While we all focus on the epic series that will be Heat vs. Celtics, there's a palpable sense of excitement for another playoff series out West, as well. We're talking Grizzlies vs. Thunder, also known as Tony Allen vs. Kendrick Perkins. As we look forward to that series, Tom Bellinger and I decided to debate the merits of who do the Celtics miss more, Tony or Perk? (Sorry, guys, this one is a bit late... we were hoping to role it out before Game 1, but life gets in the way sometimes.)
Tom: If we're being honest, obviously we'd both love to have both these guys back on the squad. Both guys are tough, dedicated players that were both drafted by the Celtics and raised from pups to pros right before our eyes. Both guys were important parts of the championship run in 2008, and both guys were very integral elements of the Finals run last season. But, for me, the loss of Kendrick Perkins was somehow...more poignant.
Roy: This is a debate, and the easiest thing for me to do to win that debate would be to tear Perk down. There's ammunition to do so; we've all been hearing it for months. Don't buy the hype. Yes, our team played well this year without Perk, and yes, at times he has looked sluggish and flat-footed since coming back from injury. However, Perk would help this team, and anybody who thinks he wouldn't wasn't paying much attention over the years. At the same time, there can be no denying that we miss Tony Allen, as well. Looking at our playoff matchups to come, I think it's pretty clear that we miss Tony more.
(Let the debate begin, after the jump.)
Tom: Kendrick Perkins was always the one we always took for granted. When Rondo became a dynamic two-way player, the 'Big 3' became the 'Big 4'. When Kendrick Perkins signed a 4-year 16 million dollar contract extension in 2007, many fans and analysts though Danny Ainge overpaid for an easily replaceable role player that had never (up until that point) averaged more than 25 mins or 5 points per game.
And this year, well we thought we had it all figured out. Kendrick Perkins went down during Game 6 of the NBA Finals and his absence in Game 7 ended up being one of the more credited factors in the Celtics collapse late. In this past off-season Danny Ainge landed not one but two starting caliber (but really old) NBA centers in Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal (no relation - ZING!). Depth turned out to be a big factor last year throughout the season, and depth was what we thought we got. Good thing too, because Kendrick Perkins ended up missing a heck of a lot more than just Game 7 of the NBA Finals with what ended up being a torn ACL. The thing was, the Celtics managed to do pretty well even in Perkins's absence. Despite a revolving door of cast members (both O'Neals, Semih Erden) the Celtics managed to go 33-10 over their first 43 games (77% win%), and only went 8-4 in the 12 games Kendrick Perkins played in (66.7% win%).
Now, that may not be as obvious to some as it is to me, and I can understand why. Last night, Miami played two players for the majority of the minutes at the center position, Joel Anthony and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The two of them managed to combine for an 0-3 shooting performance over 44 minutes and only grabbed 9 rebounds between the two of them.
Kendrick Perkins' most statistically quantifiable asset as a player is that he's managed to mold himself into one of the best 1 on 1 post defenders in the NBA. Over the last four seasons, Kendrick Perkins has consistently ranked as one of the top 5 defenders in points per possession on post-up plays. Neither Big-Z or Joel Anthony are real threats as isolation options on this Miami Heat team, so actually, it would almost follow that Jermaine O'Neal's exceptional help-defense might just be more of an asset than Perkins' individual post defense abilities.
His other big statistical asset as a player this season, especially with the thunder, has been his rebounding acumen. Currently Perkins' rebounding rate ranks him as the 7th best rebounding center in the NBA. However, that's not really a skill we as Celtics fans got comfortable with, and its also not really one that would've made a huge impact tonight. The Celtics and the Heat both had 39 rebounds a piece, and the Heat only had 5 total offensive rebounds (and opportunities for second chance points).
So how exactly do we 'miss' Perkins more than Tony Allen? Well, here's another number for you: 174. That's that number of games that featured a starting active lineup of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Kendrick Perkins. That was, at the time of Perkins' trade, the most games played by any active starting five unit in the NBA. Here is another number: 335. That's the number of games Perkins started in while wearing a Boston uniform over the last 7 years.
Last night, Doc Rivers said that Miami's defense and 'under your skin' tactics were not physical. He said "It wasn’t physical – it was cheap-shot stuff." There have been allegations that Boston was 'beat by their own game', or that Miami bullied Boston for the win.
