On Tuesday, the Thunder announced that Kendrick Perkins would miss up to six weeks after undergoing surgery on his left groin. Here are three questions for three writers, discussing the potential impact:
1. How concerned should the Thunder be about Kendrick Perkins’ impending absence?
Darnell Mayberry (beat writer) - As long as it doesn’t linger, nobody should be concerned. Let him rest. Make sure he’s good to go for the postseason. The only concern I’d have is the Thunder’s starting lineup playing only one game together from Dec. 27 until mid-April. You can say that unit has a ton of experience, but it doesn’t with Durant and Ibaka playing at the level they’ve reached this season. And it’s never had to readjust to Westbrook missing 27 straight. But even that is only a minor concern.
Anthony Slater (beat writer) - Not very. Let’s say he misses 21 games and returns for the final four, planting him back in the lineup slightly past the six-week timetable. Does the Thunder’s record really get affected much by his absence? Maybe a game or two worse, maybe the same, maybe even a game better, depending on the development of the new rotation. In any scenario, I still think OKC captures the West’s top seed with room to spare. Twenty-one Perkins-less games won’t change that.
Jenni Carlson (columnist) - On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say 8. Perkins is a significant part of what this team does defensively against teams who have talented big men, and that means about 60 or 65 games a season, he is extremely important. So, there will be numerous games coming up where his absence must be overcome. Also, as an aging player, any time Perk has an injury that would sideline him this long, that isn’t good. Just don’t want to have significant issues. Can the Thunder win without Perk? Sure. But injuries like this to such a contributor are never good.
2. Is Steven Adams ready for this extended role?
Mayberry - Sure. Why not? He’s not going to be asked to do a ton. Just play defense as best he can, rebound and run the floor. I think he’s more than capable of that. Steady defense likely will be the most difficult challenge for the rookie. But he says he’s getting more comfortable with coverages and understanding what’s happening in front of him. So I think he’ll get better every time out.
Slater - Remember early in the season, back when Steven Adams dropped 17 and 10 on the Pistons and wowed us with difficult contested finishes on a near nightly basis? The general feeling around that time was: ‘Wow, he’s raw and may not defend like Perkins yet, but he gives this team an offensive punch they’ve lacked at the center position for some time.’ That production has basically disappeared. Adams hasn’t made a shot in seven games and hasn’t scored more than four points in over a month. The team keeps (understandably) drilling defense, defense, defense into his mind and it looks like that may have sapped his offensive aggression. Maybe that’ll come back over the next couple months. Hopefully, for the Thunder’s sake. Because I think he’s ready for an expanded role, now and for the future.
Carlson - I don’t believe he’s going to be as good defensively as Perk is. I just don’t think he’s at that level yet. Offensively, he will provide more than Perk because, well, that isn’t Perk’s cup of tea. It will be a challenge for Adams to maintain his focus and his intensity on the defensive end for long stretches. Like most people, I believe Adams is the center of the future, so this gives the Thunder a chance to see just how close he is to being ready for that role full time.
3. If Perk can’t go in the playoffs for whatever reason, can this team win the title?
Mayberry - Of course. If the good Lord delivered a miracle. Because without reliable low-post defense, the Thunder is far from a title contender. There are too many post threats to contend with in the West. Never mind a potential Finals matchup with Indiana. And it’s not just that. The Thunder doesn’t have nearly enough experience playing small to overcome the loss. We’ve seen this team try to adjust on the fly. It wasn’t pretty.
Slater - Basically it boils down to this: With Perkins out, the Thunder’s extremely versatile rotation loses one of its specialists. Scott Brooks doesn’t have one of the tools in his loaded tool box. He can’t dial up ‘low-post defense’ when it’s needed. And that would make a title run harder. But his absence may be a blessing in disguise. Adams could develop into the impactful starting center most expect him to eventually become. And maybe Brooks develops more trust in the small-ball lineups he’ll be forced to use. Come playoff-time, though, OKC wants Perkins in there. They can win a title without him, but it’s always easier with all hands on deck.
Carlson - Yes, but the degree of difficulty will be higher. Look at the teams that would stand in the Thunder’s way in the West. Almost every one of them have bigs who must be accounted for. That’s where Perk is big. If the Thunder make the Finals and face the Heat, Perk’s absence wouldn’t be as big a deal. But face the Pacers? Man, you’d definitely want Perk against Roy Hibbert and Co. The Thunder can win it all without Perk, but I suspect it would like to make a run with him instead of without.