Underappreciated Kendrick Perkins a Key Contributor If you believe every verdict handed down by the court of public opinion, you might think that Kendrick Perkins was having a down year for the Celtics after a breakout season in 2008-09. But you couldn't be more wrong.

The season is still young, but already, the Celtics' 25-year-old center has sunk to the bottom of the heap of Eastern Conference centers in the voting for the 2010 All-Star game. Of course, as it has been for the last few seasons, that contest is merely a race for second place, as Orlando's Dwight Howard is expected to easily snag the conference's starting job. But this season, Perk has found himself nowhere near the hunt for that figurative silver medal.

Howard's running away with the top spot, already sitting pretty at 625,279 votes. Then comes Shaquille O'Neal, whose move to Cleveland has been largely a bust, but he gets by on star power alone. Next you've got Andrea Bargnani, who's having a decent season for a fairly bad Raptors team. Then there are Al Horford and Andrew Bogut — two guys who, like Bargnani, were high picks in recent drafts and have matured nicely. Then Brook Lopez, then Jermaine O'Neal, and then you get to Perkins' own backup, Rasheed Wallace. Finally, in ninth place with 19,408 votes, you've got Perk. Ninth out of 12 candidates.

That's more than a little strange. Perk's never been a big star in Boston, and he's always been overshadowed by the Celtics' Big Three. But the C's center finished second to Howard in last year's voting, blowing away Bogut and Horford, and even beating out Sheed when he held down a starting job in Detroit. Perkins was a 24-year-old nobody in Boston, but the rest of the nation loved him.

So what happened? Did Perk stunt his growth, while the other developing young stars at the center position surpassed him in one year's time? Hardly. In fact, if you've been watching the C's games this season, you know that Perkins has grown more than any other Celtic over the past year. He's become a more efficient scorer, a better passer and an absolute monster on the defensive glass. The 25-year-old version of Perkins is pretty much exactly the best-case scenario the Celtics had in mind when they drafted him six years ago.

And perhaps more important than all the points and rebounds he dumps onto the stat sheet, Perkins has raised his game to the point where he's now an elite defender at the center position. There's no one he's afraid of anymore — whether it's Howard, Shaq, Pau Gasol, you name it. Perkins wants to defend the best big man on the other team every night. He enjoys the challenge.

If that doesn't sound like an All-Star, then consider me stumped as to what does.

Perkins has evolved into the perfect center for the Celtics lineup. He doesn't take games over all by himself — but then, neither does Bargnani or Lopez. He's turned into the ideal complement to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, a rebounding and defending big man who can help make the high-scoring stars around him better. If he looks great next to Paul and Ray, then why can't he be the same player next to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade?

He can. And logically, there's no reason he shouldn't.

Perk is a better player than he gets credit for. With (at least) three future Hall of Famers sharing the floor with him, it's no surprise he's overshadowed. But the big fella's bound to get some respect eventually — he's too good in too many ways not to.

America's not showing him the love this season. But things will turn around. Eventually, Kendrick Perkins will be an All-Star. Because to anyone watching the Celtics in action, he already is.