Unfortunately, our big guy's in something of a funk these days. Plain and simple. Perk has looked very un-Perklike the last handful of games and people are starting to notice. Instead of transforming into The Beast - a.k.a. the brooding and bruising intimidator - when times get tough, he's looked much more like a passive and unsure average NBA center, who's quite capable of being pushed around.
Long gone are the days when critics of this season's Celtics were labeling Perk, along with Rondo, as our most consistent player. At one time, that label was more than warranted, as Perk held respectable averages of 11.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in November; 12.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in December; and 11.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks in January. His averages for the season (not including last night) now reside at: 10.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks.
However, over his final 11 games before the All-Star break, he managed just 6.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks. And things haven't been a whole lot better since. It does not appear to be illness or injury holding him back. It could, however, be his re-adjusting to playing with a healthier Kevin Garnett.
I went searching for a pattern to support my theory and I just might have found one.
Garnett missed 10 games from December 30 through January 20. In those 10 games, Perk averaged 13.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks. He stepped up when the team needed him to.
But when Garnett returned on January 22, Perk's stats took a full-on nosedive. More importantly, after the All-Star break, many of us noticed that Garnett appeared to turn some sort of corner physically against the Los Angeles Lakers on February 18.
Since that night (not including last night), Garnett has posted averages of 15.2 points and 7.9 rebounds. Over that same stretch, Perk's averages sank to 9.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks.
Obviously, Perk's game is going to change with Garnett back in the lineup. He'll take less shots and with Garnett beside him as opposed to Rasheed Wallace (because Rasheed, you know, doesn't rebound), he might not secure as many rebounds.
But his re-adjustment to being the Perk of old - the one more geared towards defense and rebounding as opposed to offense - has been a rocky one so far. His greatest value to this team comes in the forms of one-on-one defense, help defense, rebounding, blocking shots, and proper screen setting. And he has to get back to that. Even though his offensive game has developed tremendously, the majority of his points should come off of easy dunks and layups that stem from handoffs, simple passes, and dump offs from Rajon Rondo and anyone else who penetrates. Unless a favorable mismatch is in the works - meaning Perk's man is 6'8 or under, or is an overly pathetic defensive player - Perk should always be the fifth option in the Celtics' offense.
Whenever an important player leaves the lineup, the everyday games of the remaining players typically change to an extent. They need to accommodate for the production that will be missing from the other player. So they adapt as necessary. But once that missing player returns and works his way back towards being healthy, those other players need to revert back to the players they were before the injury occurred.
That's Perk's main challenge right now. He needs to work his way back towards being the player that gives the Celtics the highest chance of winning. He needs to be the bruising enforcer beside Garnett. He needs to get back to securing 9+ rebounds per game, blocking 2+ shots per game, and basically letting others create his own offense for him. Perk's an integral part of the puzzle, but only if he plays the role he was meant to play. He, for lack of a better term, needs to keep it simple. Until he fully re-commits himself in those areas, he, and the Celtics as a team, could continue to struggle.