AGR Player of the Week: Sam Perkins

At AGR, we honor originators. Guys who think outside the box. It’s only reasonable, really. Nobody ever made it as a pro basketball player without first committing a mind-numbing amount of time to a leisure activity, only an astronomically low percentage of the practitioners of which are able to turn into a profitable endeavor. I guess you could say the same about NBA blogging, but just as with the sport itself, you don’t have to be a pro to get groupies, right?

Anyway, Sam Perkins. Perkins came out of Brooklyn way before it was trendy and enjoyed a decorated college career on some obscenely stacked UNC teams before going to the Mavs with the #4 pick in the ’84 draft. For the next ten years or so, things went about as expected. The lottery pick who could score and board in college was able to successfully translate those skills to the next level; Sleepy Sam made All-Rookie, and, after bouncing to the Lakers as a free agent, posted career highs of 16.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in ’91-’92. In the middle of the next season, he was traded to Seattle. Soon after, though, in the summer of ’93, everything changed with Sam Perkins. You could say a metamorphosis occurred. Because that next season, he started letting it fly.

After never attempting so many as 75 in any prior year, Sam Perkins took 270 3’s in the ’93-’94 season. You can’t just attribute the change to his new environs–even though he was traded midseason the year before, he took a relatively modest 42 3’s in 30 games that first half-year in Seattle. There was no coaching change before the next season. Some roster moves, but nothing crazy. No, the only reasonable explanation for the dramatic change in Perkins’ game is that one day, he took a last, solemn look down at the paint, wandered out to the perimeter, and announced, “Screw it, I’m launching ’em.” And with that decision, a new breed of player was born. Perkins was the original prototype, but you’ve seen other incarnations. They have names like Sheed. Mehmet. Big Shot Bob. Go about 6’9″ or higher, but claim they’re more like 6’3″, that “the vertical lines add a few inches”. Insist on buying pants 8 lengths too short, then go about walking around like Rafael Nadal with half their shins exposed. They’re all over the league now. Guys Who Refuse To Acknowledge How Tall They Are.

It’s not just about shot selection. See, Perkins was always a pretty good rebounder. But from that ’93-’94 season on–the last 8 seasons of his career–Perkins only once posted a season Total Rebound Percentage above 10.0. Let me elaborate. TRB% calculates the number of available rebounds a player gets–just his number of rebounds divided by everyone’s rebounds while he was in the game. There are 10 players on the court. If no player had a competitive advantage in securing a rebound, every player would get 10%, and their TRB% would be 10. So in 7 of the last 8 seasons of his career, the odds of Sam Perkins (listed as 6’9″ and at forward/center, mind you) grabbing a rebound were no better than chance, and often worse.

The interesting thing about being afflicted with GWRTAHTTA syndrome, though, is that it’s not always a bad thing. And Perkins proves this. When a big man spends all his time on offense drifting out to the top of the key, it’s easy just to label him soft and say he’s killing his team. But he’s also doing things like spacing the floor and drawing opposing shotblockers out of the paint, things that don’t show up in the box score but that advanced stats can encompass. For his career, Sleepy Sam posted an elite Offensive Rating of 114.68, good for 44th all-time (Rashard Lewis and Mehmet Okur also crack the top 100). And Perkins definitely had some good teammates, but it’s a testament to his effectiveness that he made the playoffs in 15 of his 17 seasons. Like a lefty boxer or a trappy poker player, the GWRTAHTTA-afflicted are an uncomfortable proposition for opponents to deal with. When done wrong, it can be ugly, and it’s true that the syndrome is too often comorbid with soft defense. But Sam Perkins did it right. And we have him to thank for raising awareness of the condition, and through his long and accomplished career, shaking some of the stigma. We salute you.

Want to talk more about Sam Perkins? Comment on the article or e-mail us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail (dot) com. Don’t forget to follow @AGRbasketball on Twitter and to like us on Facebook.

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