As our summer mainstay, Aaron's writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. Intent is to get you talking, thinking, and appreciating the myriad of wonderful folks who play in our favorite sports league. Today we continue with Kendrick Perkins, Brandon Bass, and Nikola Vucevic.
Follow Kendrick Perkins. In real life. Wait, don't do that, that's stalking.
I understand the compulsion. I really do. The Magic were bad against the Celtics for a few years, primarily because the Celtics featured an incredibly good defensive attack. Ergo, it's simple to say "hey, Dwight Howard was stopped by Kendrick Perkins." It doesn't hurt that, for a game or two, Howard got into foul trouble due to aggression by the Boston wings and had his minutes curtailed, depressing his in-game totals. It doesn't hurt that, by the eye test, Perkins' contests were effective and every Howard basket seemed harder than it usually was. And it certainly doesn't hurt that the Celtics are a jawing bunch, on defense, that annoys players like Howard by getting under his skin and making him visibly frustrated. There's a real desire to look at Howard and go "alack, poor Kendrick, he guards him well!" It's the same with point guards -- when Howard or Bogut or Bynum gets their hands dirty and shuts down the paint, turning Tony Parker's forays into a journey replete with danger, it's generally reported as the point guard getting the better of Parker, or of some nebulous concept of a team's "perimeter stopper" doing the job. This isn't always the case, though -- defensive assignments are incredibly fluid, and generally, the last line of defense ends up doing a large margin of the work on the point guards.
The same isn't exactly true of big men matchups, like Perkins on Howard, because as the last line of defense they end up being (predictably) the last line of defense against the bigs as well. But the same principle isn't totally absent, either. Perkins certainly doesn't guard every Dwight Howard possession, as there are numerous possessions Howard slips his way out of Perkins' buttery grasp to make an easy seemingly-unguarded two. Or, against the Celtics, possessions where the Magic slipped Howard from Perkins to Garnett in order to take advantage of -- ... Hey, wait a second! That virtually never happened. It's almost as though the Magic didn't like the Garnett-on-Howard matchup, realizing that the 7'0" Garnett lords over the 6'9" Howard and is one of the greatest defensive players of his generation. So, wait. You're telling me that the Magic probably chose to put Howard on Perkins, thus increasing the amount of time Perkins would see minutes on Dwight. Which then ensured that if the Celtics' superior defense quashed the Magic's offense -- whether they quashed Dwight or not -- Perkins would (essentially accidentally) be seen by the mass public as having spent the most time on Dwight and be "responsible" for any failures? Well! That explains a lot!
Alright. Look. I'm being unreasonably facetious, I know. The fact is, though, the "Dwight stopper" trope has reached levels of nested absurdity too ridiculous to handle with anything other than dripping contempt. Kendrick Perkins doesn't singlehandedly "stop" Dwight any more than Jameer Nelson "stops" Tony Parker, or Derek Fisher "stops" any point guard the Lakers have ever faced. Perkins is a decent man-to-man defender -- he's an old school player, one that scraps and grabs jerseys and throws bruising elbows. He's kind of a major jerk, on the court. But he doesn't stop Dwight. He isn't even all that effective a Dwight-stopper -- in games they've both played, Dwight sports a 52% field goal percentage. His career average is 57%, so that's a bit worse than usual, but 52% and eight free throws a game from your starting center are fine totals to roll with. And in the playoffs, that number rises to 55% -- just a hair under his career playoff average. Most of the moves Dwight uses work just as well on Kendrick Perkins as they do on any center. The referees tend to swallow their whistles when Perk is around, for whatever reason, so his main usage on the court is as a physical center that frustrates big men, grabs their jerseys, and plays dirty. He's good at that, for what it's worth, but his uselessness on the offensive end combined with the fact that his defense simply isn't as effective as a physical contesting center like Bogut depletes from his worth. Until last season, he at least provided some solid rebounding -- last season that fell off, and so too did any reason whatsoever for him to play over Nick Collison. Going forward, the OKC contract I was certain would be decent has turned into a relatively massive albatross for the Thunder. Lucky him, though -- his ill begotten "Dwight stopper" reputation is probably going to keep him around, at least until Dwight falls off.
Follow Brandon Bass on Twitter by having Billy Bass read your timeline.
Everybody has limits. It's an ever-present truth found wherever you look in the annals of film, literature, and reality. Part of what makes characters like Neo, Dr. Manhattan, and Star Trek's Q interesting is the implications behind their ridiculous abilities. They've conquered mortality, humanity, and the inherent limits of human nature. But beyond the omniscient, all-powerful character (a somewhat uninteresting trope if approached conventionally, when the writer starts to realize just how boring an all-powerful being would have to be in order to not destroy the world) just about every story ever told relies on the implicit assumptions of limits -- whether they be about people overcoming their limits (a happy story), people succumbing to them (a sad story), or people destroying the lives of those who surround them in an effort to refuse to accept the idea that they even have limits (Breaking Bad). Part of what makes life interesting is in the realization and acceptance of one's limits -- pushing where you can, striving to improve, attempting to keep them at bay until finally becoming at peace with your own flaws and becoming the best person you can possibly be.
