No big surprise: Jefferson and Perkins expected success
|02.01.09 at 4:26 pm ET|
If someone had said during the Boston Celtics 18-game losing streak Kendrick Perkins would win an NBA Championship and Al Jefferson would become an All-Star caliber player in less than two years, they would have been laughed at. Yet the pair of big men have made a remarkable turnaround from the dismal 2007 season. And while their accomplishments may have seemed unlikely just a few seasons ago, neither are surprised by the others success.
“It’s funny because his game has improved a lot, of course, because every year you have in this league you get better and better,” Jefferson said of Perkins. “But the things he’s doing now, I’d even seen them when I was here.”
Jefferson and Perkins faced off on Sunday when the Celtics took on the Timberwolves in Boston. (RECAP HERE) Perkins was nonchalant about the match up — “Man, I just want to hoop” — and seemed unfazed by the success of his close friend. The two had a strong chemistry on and off the court, and saw potential in one another early on. So when Jefferson was the centerpiece of the Kevin Garnett deal, Perkins wasn’t shocked.
“He’s grown a lot, but he was doing the same thing when he was here,” Perkins said. “It’s not like he just developed into this star player when he got to Minnesota. That’s why he got traded for Garnett, because he was that type of player before he left here.”
In Jefferson’s last season with the Celtics, he averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds. This season he is ranked first among all centers in scoring (23.2 ppg), fifth in rebounds (10.6), and has recorded 26 double-doubles.
“I think Al is really learning how to be a leader,” Perkins said. “You can tell he’s talking more, he’s communicating on the court, he’s telling guys where they need to be. I think Al’s stepping up, being more of a vocal leader. He’s taking pride in playing defense and it’s really just going from there.”
Even when the Celtics were losing, Jefferson was one of the bright spots on the team. Perkins, however, struggled to learn his role as a defensive presence. He forced baskets and was reluctant to scale down his offensive game.
“The biggest thing when I was here was he was the type of guy who wanted to rush his offense, he wanted to take shots, he wanted to kind of like be a scorer,” Jefferson said. “And Doc (Rivers) used to always tell him, ‘You’re not a scorer. You’re the type of guy who sets pick and rolls. That’s how you get your point.’ And I think that’s what he’s doing now. He finally accepted that and now he gets his points. He scores just as much now just doing his role by setting picks and rolling to the front of the basket, getting offensive rebounds. He’s getting his points that way and I think he’s finally accepted his role and that’s what’s making him a great player.”
It took losing the player he relied on the most for Perkins to improve his game. He is averaging 8.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, and shooting 59.5% from the field this season, compared to 4.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 49.1% FG in his last season before the trade. Perkins soaked up Garnett’s veteran knowledge and even began to implement a high-low pass that he learned from Jefferson.
“That’s all he really needed was a guy like KG who was defensive-minded just to bring him up even more,” Jefferson said. “So the things he’s doing now, I’d seen them when I was here. Perk was always one of the guys that was hard for me to score on even in practice. We used to go at each other so it’s fun watching him grow as a player.”
At just 24 years old, Jefferson and Perkins are only beginning to reach their potential. But regardless of how successful the other becomes, it’ll be no big surprise for these big men.
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