Name: Kendrick Perkins
Nickname: "Yung Hawg"
Kendrick Perkins came into the 2011-12 season healthy, fit, and ready to go. He ushered in a major shift in how the Thunder had previously approached games. Without internal muscle, OKC depended on their elite scorers to carry the day. With Perkins' stout interior defense, the Thunder transformed into an attacking defensive team that could boast more range and athleticism than just about any other squad in the league. Perkins was expected to continue manning the back line so that the Thunder could continue down this defensive path.
On offense, Perkins had also been working tirelessly on building a game that could complement his teammates. With quicker range of motion, instincts, and experience, Perkins was expected to help make the team more dynamic and dangerous. Olajuwon he ain't, but Perkins had to do enough to keep opposing defenses honest.
Regular Season Grade: B-
Comparing statistics from Perkins' first truncated season to last season don't reveal much. In fact, in most cases we see very little difference at all. His point total was the same, his shooting percentage nearly identical, he played slightly better defense, but his rebounding declined. He was a better passer on offense and vastly improved at the free throw line.
However, despite near-identical statistics, I can't help but feel that Perkins came up a bit short in this past season. There were times when he looked like the stalwart defensive player that we had come to expect. He always plays good position defense, but then with his better conditioning he was able to block more shots. Also with this better conditioning I would have expected his rebounding effort to improve, but his totals actually dropped, even while the league overall was experiencing a decline in shooting percentage.
Most importantly, the Thunder too often slipped into bad defensive habits, and this was the one specific area where Perkins was supposed to help out the most. There were wild swings between a Thunder team that looked to be the Heat's defensive equal, and other times when the Thunder had a difficult time stopping terrible teams like the Wizards. It was precisely because of how great we saw the Thunder defense could be that made their defensive lapses so disturbing.
Or maybe Perkins and the gang were just waiting for the playoffs to start.
Post-Season Grade: B (overall)
What Perkins could give, he gave plenty. However, he could not always give what OKC really needed.
Round 1 vs Mavericks: B-
The Mavericks of 2012 were a far different construct from the 2011 Mavericks. In 2011, the Mavs had the best center in the West in Tyson Chandler, a player who is all the things Perkins is and more. As a result, the Mavericks were able to out-play the Thunder on the interior, play better defense, and generate easier shots for their playmakers.
In 2012 however, the Mavs were bereft of Chandler's services, and his replacements Brendan Haywood and Ian Manhini were not up to the task. They did not present a danger on offense and were mediocre on defense. Therefore, all Perkins really needed to do was prevent them both from getting easy scores off of put-backs. Perkins accomplished this to a reasonable degree, and as a result the Mavs were turned into a one-dimensional team that shot only 40% for the series.
Perkins was solid if not great, but against the Mavericks, that was good enough for a 4 game sweep.
Round 2 vs Lakers: A
In the 2nd round the Thunder finally got their second shot at the Lakers, who in a way were the team that started OKC off on this current playoff stretch. It was in 2010 that the Lakers defeated the Thunder in the 1st round, but by the way the Thunder were uncowed toward the superior Laker team, fans knew that the seed of something big had been planted. It could be argued that Perkins was acquired by the Thunder specifically so that OKC could deal with L.A.'s huge front court, featuring Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol (Lamar Odom subsequently was traded during the off-season). This was the test - would Perkins be the solution?
Despite coming into the series with an injured hip, Perkins accomplished everything he was supposed to accomplish against L.A. He provided stout defense against Bynum, holding the Lakers center under his averages in both points (16.6 vs 20.3 regular season) and rebounds (9.4 vs 10.6 regular season). Most importantly, Perkins took the big center out of the series as the series went on. In the close-out game, Bynum only managed 10 points.
To conclude, the Lakers were the reason why Sam Presti went and got Perkins, and Presti was vindicated in this series by Perkins' performance.