This whole concept of limits applies readily to any aspect of life, basketball included. An NBA player can be defined by their skills in a vacuum, their on-court accomplishments, or the things that limit their game. Depending on how you feel about a player, you can assess them through any lens. If you like a player, what's to stop you from focusing entirely on his accomplishments, providing limits only to show how incredible the player is? If you hate him, what's to stop you from focusing entirely on his limits, or how he doesn't stack up to anyone else? Any fair analysis of a player is going to focus around two things -- how limited the player is, how they've strived to succeed within those limits, and how the player has emerged in ways that stretched their limits and brought them to a level people didn't think they'd meet. This segues nicely into today's 2nd player, Brandon Bass. Bass isn't some no-limit ubermensch, no. All things considered? Somewhat limited. He's no physical specimen, although he's got a tough side to him. He doesn't have the ability to make the three, really, and he has virtually no post-up game or a strong at-rim finishing ability. His rebounding instincts are poor, as well. His shot mechanics look strange -- he puts his guide hand on top of the ball in a strange way that almost never works, which would make one wonder if he really has much of a shooting talent at all. Lots of limits.
But, as I said, there are several ways to interpret limits. For Bass, I'd go positive. For what his limits are, Bass is really solid. I'd almost say he's perfect, actually. He's not an incredible defensive player, but he works relatively hard and doesn't make excuses. He didn't fit too well into the Celtics' help defensive schemes early last season, but recouped nicely by the end and was an integral part of the Celtics' outsized postseason push. And his individual defense has always been fine (even though his reputation never quite matched how decent he was on that end). While his at-rim and post-up game leaves a ton to be desired, it's impossible to be anything other than awed by Bass' incredible command of the 10-23 foot jump shot. Bass took a patently ridiculous 7 shots a night from that range last season, making 48% of them -- given that the league average is around 38% and only a single player was able to register above 50%+ from that range on more than two shots a night, it's legitimate to say that he's among the best midrange shooters in the game. While he can't make the three, when you're dragging opposing big men that far outside the paint, you're doing a good job. While his form isn't aesthetically pleasing, it's more effective than numerous "impeccable form" long range bombers, and it clearly works for him. And those free throws! Shooting 80% from the line as a big man is such an underrated talent.
Yes, his rebounding is poor -- it's anemic, in fact -- but it's mostly a function of how far he operates outside the paint on offense. His defensive rebounding rate is only slightly below average for a big man -- it's his work on the offensive glass that really drags his numbers down. Which, again, is a huge . Looking at Bass, I don't really see a single place he can improve that wouldn't involve fundamentally changing the player he is. This isn't to say he's a star -- at his best, he's probably the 4th or 5th best starter on a championship team, or the best guy off the bench. But if you reframe his career relative to his limitations, and look at just how well he does the things he's able to do? Then you start to see a story that's a lot more special than most people think. Bass is a hard worker, a good player, and -- what's more -- a player who's made the absolute most of his potential. A guy who's done what everyone used to criticize LeBron for not doing. Which is an impressive story, even if it requires one to reorient their views on success a little bit.
Follow Nikola Vucevic on ... wait, none of today's three have Twitter?
On the margin, Vucevic was a pretty awful rookie last year. Readers know I don't like slamming players, and I don't really intend to slam him, but he simply wasn't very good. The real key for Vucevic going forward is the same exact thing that was Nikola Pekovic's key heading into 2012. He simply needs to do the things he does well better, and cut out the things he does poorly entirely. He needs to improve in virtually every facet of his game to be a suitable NBA center. His shot selection leaves quite a lot to be desired -- he needs to be set up at the rim more, and he needs to stop posting up with stepbacks until he's actually any good at it. He needs to stop taking three of every six shots from beyond 10 feet -- he can't shoot from that range very well whatsoever. He needs to tighten up his defensive rotations, and do a better job bodying up on defense. He needs to fix his free throw form -- a 70% shooter from the stripe in college, 52% in the big leagues is absolutely not gonna cut it. His athletic limitations aren't great, especially when defending the pick and roll. He got a bit better as the season went along from that early-season problem, but not a heck of a lot. Put simply, he needs to get better. He needs to completely change how he's approaching the NBA game, much like Pekovic did between his shaky first year and his lights-out second year. Go on a vision quest, work with Hakeem, something.
Off the court, Vucevic hails from the Montenegrin region of Europe, which I found interesting and notable mostly because I took the time to watch "Once Brothers" this weekend. That's the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the broken friendship between Drazen Petrovic and Vlade Divac. Amazing documentary, and I'll admit, I teared up a bit at the end. Searching for any Vucevic-to-Petrovic connection brought up nothing of note, other than this May interview where Vucevic admits that he never really saw Petrovic play and grew up idolizing Michael Jordan (as did everyone) and Vlade Divac. The idea that Vucevic idolized Divac made me smile, a bit -- among the core themes of Once Brothers is the idea that Vlade Divac was demonized and pilloried in Croatia (and most places outside his hometown) for a moment's transgression and a mark of disrespect towards the Croatian flag. Well, it's not really an "idea." It's a fact. But the idea that Vucevic doesn't hold that against him, and in fact idolized him from a purely basketball perspective tugged on the heartstrings a bit. It's a nice thing to read. Also included in the highly recommended interview: Vucevic saying that he watched "He Got Game" to help him learn English, the statement that Serbia is "basically California", and notes that knowing French helped him learn English. Pretty cool. Seems like a decent dude, and I personally hope he can pull his own Pekovic and recoup his game in Orlando.
• • •
At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. I'm getting soft, I think. Just about everyone got high scores on yesterday's group, with @JoshsPseudonym being the first to get a 3/3. Good work.
- Could've starred in Hitchcock's "The Birds", if only he'd been alive. Maybe a bit too colorful, though.
- Seeing Player #140 play for the Bulls is going to be really, really strange next season.
- Given the sheer amount of time Player #141 has been in the league, and his insane number of teams, I was shocked to find he was only 30. Crazy.
Another day, another dollar. If only I made dollars for these. Adios, amigos.