Ball Don't Lie

Kendrick Perkins, after watching Chris Bosh score a game-changing bucket, calls out some anonymous Thunder players

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Kendrick Perkins cuts off the Christmas lanes (Getty Images)

Late in Oklahoma City’s loss to the Miami Heat on Tuesday, Thunder center Kendrick Perkins was caught out of position defensively in a move that would have made no sense even if his teammates had been on the same page with the defensive-minded center. With Perkins strangely guarding the baseline and LeBron James’ off hand, Heat big man Chris Bosh was able to make a junior high cut straight to the front of the rim, wherein James dropped the obvious pass. The Heat went up four, and Miami’s win was just about sealed.

Upset, Perkins could be seen yelling at both Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin in the timeout huddle that followed. Did he want them to cover his man based solely on the premise that LeBron James – one of the NBA’s all-time unselfish superstars, for years to a fault – was bound to shoot going to his left? Or did he just appear indecisive, as it looked to the outsiders watching, and get caught? Watch the video:

That’s Jalen Rose, master at help defense, chiding by the way. And he’s completely right. Even with all manner of help, Perkins played the angles incorrectly, and was picked off by one of the game’s great passers. It didn’t directly cost Oklahoma City the win, but it didn’t help either.

Following the game, Perkins went on record to complain about … something. We’re not sure.

From the Oklahoman’s Darnell Mayberry:

“I just feel like — never overreacting to a loss — we just got to start getting back to who we are as individuals,” Perkins said. “Turning off the TV and stop looking at articles on ourselves and start just losing ourselves in the team a little bit more than the sky's the limit.”

Perkins did not single out any of his teammates but said the focus, as a team, needs to be on maintaining what it is that's made OKC successful early this season.

“We just got to start knowing what got us here and what each guy did to get us to this point,” Perkins said. “We just got to make sure we start knowing who we are and what we are and what we mean to this team as individuals and the rest will take care of itself.”

I’m sure it will, once we find out whatever the heck Perkins is talking about.

He could be referencing Ibaka, who took in some undeserved Defensive Player of the Year votes (possibly to Perkins’ chagrin) last season before earning some on-point marks as a much-improved defender this year.

He could be referencing Kevin Martin, who has been rightfully lauded for helping the Thunder’s offense stay alive (and actually improve) in the wake of the deal that sent James Harden to Houston.

Or, he could be talking about Russell Westbrook. A player few seem to enjoy these days, an often unfairly maligned presence on the team that prevents us from turning on our TV during the weekday’s morning hours even though we work from home.

It’s true that ego and exposure can get to NBA players, and sometimes prevent them from consistently coming through with the same sort of attitude and production levels that made them so great in the first place. NBA players don’t really pay much attention to “articles,” though, and their TV viewing experiences are usually left to a few “SMDH” responses to what might be playing on ‘SportsCenter’ in the hours after shootaround and before that night’s game. There’s just not a lot of time in an NBA season for players to catch up on what everyone thinks of them. Excluding for Twitter and Facebook, perhaps.

This comes on the heels of the fever pitch wondering what Kendrick Perkins gives to this team, exactly. Besides, of course, those “intangibles” that we’re still not seeing. The Miami Heat and many other teams are winning big by going small, and if the Heat is going to field a lineup full of shooters and Chris Bosh in the “middle,” why is Perkins (a walking anachronism in this set-up) out there at all?

Veteran guidance? Sure, but does he need 26 minutes a game to mete that out? Can’t he just do that in huddles, on the bench, and in the locker room? Why hamstring a team’s play – apparently on both sides of the ball now – for that guidance? And should guidance involve calling out teammates in full view of the ABC cameras with a game that’s still winnable in the balance? Can’t cussing out Ibaka and Martin wait until after the biggest game of the year?

As far as his defensive intangibles go, there is absolutely nothing that suggests Perkins is keeping his 11th-ranked Thunder afloat on that end.

The center position is by far the worst position OKC defends, which would seem to indict each of the team’s bigs, if Perkins didn’t give up a higher rate of production than his Thunder colleagues in the middle. Over the course of 48 minutes, on average, the Thunder is almost seven points per game better than their opponents with Perkins on the floor. That’s nice, until you read about Nick Collison’s much-nicer 15.3 points per 48 minutes mark.

Overall, even with the Thunder pacing the West for most of the year, the team’s starting lineup featuring Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha (see the top spot here) is pretty “meh,” which would appear to also indict Thabo until you see that he does quite well in smaller lineups that feature Collison and/or Kevin Martin along with Ibaka. We’re not asking him to be shelved completely, like the Heat mistakenly did earlier this season with Joel Anthony. The can guy still start, even, and be used in spot duty after his 1st and 3rd quarter cameos.

By any measure, though, Perkins is the weak link. So why is he the loudest voice?

The half-full approach gives us a half-empty response, which we don’t mind, telling us we’re big dummies that do not know what’s going on behind the scenes of a team Perkins has been charged to lead as a former NBA champion. We’d love it if Perkins’ words were not only a smartly-crafted and tactful set of shots at an anonymous player or players that deserve it, but one that led to greater things for his team.

Without that elucidation, though, we’re left to wonder. And while a person’s character shouldn’t be judged too harshly by a rise of temper in the waning moments of a big game, Perk didn’t mind showing his teammates up after a play that seemed to be completely his fault. While complaining more and more behind the scenes later.

We’d like to hear more from Perk. Thunder fans might be getting to a point to where they want to see less of him, though.

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