Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Kendrick Perkins and Sacrifice

“When I was in Boston, I played with a few Hall of Famers, but they was toward the end of they career. And so they didn’t have a problem with sacrificing. Well, now you got guys like KD and Russ who are in their primes. You got Serge who’s trying to make a name for himself as far as trying to make an All-Star game. So it’s kind of hard to ask them to sacrifice, especially before the All-Star break. But the thing is is that if we want to get to where we’re trying to go, and you watched San Antonio who won it all this year, they sacrificed from the beginning to the end.” - Kendrick Perkins

When OKC traded for Kendrick Perkins a few years ago, one of the big selling points was his veteran leadership, championship experience and the way he could help out in the locker room. Of course, one of the other ones was that Perkins could anchor the defense and give them solid two-way play at the center position. That ship has long since sailed, but Perkins is still around to tell everyone they need to sacrifice to win a ring.

Perkins model of sacrifice closely resembles what he saw in Boston - guys taking fewer shots, moving the ball and playing without an ego. However, that's not the only type of sacrifice a guy can make. The ironic thing about the last few seasons in OKC is that the two guys who preached sacrifice the most - Perkins and Derek Fisher - are also the two guys who were never asked to sacrifice anything for the good of the team.

Just because Perk doesn't have any plays run for him on offense and doesn't take a lot of shots doesn't mean he is actually making a sacrifice. When a C is averaging 3 points a game on 45% shooting, there's not much reason to get him the ball more often. It's not a sacrifice when you aren't allowed to do something that you aren't good at. Perk has been a historically bad offensive player for years, yet his spot has never been in jeopardy before this season.

While Scott Brooks has yet to announce who will be their starting C, all signs point to Perk finally losing his iron grip on a starting job. Kevin Durant's injury means the Thunder desperately need more offense from their starting unit and Steven Adams has really stepped up in the pre-season with Perk sitting out, looking right at home with the other starters. There really isn't a debate as to who is the better offensive player of the two.

Adams may not be the low-post defender that Perkins is, but asides from a few match-ups with Houston and Memphis, that isn't a huge deal in the modern NBA. When a team is spreading the floor and playing small-ball, i.e. Miami in the 2012 Finals, Perk is pretty much useless. If he sacrificed some playing time, it would do OKC a lot of good. There are a lot of games on the schedule where Perk would be most valuable as a DNP-CD.

Even when KD returns, there still won't be many situations where they need to use Perk. When Adams isn't in the game, OKC would probably be better off going small. I would love to see more of a Ibaka-KD-PJ3 front-court - that's three elite 6'11+ athletes with long arms who spread the floor. The biggest complaint about Brooks is his lack of line-up creativity and a lot of that has to do with the 280 pound anchor in the middle of them.

The problem is that everyone in OKC seems to walk on eggshells around Perk in terms of his role with the team. Over the last few seasons, Brooks has acted like Perk is a delicate wall-flower whose confidence will be crushed if he is removed from the starting line-up, doing a lot of juggling to make sure that he feels like a vital part of the team. It's understandable that he wants to play as much as possible, but let's not pretend that it's for the good of the team.

It can wear a little thin for guys like James Harden and Reggie Jackson to hear Perk and Fish talk about sacrifice. Practice what you preach! If you aren't being productive, tell the coach you would be willing to take a smaller role. And let's be real, there were a lot of situations over the last few seasons when those two were not productive. If you look at the last few postseasons, it appears there was literally nothing they could do to lose minutes.

I've been talking about Fish shooting 32% from the floor in last year's playoffs for awhile, but that was still better than the mark Perk set two years ago. OKC's starting C shot 28% from the field in the 2013 playoffs and everyone acted like it was all good cuz that's not Perk's role on the team! If you are that bad on offense, you had better be playing Dwight Howard/Dikembe Mutombo level D to make up for it and even then, it would be close.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a center shoot that low from the field. It's not like the guy is throwing up a bunch of difficult shots. He's literally standing next to the basket most of the game. If you took a guy off the street and threw him in an NBA game, that's what his percentage would look like. That's probably an overstatement, but I'm pretty confident that every C in the D-League would comfortably shoot a much higher percentage if they were in OKC's line-up.

In a situation like that, a guy could swallow his pride and admit to the coach and himself that he isn't helping the team. That's not an easy thing to do, obviously, but making ACTUAL sacrifices never are. That's why it's called a "sacrifice" - if it was easy, everyone would do it. If you are telling guys they need to take fewer shots for the good of the team while you refuse to play fewer minutes, there's a word for that and it isn't "leadership". Remove the log out of your own eye before you worry about the speck in your brothers.

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