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Kendrick Perkins: Offensive Force, Defensive Failure

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Perk has always been admired for a gritty post game and lockdown D. But what he actually brings to the table may surprise you....

Air Perk
Air Perk
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Perk.

The name is short, to the point, and doesn't front. It pretty much embodies everything that Kendrick Perkins represents as a persona. He's the tough but lovable guy that makes mistakes but will always have your back. For the most part, Perk's persona translates to his game. Perk does the dirty work, sets screens, keeps his man out of the paint, and boxes out for boards.

However, one thing that always irks me in discussions about Kendrick Perkins is his supposed effect on defense. This was more of an issue in the past than it is today, but I'm still hearing respected analysts continue to talk about Perk's ability to fill the lane or halt opposing centers.

Quite frankly, all of this discussion needs to end. Kendrick Perkins is a good defender in two situations. Two.

1. You need Perk to use his weight to keep a post banger away from the rim. This only works if said post banger has absolutely no jump shot to speak of. This year's list of post bangers that Perk should defend well includes Dwight Howard, Zach Randolph, Derrick Favors, Jonas Valanciunas, and San Antonio's Splitter/Duncan/Baynes combo. Other bigs will almost always burn Perk with a jumper, or are simply not enough of a threat for Perk's D to matter much.

2. You need Perk to take a mismatch on the perimeter. For some reason, giving Perk a mismatch always seems to light a flame under his butt psychologically. It's like you see his eyes light up once he's given the chance to shut down a guard, and he's extremely good at reading his opponent's movement. Perk's large size also generally discourages his opponent from driving in, so he's almost always able to force the jumper.

In all other situations, Kendrick Perkins is a defensive problem. Why are we discovering this just now? The answer is simple. Until this season, Perk spent virtually his entire Thunder career playing next to Serge Ibaka. Ibaka is a truly unique player in that he can lead the NBA in total blocks for four straight years while only standing 6'10". In other words, Ibaka is able to completely control the paint from the power forward position, effectively letting Perkins focus on his matchup. Also, Perk's matchup would often hang out near the lane, so Perk would get to participate in the defense when the ball came to him. This effectively masked some of Perk's ineffectiveness.

But now, Kendrick Perkins is leading his own defensive unit. And instead of playing next to one of the most athletic power forwards in the NBA, Perk is now slotted next to the 34-year-old Nick Collison or the 38-minute-a-game Kevin Durant. Collison and Durant are both capable defenders in their own right, but neither can fill the lane. Collison never had the athleticism or size to be that type of player, even in his prime. Meanwhile, Durant is generally more focused on other aspects of his game.

Where's my proof that Perk is struggling on the defensive end? Let's go to the stats. These are the 12 most used two man lineups over the first 21 games of the year, courtesy NBA.com.

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  • If you take a look at the RED boxes, you'll see how many blocks Perk's lineups get when he's in the game with Morrow, Collison, and Jackson, respectively. When you compare them to the block count of every single lineup above and below Perk, you'll see that it's significantly lower.
  • The ORANGE boxes represent how many rebounds Perk's lineups get. The PURPLE boxes represent how many rebounds the lineups including Steven Adams or Serge Ibaka (or both) have gotten. The comparison is almost night and day, as the rebounding count of Perk's lineups is almost universally lower. The only exception is the Adams/Thomas lineup, which has an exceptionally high offensive rebounding rate to make up for it.
  • The GREEN boxes showcase good news. Within them, you'll find the three point percentage of the team while Perk was in the game with Anthony Morrow and Reggie Jackson. Both of them are significantly higher than any other lineup above or below them. There's no better proof of Perk's ability to clear out space for shots on offense.

But I know that not everyone's convinced by the numbers. Here's some cold, hard, visual evidence of Perk's newfound offensive usefulness. When the Thunder needed points in the fourth quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks last night, they went to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Big deal, eh? Well, the bigger deal is that Kendrick Perkins was right there along with them, and he was making their lives a whole lot easier.

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I don' t think I need to tell you that all of those plays resulted in open shots near the rim. Obviously, I'm cheating a bit here. The Bucks were going small to start the fourth, playing Jared Dudley at the four. They opted to cover shooters on D, and left the paint wide open. Still, Perk's screens were successful in getting OKC players open, and these six points were absolutely essential for putting Milwaukee away and establishing garbage time. Furthermore, I went through the footage of the game and snapped images of three more Perk screens that were absolutely essential in creating space for a Thunder player to nail a shot or get fouled.

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What's the biggest thing to take away from this? Look at how little everyone else on offense is moving. Seriously, if you go back through all 6 of these images, you'll only find serious motion in the sixth image, where you see Durant retreating to the three point line. Other than that, the team is just standing around. Perk's screens are literally so much of an offensive force that the other team can expect them and sometimes do nothing about them. I mean, these aren't quick-fire screens we're talking about. The shot clock is 6 seconds in or deeper every single time.

In other words, Perk is the Thunder's offensive secret weapon. We can use him whenever we want, however obviously we want. Sure, Perk is going to screw things up sometimes with his questionable screening tactics, poor court vision, and general clumsiness. But he more than makes up for that with his role in getting shots when the Thunder need it, and that's why he's going to continue to get fourth quarter minutes this season. Brace yourselves.

Do you think that Kendrick Perkins is an offensive force? Or am I looking in all the wrong places? Drop a comment and let us know!