Lakers I Miss: Sam Perkins

Kurt —  August 11, 2007

Everyone talks about the guy drafted right before Michael Jordan, but the guy that was drafted right after him did pretty well for himself, too.

For Laker fans, Sam Perkins was the guy who gave the team its one win in the 1991 Finals against the finally mature Chicago Bulls, then helped the team during the start of the transition years before Shaq and Kobe. He was the prototype big guy with the sweet outside stroke, a guy who over his long career grabbed 11.9% of all the rebounds when he was on the floor and still shot 36.2% from three.

The Dallas Mavericks drafted Sam Perkins out of North Carolina and he played there six years before he opted for free agency and signed with the Lakers to play the power forward spot next to his college teammate James Worthy.

In the 90-91 season he provided some presence inside, helping Vlade Divac try to fill the shoes of the irreplaceable Kareem. He had some weight to throw around (he averaged 7.4 rebounds per game) but what he did best was shoot — the nickname “the big smooth” was fitting. He had a nice eFG% that first year with the Lakers of 50.7%, but after all the years of seeing Kareem and Rambis and classic inside players wearing Laker colors, a four who could shoot the three was a dramatic change. And a welcome one, spacing the floor for Magic and Worthy as they drove the lane. I remember marveling at his shot, it just always seemed that when it left Perkins’ hand it would touch only net. It was a pretty stroke.

Portland won the Pacific Division that 90-91 season (behind Clyde Drexler), ending the Lakers nine-year run atop the division. But in the playoffs, well, Portland has never fared particularly well against the Lakers. In the end, it was four games to two Lakers. Los Angels was on to the finals against a hungry Bulls team, led by another North Carolina guy in Jordan and coach by a guy named Phil Jackson.

In game one, it was a tightly contested first half, with Jordan taking charge for the Bulls (15 points and 5 assists in the first quarter) but they were never able to pull away. A third quarter run was led by Magic and some back-to-back threes (32 finished with a triple double) but Jordan and the bulls came back and took a 91-89 lead.

Then with 14 seconds left, Perkins buried a three. Jordan then missed on the other end (something he didn’t seem to do the rest of the series), Byron Scott drew a foul, hit one free throw and that was the final score.

The Lakers lost four straight after that, in large part because Scottie Pippen was moved over to cover Magic and it worked – Magic was less efficient. The Lakers never did a great job exploiting the other mismatches. Perkins hit a key shot in game three, but it was the Bulls time.

The next year Perkins missed 19 games but when on the floor he averaged 16 and 9. In the middle of the next season, Perkins was traded to Seattle, where he flourished with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp (he made the 1996 finals with the Sonics but again lost to Jordan and the Bulls). He was also on the 99-00 Pacers team that lost to Shaq and Kobe in the finals.

Perkins ended his career with a gold medal (he was co-captain of the 1984 team that won in Los Angeles) not to mention the NCAA title he won with Jordan and Worthy.