Well that is kind of the biggest place we miss Kendrick Perkins. I'm not sure what statistic keeps track of 'tough-guy-ness', but that was all found in the Kendrick Perkins isle of the store. Kevin Garnett is the instigator. He's the guy that drives the other team crazy. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are the killers, they're the guys that step on the throat while the other team is being frustrated by KG's antics. But Perkins, he's the guy who saw the play the James Jones laid on Paul Pierce and took it personal. He's the retaliator, he's the muscle, the thug, the goon. He's the guy that other wing players like LeBron James or Dwyane Wade learn to fear while they brazenly come into the lane. Jermaine O'neal might block your shot, but Kendrick Perkins will break your jaw.
Last night, before the Thunder-Grizzlies game, Tony Allen tried to come over and shake Perkins' hand before the game, just say hi before the series started. Perkins refused, insisted on keeping it all business.
And when Tony Allen was trying to go to the lane during the Grizzlies' 114-101 win last night, he thought twice.
Allen said OKC definitely has a different look with Perkins.
"He kind of scared me a few times going to the hole," Allen said. "I saw the big man coming."
Roy: Tony Allen was never one of my favorite Celtics. For all the good things he did over the years, I tended to magnify the bad things under a microscope (the turnovers, the injuries, the poor jumper). When he left, I wasn't exactly happy about it, but I thought we'd be okay covering his spot, especially once we re-signed Marquis Daniels and landed Von Wafer and Delonte West. I was wrong.
Who is Tony Allen? He's a ball hawk. His 4.1 steals per 48 minutes is the highest total for any player with 1.5 steals per game since the 1994-1995 season (hat tip: WSJ). Tony isn't just a guy who creates turnovers, though. He's also an elite one-on-one defender. According to the good folks over at Synergy Sports, as an on-the-ball defender, Tony held opponents to 0.77 points per possession, good for 24th in the NBA. He held opposing players to 34.4% shooting overall, and was elite at every aspect of defense. Opponents shot 34.2% as the pick-and-roll ball handler, 37.9% on isolation plays, 23.2% off screens, and 25.4% on three pointers. Tony is one of the few guys who can play high-level defense at multiple positions, as he can defend everyone from point guards to small forwards at a high level.
Who is Tony Allen? He's a spark. When Rudy Gay went down with a season-ending injury, it was Tony Allen who stepped into the starting lineup. The Grizzlies responded by going 15-8 down the stretch. Just look at his game log: 27 points and 5 steals in a win against the Thunder. 23 points and another 5 steals in a regular season victory over the Spurs. Tony’s impact extend beyond numbers; one thing Tony has always done is bring consistent energy when he's on the court. He's a guy whose motor is always running at full speed. Tony may not always be the most cerebral player, but he's a guy who consistently makes an impact.
Who is Tony Allen? He's not afraid. Tony Allen doesn't back down. Sometimes, that's a bad thing, like when he's involved in public brawls or when he's punching out teammates on cross-country flights. On the court, though, the refusal to back away is invaluable. Nobody has ever questioned Tony's toughness; he isn't intimidated when he's matched up against Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant, and he doesn't shrink on the biggest stages.
Who is Tony Allen? He knows how to drive. Tony Allen will never be confused with Ray Allen; he's not much of a shooter. Instead, Tony gets his points at the hoop. 54% of his shot attempts are at or near the rim, and he hits those shots at 66.7%. For all the talk about Jeff Green being the scorer that we needed, Tony Allen actually scores more points per minute than Green, and is more efficient across the board with a higher FG%, eFG%, and TS%.
Who is Tony Allen? He's what this team needs. In our next three series, we could conceivably match up against Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, Derrick Rose, and Kobe Bryant (or possibly, Kevin Durant). Tony would be invaluable defending those guys. Not only is it likely that our starters will get into foul trouble, but historically, Ray and Paul have at times struggled offensively when asked to expend too much energy on defense.
When you look at what has plagued this team at times this season -- poor bench play, lack of energy and toughness, an offense too oriented around jump shots -- you realize that Tony would be the perfect guy to fill those voids. When you couple that with the gauntlet of elite guards and small forwards we'll be facing, it's pretty clear that Tony would be a key contributor on this team right now.
Tom's rebuttal: I think that 99% of what you said was right on, Roy. Yes, Tony Allen is a ball hawk. Yes, he's a spark (Katy Perry would probably call him a Firework). Yes, Tony Allen can drive to the hoop (as long he can see the ball while he dribbles). Yes, Tony Allen is a plus wing defender in every sense of the word, and is probably underrated in that regard. That is 100% correct.
And maybe the most apt thing you said there was: 'Tony Allen consistently makes an impact'.
Oh, yes he does. But let's remember the Tony Allen that was, as the Celtics 7th man, rather than the Tony Allen that is a Memphis Grizzly.
The Tony Allen that was, was an important part of the Boston Celtics bench, especially in 2010. The Tony Allen that was, was and is still an incredibly flawed player, to the point that fans of the Celtics had started calling him "Good Tony" or "Bad Tony", depending on how he played on any given night.
