Even at the start of the 2007-08 season, it was a familiar sight.
Kendrick Perkins would receive a pass alone near the basket, but instead of going straight up, he'd hunch his entire body down -- like a running back bracing for contact in blitz pickup -- then thrust himself toward the basket. The process seemed painfully slow and often allowed defenders to recover and block what should have been an easy bucket for Perkins.
As Celtics coach Doc Rivers recently noted, "If you been around here enough, it sometimes felt like it took him forever to get it up. He's a gatherer, that's what we call it. He has to gather the ball to go up. You see him doing drills each day, catch and going up quick. He's doing it better."
Much better, it seems.
The super-helpful stats site 82games.com tracks the percentage of a player's shots blocked. During the 2009-10 season, Perkins has had only 10 percent of his close-range shots (not including tips and dunks) blocked, which is down five percent from 2007-08 and three percent from last season.
Perkins registered a season-high 21 points on 9 of 10 shooting in Tuesday's win over Charlotte, which complimented 12 rebounds and 3 blocks. For the year, he's now averaging 11.8 points, which is more than three points per game better than last season (8.5 ppg) and nearly five points more than 2007-08 (6.9 ppg).
For someone that Doc Rivers classifies as a "defensive player," Perkins has been downright offensive this season.
Just look at who's leading the NBA in field-goal percentage this morning. Perkins is tops in the league at 64.3 percent (fractions better than Orlando's Dwight Howard). Over the past three games, Perkins has made 21 of 24 shots (a blistering 87.5 percent), and for the season has connected on 83 of 129 attempts.
Look deeper at the stats and, in two minutes less per game than last season, Perkins is averaging an extra shot -- and more importantly, an extra shot made -- per game. His field-goal percentage has risen dramatically from 57.7 percent last year.
Perkins is also averaging nearly two extra free-throw attempts per game, which seems to suggest he's drawing more fouls, which reinforces the notion that he's getting the ball up quicker. What had been blocks are turning into field goals or trips to the charity stripe.
And speaking of fouls, Perkins is averaging a half-foul less per contest, just 2.8 fouls per game (his lowest since his second year in the league when he averaged little more than nine minutes per game).
All of which suggests that Perkins is more than just the "other guy" in a staring lineup that includes the Big 3 and point guard Rajon Rondo.
Asked earlier this season if Perkins had been the Celtics most consistent player, Rivers suggested he had been -- in the defensive end at least. Now you could make the case he might be the most consistent at both ends.
"You could make that point," said Rivers. "Two years ago, it really helped us, obviously, bringing in Kevin [Garnett] and Ray [Allen]. It really helped Perk understand who he was. Before that with Al [Jefferson], the whole team was 11 [years old]. Everyone was fighting to be the man. Once we clearly had Paul [Pierce], Ray, and Kevin, Perk said, 'What's my value? How can I help?' He accepted it. That's really beyond his years."
Said Ray Allen: "Perk's been playing well, scoring in the post. He's intimidating down there to guards driving to the hole. Offensively, he's been delivering for us."