A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Kwame Brown, Kendrick Perkins, and Brendan Haywood – The misleading strands of narrative or maybe, the secret importance of character and leadership

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Wizards v/s Thunder 03/14/11

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The most high profile move at the trade deadline last year involved the Boston Celtics trading Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jeff Green and a draft pick (the Los Angeles Clippers protected 1st through 2016). This marked the end of the Boston Celtics starting fivesome of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins that’d won a title and made it to Game 7 of the Finals 2 years later. In a season where they’d been sitting at 1st in the East, the Celtics players were surprised and upset at the deal and never really recovered mentally or on the defensive end. The Thunder appeared to add the missing piece inside, a defensive anchor who could lend them defensive awareness. The move was widely praised as a fabulous “next step” move by the Thunder and they were rewarded with a Western Conference Finals appearance while the Celtics lost in the 2nd round.

This summer the Golden State Warriors signed Kwame Brown to a 7 million, one year contract to fill their defensive center needs after striking out on Tyson Chandler and Deandre Jordan’s free agencies. It was widely panned and laughed at after Kwame’s disappointing career after being picked 1st overall. Kwame’s subpar offensive instincts and disinterested attitude has made him  a walking punchline for years.

Brendan Haywood has had one of the most under the radar careers in the league. After spending his first 10 years in Washington and gaining the appreciation for his post defense from Wizards fans but a “who?” reaction from most casual fans, his signing to be the starting center on Dallas was interrupted when the sudden Tyson Chandler acquisition made him the league’s most expensive backup C. They won a title and he certainly helped. This year he is starting, but the Mavs have lost the swagger they had with Chandler and are off to a slow start.

Thus we have 3 players – Perkins who is praised as a top center, Brown who is widely reviled, and Haywood whom most have not formed a huge opinion on one way or the other. What do they have in common? They’re kind of the same player.

Kendrick Perkins’ standout skill is post defense. He can guard anyone man to man. He’s a solid but not spectacular help defender and rebounder, and offensively he’s one of the league’s ugliest, with stone hands, little post moves and a poor FT percentage.

Kwame Brown’s standout skill is also abnormally strong post defense. He also has terrible, tiny hands and has trouble even catching passes, let alone finishing them and can’t hit FTs. He’s a solid rebounder per minute and can rotate enough to play help defense.

Brendan Haywood’s standout skill is post defense. He has terrible hands and can’t hit FTs whatsoever and can block shots and rebound, but is not mobile enough to be as strong as someone like Tyson Chandler in that area.

Thus we have an interesting situation where all 3 players have very similar functions and strengths on the court. Their reputations have been effected by situation. Perkins landed on an elite Boston team, as a perfect fit for Kevin Garnett’s defensive game and with enough offensive talent to hide his deficiencies. As the starting center on a champion, he is treated as a champion. Kwame was the 1st overall pick and is regarded as a bust and mental disappointment. Haywood became a starting center under the radar and stayed there.

And yet things are not so clear cut in what separates Perkins and Brown. After the Perkins trade I praised it as it gave them a floor leader and directing voice on defense that changed their approach to the game to defensive first and pushed them to play harder than anyone on that end. Perkins worked extremely hard this summer and got into great shape. Surely this work helps rub off on the teammates.

Kwame is of course the opposite. I highly recommend this article on Grantland.com by Jay Caspian King and an incredible article by Sally Jenkins in 2002 linked in the article that chronicles Kwame’s disastrous first year in Washington. There is clearly something wrong there. Indifference, lack of heart, softness, call it what you want. When beginning the Jay Caspian King article, I expected an eventual defense of Kwame and it started that way. As it goes along, you can almost see King’s impression of Kwame’s indifference and “slinking around like the Pink Panther” in practice rapidly changing his mind on him as he realizes the reputation is true. Then the final paragraph of Kwame’s “interview” speaks for itself enough that he doesn’t even have to conclude the article or spell out what’s wrong with Kwame’s article. Then reading Jenkins’ article in 2002, that might be the definitive source of what went wrong with the high school draft boom that led to players like Kwame, Darko Milicic and Eddy Curry’s careers falling apart. You can see just how much of Kwame’s problems that year and beyond were mental. Reading those two articles, I wouldn’t want this guy on my basketball team. Perhaps calling Perkins a “champion” and Kwame a “loser” isn’t such misleading narrative based titling after all.

The difference between Perkins and Haywood is most likely overstated, on the other end. I can’t say I’ve heard a ton of amazing things about Haywood’s leadership or character, but I haven’t heard anything particularly bad either. He certainly seemed willing to play backup center last season when some players may have sulked more. Haywood is larger than Perkins and a better rebounder and shotblocker, which makes his game in itself slightly more complete. I don’t think the Thunder are a worse team with Haywood in Perkins’ place, nor do I think the Celtics of 2008 to 2011 would have benefitted less from his presence. Perhaps the chemistry would have been a bit less strong. Both Perkins and Haywood are in a way better fits on teams that need their strengths and can cover their weaknesses – and may be more valuable players in the matchup friendly postseason than regular season, when a large number of teams have zero big man post up threats for them to guard.

Nevertheless I believe Perkins, Kwame and Haywood is an interesting comparison between 3 players with similar games who drew different sticks for what creates reputations – and comparing Perkins to Kwame outlines the importance of toughness and heart.

Written by jr.

January 13, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Kwame going to Boston, or even a Washington “unblessed” with Jordan’s presence might have changed things, as I seem to recall Jordan was especially hard on the young number 1 pick. As you say, high-schoolers are far less formed young men than players with even a limited exposure to the maturing effects of college ball (or even OS professional play). A year or two being a player in a well-established program might have given him a bit more of a sense of his own value as a basketballer (which the King article powerfully shows he doesn’t have) and as a person.


    January 20, 2012 at 3:36 pm

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