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Jermaine O’Neal Is the Starting Center For the Boston Celtics

With reports that Kendrick Perkins might be out until the All-Star break, it’s time to wonder whether Jermaine O’Neal is going to take Perk’s job full-time next season and what that might mean for Boston on both sides of the floor. Not returning until after the All-Star break means missing the first 50 games of the season, and Perk will have to work himself into game shape from there.

How productive Perk will be when the games count is an open question.

So it’s time to start thinking about O’Neal a bit more seriously.

Let’s start with this: The Celtics should be a better offensive team with O’Neal playing heavy minutes.

And that’s a good thing, because the Celtics need to be a better offensive team. They ranked 15th in offensive efficiency last season, a shockingly low number for a team that was a few baskets away from winning the NBA title. They need to do better, and O’Neal should help in that regard.

Here’s why:

Turnovers. The Celtics are essentially trading the most turnover-prone center in the league for the least turnover-prone center in the league.

Among 27 centers who played at least 1,000 minutes last season, only one—Tyson Chandler—turned the ball over on a higher percentage of possessions than Perk, according to Basketball-Reference. Perk turned the ball over on 20.4 percent of possessions on which he was involved with the play that ended the possession, an unacceptable mark for a point guard, let alone a center.

The scary thing? That turnover rate was the lowest of Perk’s career.

O’Neal turned the ball over on just 12.5 percent of his possessions last season. Of those 27 centers mentioned above, only five had a lower turnover rate. (For the curious, those five were: Nenad Krstic, Anthony Tolliver, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Al Horford and Andrew Bogut, who had a better season than most people understand).

Turnovers have been the main flaw in Boston’s offense over the last three seasons. It will be interesting to see how much that changes with Tony Allen gone and Perk out for the bulk of the regular season.

Free throw shooting. Perk is a career 60 percent shooter from the line; O’Neal is a career 71 percent foul shooter. That makes a difference.

Offensive diversity. Perk shot 60 percent from the floor last season, the second-best mark in the league, but just about all of his shot attempts came from within 10 feet of the hoop, according to Hoopdata. Perk attempted just 62 shots all season from outside 10 feet, and the enterprise didn’t go very well. He made just 16 of those shots, though he flashed the jumper in the post-season when teams ignored him. He has the potential to develop a workable 15-footer.

O’Neal is already there. He attempted about 60 percent of his shots last season from outside 10 feet, and he made those shots at a career-best rate. For instance: O’Neal made about 44 percent of his shots from between 16 and 23 feet (i.e. long two-pointers), one of the best marks in the league among centers or power forwards, according to Hoopdata. Perspective: KG, one of the very best big man shooters ever, hit 46 percent from that range last season; Ray Allen hit 45 percent.

O’Neal knocked down exactly 40 percent of his shots from that range in both ’08 and ’09, so while 44 percent is his career high, it’s not wildly out of line.

O’Neal also set career highs last season in shooting percentage from between the rim and 10 feet (51 percent) and from between 10 and 15 feet (45 percent). Both of those marks are outstanding for a big guy.

All of this makes O’Neal a much more diverse offensive player than Perkins. We saw during the playoffs that O’Neal has trouble scoring one-on-one against elite post defenders with size, and Perk is likely a better back-down player from 10 feet and in. But O’Neal’s shooting ability and superior hands will give Boston a second  pick-and-pop threat on its starting front line and a superior pick-and-roll finisher.

For a team with occasionally serious spacing issues, such a threat can be crucial. Think about how effective those Rugby Scrum plays can be when both screen-setters are legit threats from 18 feet.

Please understand: None of this is meant to denigrate Perk as a player. My Perk Love credentials should be beyond reproach at this point. He’s a better defender than O’Neal, he’s one of the only players on Earth that can guard Dwight Howard without help and he’s worked his ass off to become a very good screen/roll defender. And his offensive game—when he’s healthy and careful with the ball—can be helpful.

But O’Neal could help the C’s spacing in the same way Rasheed Wallace did before the league realized Sheed couldn’t shoot anymore.

  • Tai

    we need one mroe able big guy i tihkn we were a big man short last time espcially if sheed goes we nedone mroe big guy and an guy hu can play the 2 or 3 and has some offensive ability rodney carney anybody

  • Josh A

    @Zach, this season should b interesting

  • slam

    With regard to Perk’s high turnover rate, might be worth mentioning that a large portion of those come on the dreaded and sometimes questionable, illegal screen calls

  • Jay P


    Probably true, but, I don’t see the point. He’s still responsible for causing a turnover, does it matter how it happened?

