Kendrick Perkins: What is His Role in the Frontcourt?

In 2011, Kendrick Perkins was traded from the Boston Celtics to the Oklahoma City Thunder. This move, made by general manager Sam Presti, was generally lauded. Perkins was expected to provide experience and tenacity down low, and would be the key to stopping the bigs in the league, who at the time were Dwight Howard of the Magic and Andrew Bynum of the Lakers.

Fast forward to 2013. The world of big men in the NBA couldn’t be more different. Dwight Howard is a Houston Rocket and Andrew Bynum is god knows what anymore. And Kendrick Perkins is no longer viewed as the force that he once was two seasons ago. Therein lies the problem: the OKC Thunder need Kendrick Perkins. Or at least need some large, stabilizing force in the frontcourt. Is that what Perkins brings this season? Or does a change need to be made?

Let’s look at Kendrick Perkins’ stats from his Boston days and compare them to now. Perkins’ prime as a Celtic was the three-year stretch from 2007-08, where he was a key cog on their championship team, and 2009-10.

Year

PER

TS%

eFG%

TRB%

BLK%

TOV%

DRtg

DWS

WS/48

2007-08

13.3

.632

.615

14.8

4.9

22.6

97

4.3

.156

2008-09

13.2

.591

.577

16.7

5.3

23.1

100

4.5

.119

2009-10

15.0

.613

.602

16.9

4.8

20.4

101

3.8

.117

As you can see, Perkins did an excellent job as a Celtic playing within himself. He never overexerted his talents. And he knew his role to perfection — stick my big rear end down low so that I can let Kevin Garnett hang out in the midrange. Just look at this highlight tape. It’s probably the least exciting highlight tape you’ll see, but proves why he was perfect for those Celtics teams.

He’s in the right place at the right time offensively, and has a nice touch around the rim. Looking at some of the offensive-related stats above, you can see his offensive production. Anytime a player has that high of a True Shooting Percentage, they’re not much of an outside shooter. Perkins would eat those easy layups around the rim for breakfast and Rajon Rondo would always find him. And because he only basically touched the ball around the rim, he didn’t turn it over to an obscene degree, demonstrated by his very admirable turnover percentage numbers for a lumbering big man with basically zero handles.

Defensively, he was fantastic. He wasn’t letting anyone beat him; he just stayed home and made clean blocks. If you compare his numbers from 2007-08 with the league leaders in defensive statistics from last year, he would be fourth in defensive rating, above Marc Gasol, Larry Sanders and Joakim Noah. That’s pretty darn good. But let’s not get crazy. The 2007-08 Celtics were one of the best defensive teams in league history. Kevin Garnett let the league that year in defensive rating at 93.85. Having your frontcourt give you numbers like that will lead to the utmost success. And don’t forget the Doc Rivers effect, one of the smartest defensive coaches in the league.

All in all, Kendrick Perkins was a great triumph as a Boston Celtic. Mind you, he was the fifth- (arguable sixth-) best player on teams with multiple Hall of Famers, so he never really was asked to do too much. But he played the defensive stopper role to a tee, especially in the playoffs. This is why a young, inexperienced team like the Thunder desired KP so badly in 2011.

Now let’s jump ahead to Perkins’ tenure as a member of the OKC Thunder. As you know, it wasn’t as illustrious as his time in Boston. Here’s the same statistical categories from his two full years with OKC.

Year

PER

TS%

eFG%

TRB%

BLK%

TOV%

DRtg

DWS

WS/48

2011-12

8.7

.528

.489

13.9

3.0

27.5

103

2.1

.056

2012-13

8.2

.479

.457

13.7

3.2

24.0

102

3.0

.062

The numbers are not kind to Perkins. This shouldn’t be a shock to most Thunder fans. Although he’s never been one to wow you in the stat sheet, these numbers are a problem. For instance, his True Shooting Percentage plummeted. This is because he has been taking more and more shots like this:

Ew. While Serge Ibaka has developed a nice little mid-range game, it’s nowhere near what Kevin Garnett had in Boston. Because Perkins can’t rely on his 4 to make shots from the elbow, he’s tried to move up to that spot and let them fly. It has not been successful. As you can see, his rebounding numbers have gone down and he’s turned the ball over a lot more. You can credit this to the differences between Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook, as a Westbrook-run offense is generally prone to creating more turnovers. But he’s done things like this as a member of the Thunder. Noooo.

His defensive stats have declined as well. There are plenty of reasons as to why, but I would say the most important reason why is because of his declining health. He’s suffered plenty of lower-body injuries in his career, making him slower when moving laterally. This has hindered his ability to control the basket down low. And we’ve all seen this play 50,000 times.

This by no means is an example of his regression defensively, but it’s kind of a microcosm for his time in OKC.

So what do the Thunder do? Well, they decided with the drafting of Steven Adams that they have their center of the future waiting in the wings. And to the surprise of everyone in the NBA community, Adams has proved that he’s ready for the league. Perkins has seen his minutes decline because of this, but Adams has yet to start a game over Perkins. But this season, the traditional stats tell the story — Perkins has averaged 3.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in 18.3 minutes. Steven Adams has averaged 5.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in 19.5 minutes.

Clearly, the arrow is pointing downwards for Kendrick Perkins. To be honest, it pains me to see him struggle. I am one of the few people on the planet who own an OKC Thunder Kendrick Perkins shirsey. And I wear it with pride. I remember back in 2010, where I would argue to the death that Kendrick Perkins was leaps and bounds better than Joakim Noah. It’s sad to say that I may have been wrong.

But knowing Scott Brooks, a guy who loves his wily veterans (sup Derek Fisher — can you retire please?), Perkins probably won’t lose his starting spot unless his level of play really drops. But Steven Adams has proved he’s more than capable of playing well as a center in this league. Look for Perkins to stay a part of the Thunder rotation. But don’t be surprised if you see his name coming up in trade rumors. All you ESPN Trade Machine wizards are always tinkering with the Thunder, and know that he’s an asset to dump on a team that is trying to tank to balance salaries. And with Steven Adams breaking out, the Thunder can afford to let him go.

While he may no longer be a solid center in this league, Kendrick Perkins is a grade-A badass.

No one can take that away from him.

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Tags: Kendrick Perkins NBA Oklahoma City Thunder