Nobody can deny Kendrick Perkins' improvement; he's come a mighty long way from the big, bumbling center the Boston Celtics acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies in a draft-day trade in 2003.
Once upon a time, Perkins was best-known for being the second-year player taken off the bench in a 2005 playoff game to shoot Paul Pierce's free throws. For those who forget, Pierce was too shaken up by a hard foul to remain in the game. Perk, who had yet to be inserted into the game prior to that point, was summonsed by Pacers' head coach Rick Carlisle to shoot the free throws (by NBA rules the opposing coach is allowed to choose the free throw shooter if the player who is fouled is unable to shoot the shots). Cold and not a very good shooter to begin with, Perk bricked the two free throws, though the Celtics would still go on to win the game. At that point, Perkins was a goat, a liability.
Now, Perkins is admired and respected by Celtics fans. No longer the scapegoat, no longer the young player struggling to adapt to the drastic change from high school to the NBA, Perk has earned his respect. He's spent a long time with assistant coach Clifford Ray, honing his post game to the point that he is no longer an offensive liability. He's become a defensive stopper, capable of shutting down big men down low or moving his feet to hedge out on the pick-and-roll.
Perkins has improved every year, in leaps and bounds. He's gone from a rookie in 2003, averaging 2.2 points and 1.4 rebounds per game, to an integral piece of a championship contender, a true workhorse able to contend with the likes of Dwight Howard. Rajon Rondo played out of his mind in last year's playoffs, and Ray Allen and Paul Pierce both had their moments, but I would argue it was Perkins who was their most valuable player; it was Perk who held the fort down inside against Superman, who was the Celtics' only reliable low-post stopper and a suddenly reliable scorer on the blocks. Perkins, pretty much on his own, kept Chicago and Orlando from scoring at will in the paint.
But will Perkins ever be an All-Star center?
Before you call me crazy for even suggesting that he might one day make an All-Star team (after all, his career highs are 8.5 points and 8.1 rebounds), hear me out...
Perkins has improved every year. He plays for a championship-caliber team that will likely contend for at least the next two years. His position, center, has traditionally been the easiest at which to make an All-Star team (see: Jamaal Magloire). He's still only 24 years old, and has demonstrated a great work ethic and a willingness to refine new parts of his game each year. Last season, for the first time, he showed the ability to stay out of foul trouble and play more minutes.
More minutes means better stats, and if Perkins can accumulate a double-double average with two blocks per game, and the Celtics can run up the best record in the East, it might be tough to keep the big fella out of the All-Star lineup. And if not this year or next year, what about when Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace no longer play in Boston, and Perkins is the only one left to roam the lane? That will mean more touches and even more minutes and, with his work ethic, he'll presumably be better by then, so...
I know, there's a lot of if's associated with Kendrick becoming an All-Star center, but isn't there a chance? Isn't there?
In the end, it doesn't matter to the Celtics if Perkins makes the All-Star team. They know they can rely on him to be a dependable defender and an opportunistic scorer. They know he'll bang down low and rebound the basketball. It's a testament to how much Perk has improved that everyone assumes Rasheed Wallace will come off the bench rather than supplant Perkins in the starting five.
And that's exactly where the Celtics need him. All-Star or not, Kendrick Perkins has become a key player for the C's now, and a cornerstone for the future.