    And he gets away with as many as he gets called for, Perk has terrible footwork, he can’t keep his damn feet still, whether it’s on screens, or when he does his “gathering” nonsense in the post. But you can’t blame officiating, it’s just poor fundamentals.

  • Jeff

    @ Slam

    Very good point.

    In fact that is the third worst foul call in the league when they call Perk on those moving screens since 95% of the big men in the league do the same and don’t get called for it.

    The two worst calls made by officials in the game are the obligitory foul call they give to Gasoft when he flops around near the hoop and yells “Aaaaahhhhh!!!!”

    And the other is when people get close enough to breath on Kobe and he feels their breath, throws his arms up, claps his hands and gets the foul called.

    Those are the 3 worst foul calls in the NBA. And in the Finasl all 3 went the Lakers way.

    Ahhhh…the biaism of the NBA…it’s not about the game…it’s about the name.

  • Sweeney

    Zach, we just renewed and laminated your Perk Credentials for the next season.

  • true slam but also all those travel that he got called for too haha, i just hope perk comes ack strong he had no ups this year with that tendinitous… JO should have a great year IF healthy

  • Keith Popsicle

    Nice piece, Zach. I agree that he makes the Cs better. The big question mark with J.O. is health, though. Can he give you 35+ minutes a night for those first 50 games before Perk is back?
    I think this chance with this group of players should see him as motivated as he was with the pre-melee Pacers.
    His presence in the clubhouse and with the media should be helpful too. He can deflect a lot of attention away from KG or Rondo, who seems to hate it the most, and he doesn’t shy away from taking a strong stand on tough issues (see: the dress code, the age limit comments from a few years ago)
    I am guesing he’ll have interesting things to say about the upcoming lockout…

    Also, totally agree on Bogut very quietly becoming a great player. To me, he’s a top 5 center in the league. That’s an interesting team.

  • James

    We need Shaq and Sheed back so we’ll have the best front line with multiple line-ups. JO?Sheed can also play the PF and with Shaq you get a guy who can rebound and let those guys play out on the baseline wings. Go Cs…and stop with all the DUMB turnovers.

  • Jay P


    Can’t possibly disagree with that more. Boston fans are too brainwashed by Tommy, and convinced Boston players can do no wrong.

    Look I’m not arguing NBA officials are great, their probably the worst of any professional sport (although Baseball is making a case to be in that conversation lately, the NBA is still worse) but it’s also the most difficult sport to officiate.

    Bottom line, is if you pay attention to Perk, his footwork is god awful. He can constantly shuffling to shifting his feet, whether on screens or in the post. It’s just bad fundamentals, he’s lucky he doesn’t get called for it more.

    Now I’ll give you that the calling is inconsistent, and that’s probably the worst part. But it doesn’t change what Perk does, and you can’t blame the refs for calling things which I’d say 80% of the time are pretty blatant.

  • Gary

    I just hope Perk comes back without thinking he nevers fouls anyone. He gets technicals because he complains about every foul called on him as if he never fouls. Refs don’t like that!!!

  • KB

    I don’t think Shaq’s a good fit.
    As time goes on, I feel it’s best if Sheed comes back for the C’s. He is probably the best big man left out there and we can see if there is anyone better available around the trade deadline, but until then we can use Sheed since Perk wouldn’t be around. Obviously he needs to get in shape, etc but we saw what a determined Sheed can do.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    perk is the ultimate class act, team player and person. much respect.

    but i think his perceived value is overinflated. he is a great defensive center but a terrible offensive deadweight – the list of deficiencies is long. he has been the perfect compliment to a peak KG, but i don’t have high expectations for him expanding his game to take on a bigger role. he needs an all-star PF to be effective. i’m not trying to beat up on him, i really like the guy, but this will be his year for objective evaluation. will be very interesting to see what danny does with his contract situation…..the unfortunately timed injury won’t strengthen perks bargaining power.

    agree that JO will not be a net drop-off. if he’s fit and healthy, maybe even an improvement.

  • Shaqi

    LeCon James might be advising Rondo to request a trade to a western conference team, so that there will be better rivalries in the NBA.

    See here LeCon was advising Chris Paul to stay in the west:

  • Shaqi

    Perkins has a ring. His defense leads to fast break/easy points for his teammates.

    Shaq has 4 rings. He was a defensive force in the paint when he won those 4 rings.

    Jermaine O’Neal has zero ring. Don’t count on him for defense. And defense is how you win a ring…

  • Ah, the zero rings argument. John Stockton was a bum!

  • I love Green

    Perk will most likely come off the bench for the first few weeks to work himself into game shape. But I’d rather have him starting, because JO will be more effective coming off the bench playing less minutes.

