What the Kendrick Perkins injury means for the OKC Thunder


Jan 24, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins (5) drives to the hoop against Boston Celtics center Jared Sullinger (7) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Kendrick Perkins will miss the next six weeks for the Thunder after undergoing surgery on an injury sustained to his groin last week vs. the Miami Heat.

There are about eight weeks left in the regular season so Perkins may very well be sidelined until the playoffs.

Perkins has been the target of nearly everyone when discussing issues with the Thunder. He’s overpaid, stats don’t back him up and when it comes to the eye test, let’s just say he doesn’t pass that either. He turns the ball over like crazy despite hardly ever touching it, he can’t catch, shoot or move very well in general.

This has people thinking that maybe no Perkins may mean the Thunder will be a lot better over these next six weeks.

I think this will be true in a lot of instances, but it’s not as simple as that.

Rookie Steven Adams will likely start every game at center that Perkins is out. Adams looks like he has the chance to be a far better player than Perkins, but he is still a rookie with little experience this season.

The usual starting lineup for the Thunder with Perkins at center gets outscored by opponents by 7.5 points per 100 possessions. This is bad of course. The Thunder have had one of the best records in the league for most of the season, yet their starting lineup, which plays more than any other, consistently gets outscored. This has been the case for years and doesn’t seem to make much sense. What’s interesting to note is that when Reggie Jackson was starting instead of Russell Westbrook, the Thunder starters actually outscored their opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possessions.

But Adams is unlikely to be much of an upgrade if at all in this starting lineup. Replace Adams for Perkins with the starters and that lineup is outscored by a whopping 21.7 points per 100 possessions, making it one of the worst Thunder lineups that plays a lot.

Now, the starters with Adams instead of Perkins haven’t played nearly as many minutes this season, just 82 compared to the 287 that the usual starters have. Adams, being a less established player than Perkins, we can expect to improve with the more reps he gets. If the starters continue to hover around a net rating of -20, Scott Brooks really would have no choice but to make some kind of change.

When you break down Perkins and Adams individually, there are things that Adams clearly does better. When Adams is on the floor, the Thunder rebound very well as a team. OKC is plus 3.6 percent in total rebounding percentage and plus 7.6 percent on the offensive end alone. This is important to note since the Thunder actually rebound a lot worse with Perkins on the floor (-2.8 TRB%, -6.5 ORB%). This is likely because of Perkins’ lack of mobility and how stagnant the offense is when he’s out there (it’s much easier to prepare for defensive rebounds against a stagnant offense than one that is moving the ball well).

The Thunder are a little bit better offensively with Adams on the floor than with Perkins (108.0 points per 100 possessions to 106.1). Adams on his own is much more of a threat offensively than Perkins. Adams shoots 49.2 percent at the rim (not great) compared to 45.6 percent for Perkins.

It’s clear that it’s on the defensive end that Perkins is much more capable than Adams. This shouldn’t be a surprise at all. Perkins has great defensive intentions, he’s just limited because of his lack of athleticism, and Adams is a rookie who’s seeing the game go 100 miles per hour this season and fouls a ton (6.6 fouls per 36 minutes).

Defense is only half the game and Adams will help make up for the team’s drop off defensively by providing more offense than Perkins does. With more consistent minutes for Adams, we really should expect to see him improve in all areas while Perkins is out.

The other factor to consider with Perkins out are the other lineups that we should be seeing much more often. These are the small lineups with Kevin Durant at the four, more lineups with Perry Jones, and extended minutes for Nick Collison.

Collison is always on the floor for the Thunder’s most successful lineups. Here are a few that we may see out there for longer while Perkins is out:

Fisher-Lamb-Durant-Collison-Adams – 75 minutes, +19.3 net rating
Jackson-Lamb-Durant-Collison-Ibaka – 55 minutes, +22.1 net rating
Jackson-Lamb-Durant-Collison-Adams – 51 minutes, +29.2 net rating
Jackson-Fisher-Lamb-Durant-Collison – 51 minutes, +37.1 net rating
Fisher-Lamb-Durant-Jones-Collison – 33 minutes, +17.3 net rating

Those numbers are really off the charts and it begs the question, “Why on earth doesn’t Collison play more!?!?!”

And here’s the lineup that the Thunder will likely be closing every game out with now (except for when Fisher is hot):

Westbrook-Jackson-Sefolosha-Durant-Ibaka – 44 minutes, +46.4 net rating

Why do we kind of need to hope Fisher is not hot? Because it means Brooks is closing out games with this microscopic lineup:

Westbrook-Jackson-Fisher-Durant-Ibaka – 47 minutes, -3.4 net rating

Playing that lineup is like admitting that you just don’t have any interest in getting any rebounds.

So, if you’re looking for a silver lining in Perkins being out, it’s not hard to find, you will just have to look past who is replacing him in the starting lineup.

Adams probably isn’t going to be much better than Perkins with the starters, at least not right away. But no Perkins will force Brooks to use these other, very successful lineups much more often the rest of the game. Throw in the added experience for Adams and Jones and Perkins being sidelined may very well be a good thing for OKC in the long run.