Thinking over some of the elite teams in the NBA over the years, we can point to a dominant big man on most of them. The Lakers of the 80s had Kareem, the Celtics of the 80's had Parish, Pistons of the 80s had Laimbeer, the Rockets had Hakeem and Sampson, the Lakers of the 90s had Shaq and now the Heat have Shaq, the Spurs had Robinson and now Duncan. There does seem to be a trend whereas even fast break teams like today's Heat and the Showtime Lakers had a big man to anchor them in the middle.
Only 10 teams since 1975 have won it all without a Hall Of Fame center and six of those ten were Jordan's Bulls. The 76. Every team has has a strong center though: '74 and '76 Celtics, Cowens; '75 Warriors, Clifford Ray; '77 Blazers, Walton; '78 Bullets, Unseld; '79 Sonics, Sikma; '80,'82,'85,'87,'88 Lakers, Abdul Jabbar; '83 Sixers, Moses Malone; '81,'84 Celtics, Parish, '86 Celtics, Parish and Walton; '89 and '90 Pistons, Laimbeer; '91,'92,'93 Bulls Cartwright and Purdue; '94, '95 Rockets, Hakeem; '96,'97,'98 Bulls, Longly and Wennington; '99 Spurs, Robinson and Duncan; '00,'01,'02 Lakers, Shaq; '03,'05,'07, Duncan; '04 Pistons, Wallace; and '06 Heat, Shaq. In every case except the Bulls teams, the team had a very strong and dominant center.
It is no secret that the center position is one of the hardest to fill. It is also one of the most crucial spots to fill. Where do the Celtics stand as far as their big men? Do we have a center who has the ability to dominate in the middle? I believe we do.
Perk is entering his 5th year now. Coming directly from high school, it was expected that he would take longer to develop than if we had brought in a player with college experience. His first year can't be considered to be any experience at all. He played in only 10 games and averaged a paltry 3.5 minutes per game. But during that year, he worked very, very hard on getting his body into NBA shape and he has become a strong and muscular center that no one (not even Shaq) can push around. Since we we didn't see much of him in his first year, no one really knew what we had in Perk. Below are two pictures, taken over two years apart, one from a December 13, 2003 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves (left), and the second from a November 25, 2005 game against the Charlotte Bobcats. He is striking almost identical poses in the photographs with his hands on his hips and his elbows flared as he prepares to take a free throw. These pictures show the big difference in Perk as he worked very hard to remake his body from High School shape to NBA ready. And keep in mind that he had already started working out and had come aways already before the first picture was taken.
After his lost first year, he didn't fare much better in the second year. He played in only 60 games and averaged a shade over 9 minutes per game. By this time, the fans had begun to see what Perk could really do and on just about every board and blog you could read posts asking why Perk wasn't getting more time because he was producing when he was in the game. He still had a propensity to foul more than he should have, but he was rebounding and playing hard and was capable of changing the game by shutting down the middle. But still, he sat way more than he played. In December, Raef was out with an ankle injury and Perk got a chance to finally play some real minutes. He played a career high 25 minutes and showed what he is capable of by controlling the rebounds on both ends of the court and finished with 13 total. When he got the playing time, he produced, but for some reason, he was still kept on the bench most of the time.
The next year started out with much of the same. He racked up several DNP's and played sparing minutes behind Raef and Blount. After the trade that sent Blount to Minnesota, Perk was moved into the starting lineup and he produced. He had 25 games that season where he got close to a starter's minutes of 24 mpg or more. In those games he averaged 9.1 ppg on 54% shooting, 8.5 rpg, 2.2 bpg and 1.2 apg. Keep in mind that he did this with very little playing time previous to this. With regular playing time, he can easily be a double double player night in and night out.
At the end of that season, he injured his shoulder and had shoulder surgery in the off season. Because of this, he didn't get to work with Clifford Ray last summer like Al Jefferson did. We saw the difference Ray made in Al's game but Perk couldn't work out until almost training camp. Then, during the season, he developed plantar fasciitis. In spite of being in excruciating pain most of the time, Perk only sat out 10 games and played hurt most of the season because he was needed by the team. But the injury slowed him down and once again, we weren't able to see what Perk is truly capable of. Toward the end of the season, he started to feel better and we saw some solid play and got a hint of what we can expect from him.
One of the knocks on Perk is that he has a tendency to foul. Here is a quote from Dave Cowens' bio:
"One of the things Cowens did too much in his rookie year with the Celtics was foul other players; he committed a league-high 350 infractions. (He would foul out of 90 games by the end of his career, a total that ranks among the top 20 of all time.)"
Referees don't give young centers much respect and they don't get the foul calls that veterans do. Last season, Perk didn't get called for fouls near as much as he did in the previous seasons. If Dave Cowens could dominate in the league and get called for a large number of fouls, so can Perk. Fouling a lot also comes from their strong desire to win and going all out on the court to prevent the other team from scoring. With 4 seasons under his belt, Perk will start to get some of those calls that have previously gone against him. Also, having the offseason to work with Clifford Ray for the first time as well as getting to work with Tom Thibodeau, who is responsible for Yao Ming's development, I expect Perk to be much less foul prone.
Perk is a tough player in the mold of the centers of years ago. He is an intimidator. His motto is "No layups" and he does a good job of enforcing it. Even against Shaq, he is able to hold his own under the basket. Perk has one of the best work ethics in the league. He took 2 days off at the end of the season and then was back in the gym working hard on his game. He has been in Boston all summer working out and working on his game. I am sure that with Al gone, Clifford Ray can concentrate on working with Perk and I am execting this work to pay big dividends this season.
Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett may be the big three that everyone is talking about. We now have 3 all stars who will lead the team and get most of the media attention, but in my opinion, Perk is one of the keys to our making the playoffs and to the Celtics becoming a contender for the title once again. As history has shown, we need a dominant center to win a championship and I believe we have one. "No Layups."