Remember when Greg Oden was supposed to be the next great Center for the Boston Celtics? In fact, at this time three years ago we would have given anything to replace Kendrick Perkins with Greg Oden. Thankfully those wishes never came true.
While Oden is recovering from another season-ending injury, Kendrick Perkins is having the best season of his career. This should come as no surprise to Celtics fans who have watched the 25 year-old center improve each year for the past 7 seasons.
This year, you could make the argument that Perkins is the most efficient and most reliable Celtic. Perk, who outside of Ray Allen is the only Celtic to start each of the team’s 33 games, currently sits comfortably atop the NBA in field goal percentage at 64.5%. He is the leading rebounder on a team that features 4-time NBA Rebounding Champ Kevin Garnett. He is also leading the team in blocks while averaging a career-high 12 ppg. His personal fouls per 48 minutes continue to decrease each year, and he has fouled out of just 1 game this year, meaning that Doc can count on him every single night.
But perhaps the most evident sign that Perkins has become such a reliable presence comes from the trust that his teammates now show him. Remember when a few years ago, Paul Pierce would hesitate to give Perk the ball even when he was wide open? Most fans didn’t blame Pierce either, as Perk would consistently bring the ball down near his knees and either have it stripped or be called for traveling.
Those days are long gone. In fact, the Celtics now start most games by getting Perk a touch on the opening possession. He rarely gets stripped, and has developed two go-to moves: the jump hook, and the short fall-away jumper from the middle of the paint. I used to cringe when #43 caught the ball in the post. Now, I’m begging the Celtics to give him more touches.
Another stat that Perk will likely set a career high in this season is technical fouls. Over the past 5 years, Perkins’ technical fouls have risen steadily from 1 to 4 to 9 to 12 to the 22 that he is on pace for this year. However, these techs are not entirely negative. The rising totals simply correspond to the emotion with which Perk plays the game, which has also increased significantly each year. Sure sometimes his emotions get the best of him, but the fact that he brings that intensity every single night is what makes him so great and so reliable.
A couple of other people also deserve credit for Perk’s evolution. First, Kevin Garnett has obviously had a tremendous influence on his career. In addition to helping Perkins become a force on the defensive end, Garnett demands significant attention on the offensive end, making it easier for Perk to score in the paint.
However, I believe that Clifford Ray is the real mastermind behind Perkins’ transformation from a flat-footed 19 year-old that was barely worth a roster spot, to an arguably all-star worthy center. We saw Al Jefferson make a similar transformation under Ray’s tutelage. Big Baby and Leon Powe also became scoring threats in the post as a result of working with Ray. Although Clifford Ray doesn’t garner much media attention it is clear that he has the respect of Celtics big men, especially Perkins. Whenever you see Ray in Perkin’s face as the Celtics are coming out of a timeout, you can count on Perk to play his most inspired basketball.
So while you continue to read the negative headlines about all the technical fouls, just remember how far the big guy has come over these past 7 years. From an after-thought in the deal that brought Marcus Banks to Boston on draft night in 2003, to an all-star deserving center, Perkins has made quite the progression. Hopefully his progression doesn’t stop anytime soon.