Reputations can change quickly during the postseason. For proof, look at LeBron James, who has gone from quitting loser to clutch winner over the course of a few weeks. These are the results that define legacies.
Kendrick Perkins is a role player, not a star, but his reputation has nonetheless seen the wildest swing in this year's postseason. In April, Perk was seen as a huge difference maker, the man whose trade took the Celtics out of contention and turned the Thunder into a legitimate threat to go all the way. Then the playoffs actually started and Perkins had trouble defending the Nuggets' Nene, the Grizzlies' Marc Gasol, and now the Mavericks' Tyson Chandler. Suddenly, he's something of a weak link.
Things are getting so problematic, in fact, that various observers are calling for his minutes to be cut significantly. From Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:
Mavs center Tyson Chandler is a nightmare matchup for Perkins. The 7-foot-1 Chandler is one of the most athletic big men in the league, and Perkins, a more plodding, traditional center, has had problems containing him.
In three games, Perkins has scored 15 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked three shots in 82 minutes. Chandler scored the same number of points in Game 2 alone, and in Game 3, Chandler pulled down one more rebound than Perkins has corralled all series.
The evidence runs even deeper.
In Perkins' 82 minutes of playing time, the Thunder has been outscored by 32 points. With Perk on the bench, the Thunder has outscored the Mavs by 23. Furthermore, with Chandler on the court, Perkins' plus/minus per 36 minutes is minus-17.7, according to NBA.com's StatsCube data.
Mayberry also notes that the Thunder turned down a proposed trade involving Chandler due to a missed physical, so this is a moment of irony, or something close to it, for OKC. Perhaps the team would be better off with Nick Collison playing the bulk of the minutes in the middle.
At a deeper level, though, Perkins serves as a lesson that reputations, while grounded in some reality, are largely dependent on context. In Boston, Perkins and Garnett combined to form a terrific defense tandem in the post, both because of their own talents and the way they were deployed in Tom Thibodeau's system. Perk is paired with another good defensive player in OKC in Serge Ibaka, but his skills are not nearly as developed as those of Garnett, one of the best defensive players of the last few decades, and the Thunder employ a different defensive plan than the Celtics.
So while Perkins is roughly the same player he was in Boston, if somewhat hobbled due to offseason knee surgery, he's also being used in a very different way. It's impossible to expect him to be the same player, because context demands that he will be different.
That's not to say that the Thunder will lose because of him, or that Sam Presti's deadline deal was a huge mistake. It's just a reminder that the narrative of Perkins has only drastically changed over this postseason because we've seen new aspects of his game in a new context. It makes little sense to chalk up his struggles to some sort of personal failing that had never been exposed before. Basketball players, like all other human beings, succeed and fail based on their own skills and a host of factors outside of their control.
- Kendrick Perkins
- Tyson Chandler