Heading into last night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks, rookie Brandon Jennings had my attention. It would be my first time seeing the kid play and after a rookie goes off for 55 points, it's difficult not to want to see him for yourself. I figured Rajon Rondo would present a formidable defensive challenge unlike anything Jennings had seen in his still very young NBA career and for the most part I was right.
While the plight of the point guards was entertaining (mainly due to Rondo being one rebound shy of a triple-double and finishing with 11 points, 13 assists, nine rebounds and five steals), the battle of the big men stole the show. Kendrick Perkins and Andrew Bogut did not appear to like each other on the court last night, but Perk was pivotal to Boston's success and Bogut was one of the main reasons Milwaukee kept it close for far too long.
The final lines for the pair:
Perkins: 7-8 shooting, 15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 0 blocks, 2 turnovers
Bogut: 11-17 shooting, 25 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks, 7 turnovers
Advantage to the Aussie, I suppose, and give him credit for playing so well against one of the NBA's premiere interior defenders. But the tussle itself between these two was worth watching, as the paint proved to be quite the battleground last night.
I missed out on the '60s, '70s and '80s when the vast majority of the NBA's big men actually played in the paint and brought legitimate offensive repertoires down there with them. Hook shots abounded, along with the five to seven-foot turn around and didn't the '80s serve as the 8-10 foot jumper's hay day? I've watched a ton of footage from the decade and I swear EVERYBODY had that shot, including the majority of the league's big guys.
Now come back to last night and with Perk and Bogut going at it, one might have felt like we had taken a step back in time with the moves we were seeing. Bogut was an absolute whiz with the hook shots, whether they be of the stop and pop kind or of the sweeping brand. It looks like he's turned that shot into his go-to move, although, when the Bucks needed him to utilize that go-to move when they were hanging on for dear life with minutes left, Bogut came up empty on two consecutive possessions, primarily due to outstanding defense by Perk (and a helping hand from Rondo the first time around). But despite Bogut's shortcomings in the final few possessions, he really does possess a nice touch down low, and in terms of old school post moves, he's right up there for tops in the league today (along with guys like Al Jefferson and Pau Gasol).
For Perk, has any NBA center in today's league mastered the short fade away jumper in the lane the way he has? He typically begins his move on the right block, backs his man down and buries him into the paint to the point where his defender is almost under the rim, then plants the right foot, turns, fades, and buries the shot. Speaking of go-to moves, Perk has shown he can fall back on this shot whenever he needs to, particularly early on in games when he's establishing his own rhythm.
I think it's fair to say Bogut is a naturally more gifted offensive player, meaning he did not need to develop as much of his offensive game as Perk did when he entered the league. When Perk first stepped onto an NBA floor, if a dunk wasn't an option, he pretty much wasn't going to score. But it's a testament to Perkins' work ethic, along with Clifford Ray's tutelage when we recognize how Perk has developed into a legitimate offensive threat.
But last night it was nice seeing two legitimate interior players really play where their respective games thrive. Bogut didn't drag Perk out to the perimeter, but instead went at him relentlessly down low, and even though I might be forced to say Bogut got the better of Perk for three and a half quarters, watching a skilled big man with legitimate post moves go up against an equally legitimate interior defender is arguably a rarity in today's game. Many of the 6-10 and up guys in today's league possess outside jump shots, or prefer the perimeter in general. But the paint really was a battleground last night and it was somewhat captivating seeing these two continue to go at it, with the hook shots and the up and unders and the reverses, especially when their teammates cleared the lanes and just let them play each other straight up.
I sure hope Perk treats Rondo to a nice dinner when this team heads off on its next three-game road swing, because of the 13 assists Rondo racked up, a bunch of them went through Perk in the paint. As much as we talk about the unspoken on-the-court chemistry between Rondo and Kevin Garnett when they're executing their alley-oops, the relationship Rondo shares with Perk is equally crippling to an opposing team. With Perk always parking himself down low, whenever Rondo slices through the defense and draws the help defender, he can usually count on Perk being wide open mere feet away from the basket. And if Perk isn't always in pristine position, he's usually lurking somewhere nearby, cutting to the hoop or battling for position for an offensive rebound.
I'm not entirely sure which big men helped spark the wave of the 15-18 foot jumper. Perhaps it was Hakeem Olajuwon or Karl Malone. Or maybe it was those drafted in the mid-to late '90s like Garnett, Rasheed Wallace and Dirk Nowitzki. Whoever was responsible for the transition, Perk's had to deal with a steady crop of perimeter based big men this season, including Channing Frye, Andrea Bargnani and Mehmet Okur, which takes Perk out of his natural defensive element.
But Perkins vs. Bogut proved the NBA can still go retro every once in a while, where the emphasis isn't necessarily on the pure athleticism, but rather on the quickness and the finesse, as well as the intelligence it takes to play quality low post basketball. It's difficult to tell whether the big men of tomorrow will resemble a Bogut or a Perkins as opposed to a Garnett or a Nowitzki, but regardless, games like last night's proved that we can still be treated and reminded of the NBA's low post glory days from time to time.