  • Josh A

    @Zach, Will Harangody be part of the rotation?

  • Josh A

    As we get closer to the NBA season, we might as well take a look at what some think are the top three teams in the NBA next year. We have the super trio, Miami Heat. We have the Big Three and Rondo, Boston Celtics. And we have the defending back-to-back champs, Los Angeles Lakers.

    Boston Celtics:

    2009-10 Results: 50-32, Lost in Finals to Lakers

    Key Additions: Jermaine O’Neal

    Key Losses: Tony Allen

    The Boston Celtics look to make another run at winning it all by bringing the core pieces back for another run. Kevin Garnett is now a year from the surgery on his knee that some say slowed him down last year. This summer will give Garnett more time to recover. Rajon Rondo looks to be playing with the 2010 USA World Championship Basketball team, but this may will just add on to the amount of games he played last year. Nate Robinson will get a chance to learn the system from the very beginning. Daniels and Glen Davis are expected to be healthy at the start of the regular season. Tony Allen is their one big loss from a defensive standpoint, but not from an offensive one. Rasheed Wallace might retire, but they may be able to trade him for another wing to back up Pierce. Jermaine O’Neal is added to this team for big men help and Shaq may be on his way.

    Los Angeles Lakers:

    2009-10 results: 57-25, Won in Finals against Celtics

    Key Additions: Steve Blake, Matt Barnes

    Key Losses: Will most likely lose Shannon Brown.

    This Laker team looks even stronger than past teams that have won in 2010 and 2009. They have added Steve Blake and Matt Barnes who will make this team a lot stronger. Barnes is a player that will play tough defense and even play dirty if you need him to. Both Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant are having surgery this summer, so that is one thing to watch, but they are expected to be ready by the season. Pau Gasol has decided not to play for the Spanish team this summer and that is good news for the Lakers so he can get rest. Ron Artest came up big in the finals last year and he wi try to do it again.

    Miami Heat:

    2009-10 results: 47-35, Lost in First Round to Celtics

    Key Additions: Chris Bosh, Lebron James, Mike Miller, Big “Z”

    Key Losses: Michael Beasley (Who isn’t really a key loss, he is more like an awesome loss)

    The Miami Heat have stacked up their team for the 2010-11 season and even farther. Wade recruited James and Bosh to Miami and that had lots of veterans coming there as well. The Big Three of their team may be the strongest of all time. Mike Miller is a very important player to this team because of his ability to shoot the three. Big Z has the ability to shoot as well, but is a 7 footer they can put down low. This team has the makings of an all-around historic team.

  • sam

    Excellent analysis. On the negative side of the ledger, JO in Perk’s place is going to make us even worse on the boards.

    Couple that with the replacement of TA with Bradley & Daniels (both lesser rebounders) and we could be facing major problems rebounding the ball.

    It will be interesting to see whether the JO/Daniels swap for Perk/TA will result in a net possessions gain by reducing turnovers more than rebounds. The potential gains or losses seem marginal, though. The superior floor spacing could also have a beneficial effect on Rondo and Pierce’s TO rates as well.

    Still this team has a glaring need for another rebounder and another scorer on the wing. I’m still dreaming of adding Joel Przybilla/Rudy Fernandez. Joel’s monster rebounding and shot-blocking would make for a great, back-from-the-surgeon’s-table playoff center rotation with Perk. KG/JO would rotate in at the 4 spot, playing essentially the same role. That big man rotation would compare favorably to LA’s triple towers and would tower over Miami’s patchwork big rotation. Rudy Fernandez could step in right away and reduce our over-dependence on Ray Allen. Multi-talented bombers like Nate and Rudy could deliver the knock-out punches that didn’t get delivered if Ray wasn’t hitting.

  • John Evans

    Having Jermaine O’ Neal helps the C’s more on offense than having Perkins does. In the past, when Rondo would penetrate from the perimeter, the opposing big had no trouble rotating and leaving Perkin’s body to contest Rondo’s penetration because they were never worried about Perkins shooting/making a mid-range jumper should Rondo pass to him, with Jermaine’s ability to shoot from mid-range, they’ll be less reluctant to help off him or leave his body. Now teams will basically have to pick their poison:either let Rondo score 2 at the basket or rotate to Rondo and allow O’Neal to knock it down from 15-18 feet

  • Jay P


    JO got just over 7 boards per game last year, Perk averaged about 9 and change. While although I agree with you Perk is a better rebounder, the loss on the boards wont be significant. Certainly not enough to outweigh what he could do offensively, both in spreading the floor, and making teams pay when they leave him to cut off Rondo’s lanes.

