On Tuesday morning, Kendrick Perkins joined Stephen A. on First Take and fired off a Stephen A+ take. I couldn’t disagree with the take more, but I’ve spoken about my own personal preoccupation with the take game. There’s an art to it and K-Perk knows how to play it. He embodied the name of the program he was appearing on. To his credit, I haven’t heard anyone accuse Jokic of stat-padding and the man stepped up to the plate.
First off, far more people read the headline than actually watched the part of the show where K-Perk said this. I only know that because Stephen A had a couple moments that were comedy at its best, and I saw no mention of it anywhere.
The :30-:40 second mark is a Stephen A Masterclass. K-Perk didn’t even get to the point of the argument before Stephen A. cut him off and corrected him. Perk came at the king with a curveball and left it hanging; Stephen A took it 440, dead center, gone forever. Don’t throw junk to prime Barry Bonds.
The rest of the clip is when Perkins finally gets to the argument and the premise of it is this: “Keep the same energy” as we had when Russ was churning out triple-double seasons. I’m more than willing to respect the request if there was any basis for actually comparing the two. Besides both averaging triple-doubles for a season, the two players share no similarities. There could not be two more opposite playstyles then Nikola Jokic and Russell Westbrook. I don’t even want to use the typical “it’s comparing apples to oranges” because it’s underselling the difference in the players and their triple-double seasons. It’s comparing apples to car tires. We’re talking unicorns to leprechauns. Schrute Bucks to Stanley Nickels. It’s lunacy at best.
Don’t get me wrong, Russ’s triple-double season was the most impressive basketball feat I had seen to that point in my life. In my mind it’s when the modern NBA had its “four-minute mile” moment. Besides a couple random seasons–like Jordan’s 37.1 PPG in ‘87 or Kobe’s 35.4 PPG in ’06–the Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson type seasons were thought to be a thing of the past. The modern evolution of defenses, or lack thereof, certainly plays a gigantic part to the video game-esque box scores we’ve seen of late, but Russ was the first to prove it’s possible to have that type of output on a nightly basis. After he did it, the door was open and everyone else came piling in just like the four-minute mile.
Now that I’ve paid my respects for Russ’s part in NBA history, let me get to this: Every one of Russ’s triple double seasons ended in a first round playoff exit. His team also never finished higher than 4th in their conference. It wasn’t because Russ was stat-padding, or he choked in the playoffs, or any other nonsense; It was because all of those Thunder teams (and that one Wizards team) were so underwhelming that the best option on offense was to funnel the ball to Russ at all times. They weren’t just running the offense through Russ, the offense was Russ. The 2016-17 triple-double season is still the highest single-season usage rate (41.65%) by any player in NBA history. By the time he got to the playoffs, you could see the physical exhaustion wearing on him and his energy level was depleted. He was quite literally giving it his all to average a triple-double and ensure the Thunder made the playoffs.
Jump back to modern day and Jokic’s triple double season. His usage rate is 26.4%, just a half percentage higher than Jamal’s for team leader. The Nuggets offense is certainly dependent on Jokic, but in no way is he the whole offense like Russ was. The current team has 3-4 guys that can give you 40 on random occasions. Obviously the offense flourishes when Jokic does, but there’s still plenty of ways for them to win when he plays poorly.
Jokic’s triple-double season is taking place while multiple teammates are having a career year. MPJ, Aaron Gordon, Bruce Brown, and KCP are all playing the best ball of their respective careers and the team has a comfortable lead for 1st place in the West. Judging by teammates stats and team record alone, Jokic’s triple-doubles are happening much more in the flow of the offense than Russ’s ever did (because the Nuggets actually have an offense to run unlike those Russ Thunder teams).
The next part of K-Perk’s claim was implying that Jokic chooses not to shoot so he can pad the assists and rebounding category in turn. Call me crazy, but Jokic can go to hell for that. Preposterous for an NBA player to focus on the parts of the game he does best. Don’t you know Nikola that all anyone cares about is points, points, and points?
Perk thought he brought home the argument when he mentioned that Jokic has played 8 games this year where he shot less than 10 shots. Hell, I’ll even expand the parameters a little for the sake of K-Perk’s argument: Jokic has played in 12 games this year where he had 10 or less shot attempts.
The convenient part that Perkins left out? The Nuggets are 11-1 when Jokic shoots 10 or less shots (7-1 when he shoots less than 10). It’s almost like the guy is aware that scoring 30 a night isn’t the best way for him to impact a game, nor does he force it to keep the averages up. I get that in the modern day it’s odd to watch a superstar sacrifice scoring for other parts of the game, but that doesn’t directly equate to “stat-padding”.
After getting eviscerated by the whole internet for that shitty take on Tuesday, Perk decided to double down Wednesday morning on First Take again–except he picked up the goalposts and moved them 70 yards to the left. They weren’t even on the same field by the time he was done. Perk decided to take the Jokic is “stat padding” conversation and somehow twist it into a race debate about MVP, followed by a cherry picked, half-true stat to support his argument.
Perk points to the fact that since 1990, only three guys have won MVP without being top 10 in scoring: Jokic, Nash, and Nowitzki. He never actually says it, but alludes to the fact all three are white guys and implies that played a part in garnering MVP votes.
He’s actively arguing for Embiid as MVP, but for the stat to ring true, he’s assuming Jokic has already won the MVP this year. Both of Jokic’s previous MVP years he finished 6th and 10th in scoring. Nowitzki also finished tied for 10th in scoring during his MVP year. Small technicalities but still technicalities no less.
Besides those minor mistakes, he oddly chooses 1990 as the date to count forward from. Sure it’s a nice round number, but it conveniently leaves out Magic Johnson’s ‘87, ‘89 and ‘90 MVP’s–all three years he finished outside the top 10 in scoring. Including that in Perkins’ argument would’ve been ineffective and doesn’t hammer home the “NBA loves white guys” narrative quite like he’s hoping too, so I don’t blame him for leaving it out. It is First Take after all. Journalistic integrity and the take game don’t blend.
Ignore the stats and everything else I just talked about and focus on the narrative he’s implying. The idea that the NBA and its writers are playing in some larger effort to make Jokic a three consecutive MVP is straight-out laughable. Show me the marketing team that wants the 7-foot, Serbian guy with a neck beard to be the focus of the league. The guy that still speaks broken english and doesn’t have a personal social media linked to his name. The guy that hates talking to the press and makes zero effort to come off as likable. The guy whose offseason consists of horse racing during the day and clubbing at night. The guy that hasn’t cracked the top 15 in jersey sales at any point in his career. Aside from making one giant leap and assuming the NBA is catering to the racists of the world, the argument makes no sense. Jokic is the exact opposite of everything that’s typically associated with the “face of the league”. There’s even a strong opposing opinion to be made that Jokic becoming a three consecutive MVP hurts the league, far more than it helps, but Perk won’t ever address that.
Or we could go back to last year when Perk decided to argue another contrarian take for MVP. Perk was the only man in the basketball universe that was vouching for Chris Paul in the MVP discussion. The ironic part about that? Chris Paul finished the season 65th in scoring.
I can’t even blame Perk for sinking with the ship on this one. The man’s just doing his job. A true take artist will live and die by his takes and Perk’s doing exactly that.
Feels appropriate to end the article with my favorite tweet in history, courtesy of Kevin Durant and at the expense of K-Perk. No it doesn’t relate in anyway, but anytime K-Perk’s the subject of discussion, it’s my fiduciary duty to the basketball world to bring it back up. U played hard tho champ.