Perk haters, rejoice.
Kendrick Perkins is out of the starting lineup, Steven Adams is in, and your wish has come true.
Life without Perk gets a test run starting now.
Not to say that anyone wished ill on Perk. The Thunder big man suffered a groin injury last week against the Heat, and while we knew it was bad after he missed the Clippers game, we found out Tuesday that it was pretty serious. He had a medical procedure on the groin and is expected to be sidelined about six weeks.
That amounts to about 20 games. Not a huge sample size, but definitely the most extended period the Thunder has been without Perk since he arrived in Oklahoma City three years ago.
About five minutes after he got to town, some Thunder fans wanted him gone.
It doesn’t make sense, of course, since Perk’s presence in the paint on the defensive end transformed the Thunder into a serious contender. Can’t go and win a playoff series in the Western Conference, much less make a run at an NBA title, if opponents think they can drive the lane and get to the basket and no one will do anything about it.
Before Perk, the Thunder had the Pillsbury Doughboy defense. Soft in the middle.
With Perk, you drive the lane and go to the basket at your own peril. He brought not only The Scowl but also the understanding. He directs the rest of players on the defensive end. He communicates adjustments and switches.
“He anchors our defense,” Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook said.
Perk has been as important to the Thunder’s defense as Kevin Durant has been to the Thunder’s offense.
New technologies have helped quantify Perk’s importance. The NBA’s SportVu cameras positioned in every arena for the first time this season are spitting out tons of interesting stats. Among other things, they tell us that opponents’ field goal percentage at the rim this season is 40.2 percent against Perk, which is better than Roy Hibbert or Tiago Splitter or Robin Lopez or Joakim Noah or a bunch of other guys who are seen as good defenders.
Even with that, legions of Thunder fans watch him on the offensive end, dribbling off his leg and missing chippies and averaging 3.4 points a game, and cry “Amnesty Perk!” at every opportunity.
They’re misguided about all of that, but that doesn’t change the fact that Adams is the future for the Thunder. Perk is 29, and some day, he will be traded or amnestied or let go. Adams is 20, and some day, he will be the main man in the middle.
And for the next six weeks or so, we’re going to get a sneak peek into how that will look.
Memphis comes to town Friday night with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph ready to throw down in the middle. Houston visits in a few weeks with Dwight Howard in the post, and few weeks after that, the Thunder goes to Chicago where Noah awaits. Those sorts of match-ups are tough for Perk, so you have to think Adams will have his hands full.
“The challenge for him,” Thunder veteran Nick Collison said of Adams, “is just being able to consistently be in the right place.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Tuesday that Adams is still working to better understand schemes and opponents. That’s no knock on Adams; he’s only been in the NBA eight months, so there’s bound to be learning and growing to do.
Now, the learning and growing will happen on the fly.
But Adams is a tough dude. Strong. Tenacious. And he’s about as athletic as a 7-foot, 250-pound guy could be, so maybe that physical and mental combination makes up for any shortcomings that Adams has.
Maybe we’ll find out Adams already has what it takes to be a full-time starter.
But we know that Perk does.
Plenty of Perk haters would dispute that. They say he’s worthless and brutal and worse. They are wrong, but right now, they are giddy that Adams gets an extended opportunity to be part of the starting lineup.
The Thunder is winless in the three games it has played without Perk this season, and of the five current starters, the only one the Thunder has a losing record when playing without him is Perk. Eight games this team has played without him since he made his Thunder debut. Five of those games, it has lost.
For the Thunder’s sake, here’s hoping that winning percentage improves a bit in coming weeks.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni Carlson can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.