  • Sophomore

    Good analysis. But do you have a different picture of JO? He looks like somebody took his lunch money.

  • I love Green

    I wish we got the JO that played in Indiana before knee surgery.

  • MP

    And I wish we had the KG from his MVP season…

  • Tom W

    while we are pipe dreaming, i wish we had Len Bias from his glory days…

  • ElRoz

    Ok, with O’Neal and KG starting, who is the back-up center?

    If they don’t get anybody, why not start KG at center, Big Baby at PF, and have O’Neal and Harangody come of the bench? Right now there is no back-up center. Of course I might be counting Semih Erden out, but come on.

  • Jay P


    I tihnk they can survive with Erden for 10 minutes a game for the first half of the year.

    I said survive, not succeed. The guy can definitely develop into a reliable big man some day. Probably not a starter, but a solid second unit center for 20min/game. He’s not there yet, but shows potential to get there.

    I’m ok with him for 10-15 minutes a game for start the year, it might really help him develop. You can play KG at center some against teams that dont have bigger Centers, but he’s not big enough to stay in the paint against the Howards of the world.

  • dutch3926

    i love picking up J.O.>< but pickup shaq and convince sheed to come back…let rondo create … nate and big baby spark… pierce and ray do their thing…input bradley and harangody… biggest frontcourt…quick in the backcourt… solid swingman play…Who knows!!!

  • Josh A

    @El Roz, dont even bring up the idea of Garnett starting, or even playing center. He is too thin.

  • Tristan

    get Shaq or Tolliver, or both (not sure if Tolliver can be signed on VM) and then trade Sheed for a good wing, there’s talk of bringing Eddie back, I cant see how that helps, I liked him, but I think Nate with a full training camp and season, will be a better offensive option and a million times better on D.

    If we can get one or two good rebounding big men plus a wing in a trade, Boston will be the team that will take it to Miami, at the moment I fear the deer!!!

  • I love Green

    If Len Bias and Reggie Lewis hadn’t died, we’d have another 2 or 3 banners up in the Garden.

  • Josh A

    O’Neal will help us on offense but no defense. It is as simple as that

  • ShawnCVD

    Josh A: I feel your under estimating Boston’s defensive system…I remember JO getting all sort of blocks against the C’s in the play offs…true most were against Baby but a stiff would never perform like that…

  • ondioline

    I love Perk as a person and as a player, but there’s this:

    As fans, nothing was worse than the dread we all would feel when Perk would get the ball on offense. Nothing.

    If JO can change that, even slightly, C’s games will be a lot easier to watch.

    Admit it.

    I just hope we win as much.

  • Sign shaq! Thats really there only option. Rebounding and defense is what he’ll definitly bring, not 2 mention he’s one of the best passing big man ever

  • Jeremy

    how andrew bogut was not an allstar all nba second team and all nba defensive team i have no idea.

  • Rajon9


    those “Aaaaaaaahs” by Pau Gasoft really shows he is so soft, like a baby crying for his mother. he is afraid of getting hurt that’s why he just screams it out before it actually happens.

  • Jason


    That’s not it at all. Screaming is stupid gamesmanship to get foul calls. It’s verbal flopping. As much as I love Pierce, he’s guilty of it as well. The worst is Brandon Roy because his voice is so high and come through the speakers like it’s HD audio. He also overdoes it. Some guys just yell on occasion but Roy does it 95 percent of the time. He’s very annoying.

  • Jason

    I loved Perks’ defense, I love how he can barely jump but somehow he can stretch his insanely long arms to enormous heights and block turnaround jumpers and jump hooks. Those kinds of shots are not typically blocked but Perkins does a great job of defending them. He’s also not the most mobile guy around yet he’s one of the best pick and roll defenders and great at rotating. I don’t know how he does some of the things he does but he does.

    Offensively of course, he’s another story. He started out fairly well last season creating his own offense. I was confident whenever he would bang his way multiple times and turn over his right shoulder for a turnaround jumper or over his left for a hook. But then defenses started doubling, figuring that while a big man of Perkin’s offensive ability is usually not worthy of doubles, that since he was was so bad passing out of them, it was an effective defensive ploy. That put an end to his offensive game for the most part, as well as the tendinitis. That shouldn’t be overlooked as well.

  • mrduncan5

    We need to go after Shaq. he is also a good low post defensive/offensive player. His size down low will help boston get over that rebounding hump they faced against LA. Signing Shaq will be the best move they can make. Dwight howard also has problems getting past Shaq lets not forget that.

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