Taking a break from the constant updates and hand wringing surrounding Kevin Garnett, I wanted to show some love to our other defensive minded big man down low.
Kendrick Perkins has quietly worked his way to becoming one of the top true centers in the NBA.
Keep in mind, I'm talking true centers, not power forwards playing out of position because nobody else is big enough (see Jefferson, Al). But take a look at the most basic stat, points per game and what do you see?
Dwight Howard is the king right now (despite the fact that he's a liability in crunch time). Yao Ming is still a dominant force. Shaq may be on the decline, but he's still got plenty of Diesel left in the tank. Then you have Marc Gasol, who may be a nice prospect, but he gets a lot of looks on a very bad team. And then there's Perkins, sitting at 8.5 points a game. He might even be getting better, since he posted an 11 points per game average in March.
One big caveat to all this. A lot of players didn't make that list of scoring leaders because they didn't play enough games to qualify. In a full season Andrew Bynum, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Andrew Bogut, Greg Oden, and others would have better scoring numbers. With that said, who was more valuable to their team this year: Perkins or Andrew Bynum?
Besides, ranking centers by scoring is like painting with only one color. It can only tell you so much. Perkins gets more rebounds than Gasol, Big Z, or Oden. He ranks 5th in blocked shots. And of course none of these stats truly reflect his rock solid defense.
Basketball is played on both ends of the court and I can tell you right now that Perkins is a better defender than just about anyone on that scoring list except Dwight Howard. Shaq and Yao are imposing but not lockdown guys. Bynum and Oden have great potential, but they don't have Perk's experience yet. Don't even talk to me about Big Z.
The wonderful thing to consider about Perkins is that he's still only 24 years old and he's improving every year! He's just 3 months older than JR Giddens! Think about that.
Most of us remember the pudgy guy that entered the league as raw as Rocky's punching bag meats. He hit the weights and focused on defense and 6 seasons later he's got an NBA Championship and the swagger of a seasoned veteran. He's even starting to get the benefit of the doubt on foul calls. Every one of those high screens is moving but he's getting called on it less and less.
He used to be a complete liability on offense, but now he's much more fluid. Instead of getting stripped or blocked on the slow-gather, he's keeping the ball above the shoulders and using his long wingspan to his advantage. When he catches the ball with his back to the basket, he feels where the defense is playing him and goes the other direction. He's making decisions faster and making more definitive moves to the basket.
And all of this comes within the flow of the offense. You seldom see him force up a bad shot. He knows there are other scorers on the court and he only needs to make enough baskets to keep his man honest. One more note on his offensive skills: he's a very underrated passer, especially from the high post.
So what we have is a young, experienced, defensive minded, offensively improving, physically imposing, legit center under contract at a very reasonable price through 2011. We are very lucky to have the Beast on our team.