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Sam Perkins: Evolution of the Game

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For the better part of the NBA we have seen amazing center play and numerous legends play the position.  We've seen Mikan, Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem, Olajuwon, Lanier, Robinson and I could probably list off another twenty great centers.

I won't though.

If you're reading this blog you probably know basketball and you could probably roll off a few more names.

If you're like me, you're mind will wander a bit and you'll start thinking of all those amazing Sonics centers.

Sam Perkins in my mind is easily the best center in team history.  Sure, he wasn't a pure center like Sikma or Haywood.  Smooth would not make it on 99 out of 100 ten best Sonics of all time.  He wouldn't make my list of ten best Sonics of all time.  You ask me what five Sonic greats you want out on the floor in the in crunch time against the five greatest players to ever play their position?

I'd throw out Gary Payton, Ray Allen, Eddie Johnson, Shawn Kemp and Sam Perkins.

The reason I throw out Perkins is because he further stretches the floor.  Four guys on the floor, playing four different positions, all shooting at lest 36% career from beyond the arc.  This completely renders Russell useless defensively, which opens up the lane for people to drive and hopefully get easy buckets.

Up until 1992 (year Sam became a real three point threat) can you name me another center in the NBA who could be considered a "stretch five?"

There were a few centers who had a solid mid-range game that you had to always respect.  Never one who could extend you out to 23 feet nine inches.

Not until Sam Perkins put an asterisk on the position.

Today there are quite a few players who play the power forward and the center position who will step out from beyond the arc and let a few fly.  It's mostly because of the new European influence on the game.  A lot of the kids from the Europe come in with an already built offensive game, low post game something to be desired.

In college you are seeing a lot of the same thing.  Yes you have your Cody and Tyler Zellers, Greg Monroes, Roy Hibberts and the lot of them, but then you have guys like Alex Len (yes, he's European, but learning the American game fast and will be a lottery pick next year), Kyle Wiltjer, Anthony Davis (yes, he does have an outside game) and a few others.

These kids were in the age range of 4-9 years old in 1996.  Some of the most informative years of a budding youths life.  If they were into basketball, especially getting into it in the mid 90s that we hold so dear.

The other side of the coin on this is guys like Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee, DeAndre Jordan and Nerlens Noel at Kentucky.  These guys have zero offensive game outside of five feet and are complete and total liabilities at the end of a game.  No way you want them on the floor in a tight game.  They won't be able to make a free throw and you can just hack them if they get the ball or just assume they won't get the ball anyway, play zone and force the other team to make jumpers.

Or you can be like the Miami Heat, completely throw out conventions, discover the best way to win in this league now is to go small, spread the floor and render the opposing interior defense useless.

The Heat also had LeBron James who is the best all around basketball player since Michael Jordan who decided he would expand his game become the team's power forward.

The proved despite the opposing team having two dominant defenders in Ibaka and Perkins, you put your five best players out there and even though they are in their non-traditional roles (granted it was moving up one spot on the floor for Bosh and James) you can win a championship.

Now look at the reaction from the league after the Heat won with a small lineup.  You hear about how Kendrick Perkins is going to be an automatic lock to be amnestied and Serge Ibaka is going to be the starting center with Durant switching out to the power forward and James Harden would be playing small forward.

Well Perkins was never cut (could be next season?), Harden was traded for cash reasons.  Continue around the league and guys like Roy Hibbert got a max contract even though they aren't a max type player.  A defensive center was taken #1 overall in the last draft, the Lakers got bigger, Philadelphia got bigger, Dallas got bigger.  Only two teams seemed to get smaller, add shooters and perimeter defense.

Denver and Miami.

Denver is of course coached by our beloved George Karl, who as you know made the call to start Sam Perkins as a stretch five during the great Sonics runs in the 90s.  One of Karl's main closing lineups right now is to have Danilo Galinari playing center.  Galinari's natural position is small forward.

The Heat meanwhile added two former SuperSonic floor spreaders (Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis) to open up their offense even more and give bigger teams a line up that could see LeBron James at center.  What coach is going to want to try to have a Hibbert, Howard, Davis, Asik, Duncan, etc. trying to guard James thirty feet from the hoop?  They just going to rotate them over to Wade, Allen, Lewis or Chalmers?  Nope.  That coach will be forced to go small.

We can't predict how the NBA will be going forward and what type of team we are going to have when the Sonics finally come back.  We going to play small?  Going to draft another center from Bakersfield, CA who has more tattoos on his body than he did baskets made in the NBA?

Give me another Sam Perkins type player.  Let's spread the floor, score some points, play great perimeter defense and have a deep bench.  I'm not very worried about the growth of offensive centers coming through the league in the next few years.