With a record-breaking 27-2 start to this NBA season, the Boston Celtics have arguably improved as a team since last year's championship run. According to many preseason pundits, however, James Posey's signing with the New Orleans Hornets in the offseason represented the loss of a vital cog in the well-tuned Green Machine. Many, in fact, predicted a significant downturn in the fortune of the Celtics.
With the rapid improvement of Rajon Rondo, who many now place among the premier point guards in the East; the resurgence of Ray Allen, who has found his rhythm within the Celtics offensive sets; and the continued improvement of bench players like Leon Powe and Tony Allen (who now looks fully recovered from his 2007 knee surgery), the Celtics appear to have more than covered the loss of Posey.
In breaking the team record for consecutive wins with No. 19 tonight, the Celtics owe no small part of their improvement to the development of Kendrick Perkins, a player whose accomplishments are often overlooked on this star-studded team.
Over the past 10 games, Perkins has quietly averaged a double-double in points and rebounds. In that span, Perk has more than doubled his career scoring average of 5.1 points per game by contributing nearly 13 points per night. His rebounding over the same stretch, at 10.2 boards per contest, has also nearly doubled his career average of 5.3 rebounds per game.
Perhaps more importantly, Perkins has established himself as an intimidating presence in the paint on the defensive end. Averaging nearly two blocks per game and amassing the fourth most blocks in the NBA so far this season, Kendrick has bolstered a defense that already boasts Kevin Garnett, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and Rajon Rondo, who has the second most steals in the NBA this season, trailing only Chris Paul by three.
How much more can Perkins improve? Although he now has five NBA seasons to his credit, we have to remember that Kendrick was a very raw talent when he was drafted straight out of high school. Having recently celebrated his 24th birthday, Perkins' best years should still be ahead of him.
Most insiders, including coach Doc Rivers, suggest that Kendrick's rapid improvement this past year has been due to two main factors: (1) the presence and influence of Kevin Garnett, who was traded to the Celtics in July 2007; and (2) the tutelage of Clifford Ray, who joined the Celtics as an assistant coach in May 2006.
Given that both men will likely remain with Boston for at least the next year, we should expect to see the very real potential of a "Big Five" if both Rondo and Perkins continue to build on this breakout season.