Round 3 vs Spurs: B-
If the year were 2008, then Perkins would have been one of the better men in the NBA for the job of guarding Tim Duncan. However, the year is 2012 and the Spurs have gone from a post-centric offense to a fast-paced kick/slash/cut/shoot dose of basketball poetry. Perkins was clearly out of his element against the Spurs, but he was still able to apply his knowledge of the game to contribute.
The biggest contribution that Perkins made will not show up in box scores, and the reason why is because with the Thunder trailing mid-way through the series, they had to radically shift their defensive philosophy. No longer were they overly concerned about Duncan; rather, everything became focused on keeping Tony Parker out of the lane. Perkins played a big part in coordinating the Thunder's defense from the back line so that ball hawks Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook maintained the proper angles in defending the lightning-quick Parker. The result was that they completely dismantled Parker's drive-and-kick game, and the defensive shift was enough to enable the Thunder to recover and win the series.
Finals vs Heat: C-
Does the fact that we found out after the series was over that Perkins was playing with a torn groin matter in his grade? I'll give Perk some extra credit for being a gamer and trying to stay in front of the more athletic Chris Bosh, but the results were as expected, injury or no. This was not a good series for Perkins to be playing, and Scott Brooks' miscalculation in staying with Perkins too long over a more athletic (if smaller) front line was one of the biggest facets in the Thunder being outplayed. I know that Perkins is a leader, a veteran, and has Finals experience, but the guy just couldn't compete against what the Heat were throwing at him.
It was painful to watch Bosh repeatedly take Perkins off the dribble in the close-out Game 5, but at that point Perkins was so out of sorts and limited in his mobility that he could scarce provide much more.
Most Memorable Game:
The game that sticks out in my mind the most was the first affair on March 24th between our two NBA finalists, the Thunder and the Heat. Both teams were playing stellar basketball at the time and had 2 of the 3 best records in the NBA. Furthermore, it would be our first look at the individual battle between surprise workout buddies, LeBron James and Durant.
It was out of this game that we got our first glimpse of how the Thunder could attack the weaker part of the Heat's defense, and Perkins was a major part of it. By running a number of high screen and rolls and backdoor plays, Perkins got a number of uncontested shots at the rim and made the Heat pay for their over-aggressive perimeter trapping defense.
Sebastian Pruiti at Grandland did a great breakdown of how the Thunder were able to utilize Perkins in this game.
Most Memorable Single Moment:
Perkins showed some really unexpected progress this season, particularly in the passing area. He had a few slick passes that made highlight reels. However, my favorite moment from this past season was probably as much about Durant as it was Perk:
Durant's pass and Perkins' slam was no garbage-time-gimme either. The Spurs still had a shot to come back on the Thunder, trailing by only 4 with plenty of time remaining. However, Perkins' astute reading of the Spurs' defense allowed him to slip behind Tim Duncan, deliver the exclamation point, and an overjoyed Durant could only fall into his family's arms in relief. Quite a moment.
Perkins is and will remain the starting center for the Thunder for the foreseeable future. He is under contract for another three seasons, and while his salary will grow, it looks as if it does not have any crippling escalator clauses that could undo the Thunder front office's carefully designed salary cap structure. There is always the low chance of the Thunder using amnesty on Perkins, but I tend to think that they will let him finish out his contract at the very least.
On the court, Perkins needs to bring his self-admitted acknowledgement that he was not nearly consistent enough last season to a place where he acts upon it. At the end of the day, the Thunder's leading rebounder was not Perkins or even Serge Ibaka, it was Kevin Durant. Durant has improved greatly in the rebounding area to be sure, but that is no excuse for Perkins to be grabbing less than 2 rebounds per quarter on average.
Heading into next season, I think Perkins and the Thunder know what steps are left in order to win the Finals. It is the small things, like boxing out, securing loose balls, and limiting turnovers. Let's hope that they put the regular season to better use to iron out these issues, and let's hope Perk can stay healthy as his team makes another run at the Title.
A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations
Other Player Grades: