It’s a key in any good mentor-protege relationship. You need a strong, vocal leader with experience. It’s why Jerry was such a good mentor to Bania. It’s why that ovaltine stuff killed.
And it’s a lot of the reason Serge Ibaka has taken such a leap the past few weeks. He has a mentor. A big, scary, mean mentor that’s pushing him, teaching him how to play with an edge.
The impression Kendrick Perkins has made on Ibaka has been obvious. Much in the same way that Kevin Garnett schooled Perk in the ways of nasty, physical, intimidating play, Perkins has begun to impart that same wisdom on Ibaka.
“Perk does a lot for him,” Kevin Durant said recently. “You can hear him say ‘Serge, go block that’, and Serge just automatically responds and he goes and blocks it. I think it’s just that little push there with a veteran guy down there with you. They’re playing well together. He’s gotta keep it up.”
It’s a thought that hit me during the Charlotte game while watching Perk pat Ibaka on the head after a good hard foul. Perk is teaching Serge how to play with an edge. When he was in Boston, Perkins was the younger guy playing center next to one of the all-time power forwards in league history and next to one of the most intense, amped up defenders the game has ever seen.
KG is an emotional leader and someone that makes an impact on the court not just with his play, but with the way he holds players accountable. Perkins played a three-plus seasons of his seven total with Garnett and the difference KG made on Perk in those last couple was evident. Perkins has become one of the league’s most feared enforcers, someone not to be trifled with in the paint.
He’s brought that same mentality with him from Beantown to Oklahoma City. He’s the Thunder’s Big Ticket, and more importantly, the KG to the young 21-year-old power forward from the Congo.
Perk isn’t shy about getting on his teammates when they screw up or don’t live up to the defensive standard the team plays by. And with Ibaka being his frontcourt partner in crime, Perk doesn’t let Serge get away with anything. Against the Wizards in Perkins’ first game, after Ibaka failed to contest an easy attempt at the rim, Perk came over and fouled the Washington player, preventing an easy basket. Immediately, No. 5 was in No. 9’s face, letting him know about his missed assignment.
Accountability is the buzzword around Perkins. Scott brooks talked about players “self-policing” themselves after a game recently. That’s what Perk is. He’s the defensive patrolman, looking for missed assignments, lapses in focus and letdowns in effort. Specifically, with his eye toward Ibaka. There is a real chemistry between the two. It’s obvious.
“It feels good to play [with Perk], [and] in practice, more especially with me. He’s been ready for a long time,” Ibaka recently told HoopsWorld. “It is good to play and practice and learn. He works hard. Not just for me, but for our team.”
And between Perkins and Ibaka, Oklahoma City now features one of the most intimidating frontlines in the entire league. Ibaka is a rover, hovering around the paint looking to swat anything that comes near the rim. Perkins is the big defensive tackle, taking on blockers allowing Ibaka to patrol. With the way they play off each other and seem to have great chemistry, I’ve said before they remind me of The Bash Brothers from Mighty Ducks 2. (I’m not entirely sure who Fulton Reed is and who is Dean Portman though.) Just the way Scott Brooks seems to use them together, putting them back into the game at the same time in the fourth quarter. It’s like Brooks is saying, “OK, go rough ’em up boys.”
Just look at the damage Ibaka has done since the trade that put him in the starting five: 9.6 points per game, 9.8 rebounds per game and 3.1 blocks per game. Since Perk joined him in the starting five a week ago, Ibaka’s averaging 10.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 4.0 bpg. Those are huge numbers. (Right now, Ibaka is fourth in the league in blocks at 2.33 a game.) Remember all that talk about OKC needing a real power forward for the future? Well he’s here and he’s been on the roster for a while now. And here’s the best part: Ibaka isn’t close to a finished product yet.
Perkins has brought a lot to the Thunder. He’s a great defender, a terrific rebounder and a smart veteran that’s experienced what it takes to win a championship. But he may give the Thunder a little bonus in building OKC’s power forward of the future as well. With Perk in his ear nightly, Ibaka’s going to develop in a whole new way. He’s going to start finding and edge, an added nastiness to his game. It’s the type of things that can set players apart.
The way Perk has taken Ibaka under his wing has already been obvious just in a handful of games. And the more time they get, they might bring a lot more than just an edge to Oklahoma City.