He’s an old-school, 6-foot-11, back-to-the-basket center and voracious offensive rebounder.
Defense hasn’t been the new Knicks’ strong suit and he even lost playing time in last season’s playoffs with the Thunder because of that deficiency.
After the Knicks allowed 115 points in Tuesday’s preseason loss to the Nets, they get back at it Friday against the powerhouse Wizards, trying to be stingier in their second outing with Kanter potentially starting in the pivot.
“We’re not going to be the greatest defensive team to start out,’’ coach Jeff Hornacek said. “Our makeup is a lot of offensive players. That’s something we need to get them to work every day to improve.’’
As the starting center battle rages on, Kanter may make his first start. He lost a lot of weight in the offseason — partly to get quicker on defense — but Hornacek is excited over what Kanter can bring, providing the Knicks an inside-outside game that was lacking last season when offensively challenged Joakim Noah manned the center position at the outset.
“Look at the NBA, you cannot give me three guys playing back-to-the-basket anymore,’’ Kanter said. “The game is changing. But if you can play back-to-the-basket and have footwork, it’s over. They send a double team, you can make the extra pass and that’s it.’’
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Second-year man Willy Hernangomez showed flashes of solid post play last season, but Kanter, 25, is more advanced. The problem is neither are quick on defense. Even at age 32, Noah probably is their most effective defensive center, but he will miss the first 12 regular-season games because of a performance-enhancing drugs suspension. After sitting out the first exhibition game, Noah will debut Friday.
Hornacek, then the Jazz’s shooting coach, saw Kanter at his worst as a rookie in 2011-12 with Utah.
“The game has slowed down for him — I think he’s become better defensively on what teams are trying to do,’’ Hornacek said. “He didn’t play at Kentucky, [so] he was pretty raw his first year. Now he’s been around the league. He’s one of the best [true] centers in this league right now.’’
The Knicks also like Kanter’s toughness and spirit, though his flamboyance backfired last season when he angrily punched a chair and was lost for six weeks with a forearm fracture. When Kevin Durant returned to Oklahoma City for the first time with the Warriors last season, Kanter became the lone Thunder player to razz him.
“I’ve talked a lot of trash. I can’t remember [what I said],’’ Kanter said. “I don’t hate that guy. I respect him. But whenever I’m on the court with him, I’ll do everything to get in his mind.’’
That’s why the Oct. 19 regular-season opener at Oklahoma City could be a blast: with Carmelo Anthony facing the Knicks for the first time only part of the narrative.
“I’ve actually wondered too if Russell [Westbrook] will say hi to me or not,’’ said Kanter, who played four seasons for the Thunder. “I hope they’re not going to boo me. I like them. They liked me. That’s different [with Durant]. I got traded. I didn’t leave.’’
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Kanter spends most of his offseasons in New York for the culture and restaurants. He has lost 37 pounds since June, down to 235. But that came after putting on — as is his tradition — 20 pounds once the season ended. He finished last season at 250 pounds and ballooned to 273 by June.
“I feel better now, feel more energy, moving faster,’’ Kanter said. “It’s my thing. I gain 20 pounds and then lose it.
“When I lose weight, I got to not eat Turkish food: a lot of gyros, beef, bread. It’s too greasy. If you eat that before a game you’ll throw up. I tried it one time and it’s a bad feeling.”
Fish and salads were Kanter’s steady diet as he trimmed down to a new NBA low for this season — not realizing it was for the Knicks.
“I don’t lose strength,’’ Kanter said. “It takes pressure off my knees and back.’’
Having played in a host of Anthony’s pickup games at his Manhattan gym this summer, Kanter got familiar with several Knicks.
“I played with most of these guys in the summer, so I think I’m fitting in pretty well,’’ Kanter said.