Following the charges of assault on a woman and her brother outside a Houston nightclub in July, the question that has plagued the Oklahoma City Thunder for the past two years has reared its ugly head again: Is keeping Kendrick Perkins on the roster worth it?
This is by no means a new issue, as every year seems to give the Thunder more and more legitimate reasons to cut him. There is no denying that Perkins can be a defensive stud, but with Serge Ibaka’s wizardry on defense and Perkins’ sometimes baffling on and off court actions, it raises the question as to whether the team should shop him around.
Perkins came over to the Thunder in February of 2011 in a trade with the Celtics, where he earned a reputation as a hardnosed defensive stopper and one of the toughest players in the game. His strong defensive presence and championship experience from the Celtics 2008 title run brought composure to a young Thunder team and earned him a four year, $34.8 million contract extension before he even stepped onto the court for the Thunder.
That’s right. The Thunder were so smitten by the idea of Perkins in the post that they prematurely guaranteed him about $9 million a year over the next four seasons. But it hasn’t panned out that way. Perkins’ numbers have declined every year that he has played for Oklahoma City, culminating in a pathetic showing this past playoffs.
General manager Sam Presti’s ill-advised contract extension to Perkins also cleared the way for the loss of a former Thunder player who has now developed into one of the league’s premier players: James Harden. Knowing that they couldn’t afford to lose Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, and signing Perkins before he even made an appearance ensured that the Thunder would be strapped for cap space in the not so distant future. And of course, two years down the road, Presti had to make the decision to resign Ibaka or Harden to a max contract and most likely trade the other. With two other premier perimeter players already locked up for the future in Westbrook and Durant, Presti chose to resign the shot blocking extraordinaire as opposed to the best sixth man in basketball. This led to the Harden trade to the Houston Rockets, and with Kevin Martin walking away this summer, the Thunder are left with nothing to show from it but Jeremy Lamb and a 12th pick that became rookie Steven Adams. Not much for a likely perennial All-Star. And it’s all due to Perkins’ decline.
I haven’t even gotten started on his on the court play. Where do I begin?
Kendrick Perkins sets good screens.
So there’s the really good part. Now to the unimpressive part.
Kendrick Perkins sucks at posting up. For a starting center in the NBA, he really only has consistent success in the low post when his defender is much smaller than him. He backs into the post so slowly that he often is in danger of losing the ball. And worst of all, his on-ball post play usually results in awkward jump shots. That brings me to my next point.
Kendrick Perkins can’t shoot a jumper. His form is absolutely awful, and his release is one of the slowest in the league. He shoots only 45%, which is awful considering most of his shots are wide open ones in the paint.
Kendrick Perkins is not a great rebounder. Perkins averaged 5.7 rebounds per game last year. That’s good enough for third on the team. The Thunder’s starting center is only their third best rebounder. Ibaka is supposed to be the shot blocker and Perkins is supposed to be the big body down low to box out and grab some boards. Instead, Ibaka is a much better rebounder. And as lanky as Kevin Durant is, he should not be outrebounding Perkins over the course of a whole season. Ever.
Kendrick Perkins can’t defend shooters. He is painfully slow and lacks the athleticism to get out and defend post players that have any sort of outside jumper. Perkins struggled mightily on defense against the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs because both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have outside jumpers that Perkins could never get out to defend.
Kendrick Perkins can’t score. In his three seasons with the Thunder, he has averaged 5.1, 5.0, and 4.2 points per game. His offensive skills have always been the weakest part of his game, but his declining defensive skills, which used to mask his scoring inefficiencies, now just make his offensive woes stick out even more.
Kendrick Perkins handles the ball too much. Too many times last season, Perkins seemed to get the idea that he was a point guard stuck in his head and, after grabbing a defensive rebound, clumsily dribbled up the court to the basket, only to lose the ball after getting too out of control. Perkins frequently would dribble off of his foot, or leave the ball out to be swiped away by a perimeter defender.
There you have it. The pros and cons of Kendrick Perkins.
There is no doubt that the Thunder could do much worse than Perkins at center. He is nowhere near an elite center, but he is the best option that the team has considering the lack of centers available in free agency. The only other current option that they could use is Nick Collison, and he practically plays the same amount of minutes anyways. And don’t even try to suggest Hasheem Thabeet.
The Thunder, who owe Perkins $18.63 million over the next two seasons, could have amnestied him this offseason and saved over $9 million in cap space, but Presti views him as too valuable to get rid of for no compensation. Even with his new assault charge that has brought negative press to a team that has kept itself away from such bad news. The best hope for the team is that first rounder Steven Adams will develop quickly into a starting caliber center in time to take over the reins in the low post once Perk’s contract expires at the end of next season. I’m crossing my fingers.
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