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|
|Perkins||Thunder Points Scored Per 100 Possessions|
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|
|Rank||Team||Points Per 100 Possessions|
|2||Los Angeles Clippers||109.0|
|3||Portland Trail Blazers||108.9|
|6||Oklahoma City Thunder||107.6|
|7||San Antonio Spurs||107.3|
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 Type||Perkins' Points Allowed Per Possession||Adams' Points Allowed Per Possession|
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|
|Houston Rockets||Dwight Howard|
|Chicago Bulls||Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer|
|San Antonio Spurs||Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter|
|Houston Rockets||Dwight Howard|
|Indiana Pacers||Roy Hibbert, David West|
|Detroit Pistons||Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe|
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.