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Just How Bad is Kendrick Perkins, Really?

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It's the eternal question. Why is Kendrick Perkins playing as our starting center, eating away almost 25 minutes a game? What does he really bring to the table?

This is Perk's nightly Steve Nash impression, which has drawn the chagrin of Thunder fans and Shaq alike.
This is Perk's nightly Steve Nash impression, which has drawn the chagrin of Thunder fans and Shaq alike.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It's the eternal question. Why is Kendrick Perkins playing as our starting center, eating away almost 25 minutes a game? What does he really bring to the table?

The question, for me, has always been hard to answer. Kendrick Perkins, despite being big and slow, is one of the most unnoticeable players out on the floor. He stays in the post, he mostly shoots open layups, he almost never handles the ball, and he guards big guys in the paint. About the only time you do notice him is when he provides some silly pressure defense, shoots one of his wonky jumpers, or handles the ball just a bit too much.

What he supposedly does for the team, like setting screens and providing great help defense, isn't quantifiable in stats. So he often gets unfairly derided, because you don't see a lot on the court or in the box score, and what you do see is largely negative.

To solve this issue, I decided to watch a few games of Kendrick Perkins footage, and focus my whole attention on what he was doing. How he was setting screens, posting up, boxing out, and defending. I also took a look at some Synergy Sports stats and clips, which really helped me get a better grasp of his game. After my research, it was apparent that some critics' sentiments about Kendrick Perkins were correct, while others were totally false. My results are below.

What the critics say that is right:

Perkins sets good screens. Yes, believe it or not, Kendrick Perkins is an excellent screen setter. He almost never rolls to the basket, but his body is so big and stable that he's good at stuffing the opposing defender and drawing a mismatch. However, he's almost too good of a screen setter, because he always toes the line of an illegal screen, and it's easy for him to get blown for stupid calls at the worst times.

Perkins sucks at posting up. This is entirely true. Unless he's going against a guy who's just hopelessly smaller than him, he's just not that good at completing post up plays. First of all, he usually receives the ball way too far out. Secondly, he works his way into the paint so slowly that he's always in danger of losing the ball or getting a three second violation called on him. Thirdly, the shot usually ends up being an extremely difficult jump hook, some of which I couldn't even see Kareem nailing. Fourthly, even when he does get a good opportunity near the rim, he botches it. Suffice to say, given the information above and his 13% success rate when posting up, it might be a good idea to not call this play anymore. The good news? He's posted up only 15 times in 36 games.

Perkins can't defend shooters. This one's simple, and it's painfully obvious. He's way too slow to get out to any center who can shoot, and gives up way too many points to them. Moreover, he can't capitalize by making the other guy pay on the other end of the floor, because his offense is so incredibly weak.

What the critics say that is wrong:

Perkins' jumper is terrible. This one's just dead wrong. We all know that his jumper is really wonky looking. Every time he rises up for it, it looks like he's pulling the ball out of his pocket. Also, the release is slow as molasses, and when he misses it, he misses it hard. Still, he shoots around 45% on his jumpers, which isn't bad. It's not ideal for shots that are taken wide open, but when he nails them, it does a lot to get the opposing center out of the paint.

Perkins can't rebound. Kendrick Perkins has low rebounding numbers for his position and the amount of time that he's on the floor. He's third on the team at 5.7 per game, and he's been frequently accused of not boxing out. While it's true that he's a bit spacey at times, I don't think he's any more inept at rebounding than the next center. The problem is, the Thunder's starting lineup is full of excellent rebounders. Durant and Ibaka are both just about as tall as Perkins, and they're both way more athletic. Sefolosha and Westbrook are big for their positions and love to hustle for boards. On several occasions, I saw Perk in position for a defensive board, but a teammate would come up and snatch it while Perk kept the opposing center away. In fact, aside from the standard Collison/Ibaka lineup, all of the Thunder's best regular rebounding lineups feature Perkins. To me, the most important stat is how many offensive rebounds the Thunder allow. And while it's true that the Thunder allow the 9th most offensive boards in the NBA, they also allow the 9th most field goal attempts in the NBA. So, long story short, they aren't exactly struggling, and Perkins isn't a huge problem in that area.

Perkins can't defend the lane. Fact is, Kendrick Perkins is one of the league's best help defenders in the lane. He does a good job of avoiding needless fouls (he averages only 2.5 a game), and his communication with Serge Ibaka is excellent. According to Synergy, he's the 5th best pick and roll defender in the league in terms of points per possession, and the 15th best defender overall.

Perkins handles the ball too much. Yes, Kendrick Perkins will have about 1-2 plays a game where he dribbles the ball down the floor and everyone holds their breath. But those plays are so few and far between that they rarely, if ever, affect the outcome of the game. He only averages 1.4 Turnovers, and while that's high for how much he handles the ball, it's hardly a hindrance. Sometimes his adventures with the ball end up paying big dividends, and it keeps the opposing team guessing.

The Conclusion:

Honestly, the Thunder could do better than Kendrick Perkins. In terms of starting centers in the NBA, he's probably in the bottom 10. But the fact is, the Thunder don't have anyone remotely good enough to replace him in the starting lineup right now, aside from Nick Collison. And Collison ends up getting almost the same amount of minutes that Perkins does, anyway. When you really get down to it, the real blessing of Kendrick Perkins is that he doesn't screw up too often. Yeah, you could pick his game apart and find flaws, but players like Russell Westbrook make three times the mistakes that Perkins does. Overall, he just doesn't hurt the team incredibly badly in any particular area. And what he does positively (or at least, adequately) more than balances out his negatives.

If you still hate Kendrick Perkins, think of it this way. Public opinion about Perk has swayed from total love to almost universal hate. Most harken back to the Perkins trade as the deal that put Oklahoma City on the NBA map. And most people loved his defensive intensity early on, because he was a gigantic upgrade compared to the defensive vortex that was known as Nenad Krstic. But over the years, Perk showed no signs of improvement, and people started to get fed up because they think he's the lineup's weak link. He might be the worst player in the starting lineup in terms of skill, but he's a rock of stability in terms of certain functions on the floor. He eats up space, sets screens, provides help defense, and et cetera. If the Thunder had a flakier guy filling those roles, offensive opportunities for other players might be scarce, and the Thunder's defense might suffer.

I'm not saying that other players couldn't do what Kendrick Perkins does on the floor. But if you think of nothing else when you think of Kendrick Perkins, think of this: It could be worse. Much, much worse.

That being said, when he keeps getting killed by a shooter, please, Scott Brooks, make a lineup adjustment.

What do you think about Kendrick Perkins? Drop a comment and let us know!