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Can OKC Thunder Use Kendrick Perkins' Injury as Chance to Move On?

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kendrick Perkins (5) pauses after being called for a foul against the Houston Rockets during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, in Houston. The Thunder beat the Rockets 104-92. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Shehan PeirisCorrespondent IIIMarch 4, 2014

Just when we thought the Oklahoma City Thunder would be a full strength for a chance to build chemistry, the injury bug gnawed at them again.

Kendrick Perkins’ groin injury will give many OKC fans exactly what they’ve been calling for: life without Perkins. But do the Thunder see it the same way? In many ways, this injury is a good thing, but time will show us that OKC isn’t ready to move on from Perkins just yet.

The big man’s strained groin will cause him to miss a significant chunk of time—keeping him out all the way to the end of the season:

In some ways, Perkins’ absence will help this Thunder team—especially on offense. The one-time NBA champion was never a gifted offensive player, but he has looked downright ugly this year.

His lack of an offensive game hurts the Thunder, but it is his speed—or lack thereof—that really hurts this OKC team. General manager Sam Presti has created a veritable track team stocked with elite athletes like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb.

Those players are skilled enough to go to work in the half court but thrive in an uptempo style. Without Perkins on the floor, the team can now get up and down the court in a hurry and will be an offensive juggernaut.

Look at how the Thunder perform on offense with and without Perkins, courtesy of 82games.com:

Kendrick Perkins Hurts OKC's Offense
PerkinsThunder Points Scored Per 100 Possessions
On Court106.1
Off Court114.7
82games.com

Overall, the Thunder rank sixth in offensive efficiency according to ESPN, so they’re no slouch. When Perkins is twiddling his thumbs on the bench, however, they are the best offensive team in the league.

The League's Best Offensive Teams
RankTeamPoints Per 100 Possessions
1Miami Heat110.1
2Los Angeles Clippers109.0
3Portland Trail Blazers108.9
4Dallas Mavericks108.5
5Houston Rockets108.0
6Oklahoma City Thunder107.6
7San Antonio Spurs107.3
ESPN.com

Moreover, Perkins’ injury will force head coach Scott Brooks to play smaller lineups with Durant or Jones at the 4—and that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. The small-ball lineups and faster pace will give the Thunder an unrivaled scoring punch, but it may also help Russell Westbrook shake off the rust and imitate Stella while getting his groove back.

The final benefit of Perkins’ six-week layoff will be the effect it has on rookie Steven Adams:

Adams will be thrown into the fire against first-string players. While that is sure to result in some blown assignments and uninspiring performances, it will only help Adams and the Thunder in the long run.

As Russell Westbrook told Darnell Mayberry of NewsOK.com, “This is [Adams’] first year. He’s learning just like everybody else had to learn. Now he’s got put into the position where he has to communicate and has to talk so he’s going to learn.”

So far, so good for OKC regarding the injury to their starting center. But I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss how the Thunder defense is going to suffer without its quarterback and shot-caller.

As unathletic as Perkins is, he still does a damn good job of commanding the troops and plugging up all the leaks. To his credit, the rookie Adams has been pretty good on defense—all things considered—but he doesn’t compare to Perkins, according to Synergy Sports:

Perkins vs. Adams On Defense
Play TypePerkins' Points Allowed Per PossessionAdams' Points Allowed Per Possession
Isolation0.480.85
Post Up0.660.81
Pick-and-Roll Man0.750.94
Overall0.750.97
SynergySports.com

Thanks to his calming presence and ability to steer the defensive ship, the Thunder are the fourth-best team in the league in terms of defensive efficiency (via ESPN), giving up 100.2 points per possession.

In addition, his ability to defend the league’s best low-post players straight up without help allows the Thunder to stay at home on shooters (sixth-best team in terms of opponent’s three-point percentage) and jump passing lanes.

The Thunder will get a glimpse of how tough life can be without Perkins in their remaining matchups against some of the bigger teams in the league:

Remaining Games vs. Big Teams
OpponentBig Player(s)
Houston RocketsDwight Howard
Chicago BullsJoakim Noah, Carlos Boozer
San Antonio SpursTim Duncan, Tiago Splitter
Houston RocketsDwight Howard
Indiana PacersRoy Hibbert, David West
Detroit PistonsAndre Drummond, Greg Monroe
ESPN.com

Like Russell Westbrook’s injury, Perkins' absence will be a blessing in disguise, but make no mistake: Perkins is going to be a critical part of any postseason success the Thunder find this season.

Some will view his recent injury as an opportunity to phase him out of the rotation. The real question is, why on Earth would the Thunder want to do that?

 

Note: All statistics are accurate as of March 3, 2014.

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