Part of that is probably because of his role. Let's not forget that Tony, as a starter in 06-07, he was scoring 16 ppg in 32 minutes, chipping in 2.3 steals and 5.5 rebounds. The thing is, Tony Allen was never going to start here, unless Ray Allen retired or was hurt. To my knowledge, neither has been applicable so far.
I just think it is a bit presumptuous to think we would be getting the same player that we're seeing play in Memphis right now. To put it in an analogy, saying you miss Tony Allen more than Kendrick Perkins is kind of like saying you miss a crazy ex-girlfriend who got her stuff together only after you broke up. Yeah, she's finally got a stable job, and has stopped slashing your tires when you order Chinese delivery from the place she doesn't like, but let's not forget that while you were together, she was still crazy.
Now Kendrick Perkins, he hasn't changed much. His offensive game is still weak. His scowl is still permanent. He's still a humble, loyal, tough nosed, clear hearted sonofabiscuit that has started 350+ games for the Boston Celtics, playing the role of defender and intimidator. We still have a big need for that. Jermaine O'Neal is currently averaging 4.4 fouls over 22.4 minutes during the playoffs, and Shaquille O'Neal has yet to play a game for the C's in the postseason. The two main substitutions for the Celtics at the 5 spot, Nenad Krstic and Glen Davis, were a net -30 points over a combined 29 minutes played. If Jermaine O'Neal was a +2 over 21 minutes last night, I wonder what Kendrick Perkins would've done with the remaining 27. I wonder what he would've done to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as they careened into the lane with impunity as Jermaine O'Neal sat. I wonder what Kendrick Perkins would've done to James Jones when he delivered an obvious flagrant foul on Paul Pierce in the fourth quarter.
I miss Kendrick Perkins a lot. More than Tony Allen.
Roy's rebuttal: It's a strong argument, Tom. On a personal level, I miss Perk more, too. He was our Beast, a guy who grew from a weak, lost 18 year old into a defensive machine. All we ever heard off the court about Perk was what a hard worker he was, and the way he busted his butt to get back into shape this year is something I'll always respect. And hey, truth be told, if we weren't assigned positions here, who knows which side I'd be arguing for?
In a perfect world, we re-sign Tony, he fills in brilliantly at the 1/2/3 positions, and we have no need to trade for Jeff Green. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and we have to look at objective reality. Right now, our bench has sucked at scoring, shooting, rebounding, hustle, energy and defending. Tony Allen helps more in those areas than Perk would.
Right now, we at least have the chance to have a credible backup center, if Shaq's return is really as imminent as Doc says it is. Jermaine O'Neal + Shaq is a decent center rotation, and certainly one that is good enough to win; look what we did with just Shaq earlier this year. Yes, the 28-9 record was great, but even greater was the league-leading defense and the improved scoring efficiency. As hard as it is to admit, we didn't miss Perk all that much early this season, and it's at least arguable that we wouldn't miss him now with a healthy Shaq. It's not like Perk is lighting the world on fire. 4.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, and 40.7% shooting. Even beyond the numbers, it's the lack of intimidation; here's what Zach Randolph has to say:
"Perk’s good, but all Perk can do is foul me. That’s the only thing he can do. The best thing about his defense on me is to foul me . . . He can’t stop me. He’s too slow. He’s a big body. He can foul.
That hurts, man, that hurts.
Regardless of whether Perk has lost of step or whether we're okay without him, I think most of us can agree that Jeff Green has been pretty bad. I know to some fans that's borderline blasphemy, but Jeff Green's play has fluctuated between "pretty bad" and "atrocious" thus far in the playoffs. 34.3% shooting, while playing mostly poor to terrible defense? Yeah, sign me up for Tony Allen. If Tony Allen doesn't have quite the same impact coming off the bench as he does as a starter, what can possibly be said about Green in that regard? He's barely looked like a serviceable NBA player at times. Add Tony to this roster -- even if it was in place of Jeff Green -- and we'd be appreciably and instantaneously better (and, without doubt, tougher).
I guess what it comes down to for me is that on one hand, I watch Tony Allen flying all over the court, harassing guys who are five inches taller than him and never backing down. On the other end of the spectrum, we've got Dwyane Wade killing the Celtics, and Jeff Green couldn't defend Wade, Lebron James, or the mighty James Jones. Maybe that's not fair, but I'd feel a lot better if our bench was feasting on some salmon and mashed potatoes right now.
In conclusion, I submit the following:
Until Perk somehow shaves a graphic representation of Thunder into his head, this case is closed. We miss Tony, and we need him now.