On Feb. 24, 2011 — three years and one day ago — the Thunder traded for Kendrick Perkins. He was injured at the time, recovering from a knee surgery, and didn’t make his Thunder debut until three weeks later. But on March 14, 2011, Perk started for OKC.
And the lineup was set. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Perkins. It’s a lineup the Thunder still employs, as recently as last Thursday night. But that’s the game when Perk suffered a strained groin, and now the Thunder has announced its center will be sidelined six weeks.
If Perkins is able to return for the playoffs — I assume he will, but you never know — it will be four straight post-seasons with the same starting lineup. That doesn’t happen often in the modern NBA.
Until recently, the Thunder has been fortunate with injuries. Westbrook’s meniscus tear last spring ended that good luck. Now Westbrook has had more knee problems, plus you’ve got Perk sidelined now.
Some will say the Thunder doesn’t need Perkins. And they might be right. But they have no evidence to back it up. The evidence points to Perkins’ value.
Of the five Thunder starters, only one’s absence has resulted in a losing record. Not Durant. Not Westbrook. Not Serge. Not Thabo.
Perkins. Since Perk’s Thunder debut, OKC is 3-5 without Gran Torino in the lineup.
The Thunder is 1-1 without Durant, 2-1 without Ibaka, 21-8 without Sefolosha and 25-13 without Westbrook.
The Thunder is 0-3 without Perkins this season, losing at home to the Clippers last Sunday and on the road at the Clippers and Golden State. Last season, the Thunder was 2-2 without Perk, losing at home to Milwaukee (a regular-season finale in which Scotty Brooks rested most of his mainstays) and at Houston, while beating Sacramento in OKC and winning at Portland. And in 2011-12, the Thunder won at home over the Warriors without Perkins.
Durant has missed only one game of substance in three years — a victory at Boston several weeks ago. His only other miss was that regular-season finale loss to the Bucks.
Westbrook, I’m sure you know all about. The Thunder struggled, going 3-5 without him in the playoffs last season, including four straight losses to Memphis to end the season. This season, the Thunder is 22-8 without Westbrook, alternating between mediocre and spectacular play.
Ibaka, like Durant, rarely misses a game. He sat out a loss at Utah in early January. Last season, the Thunder won at Phoenix and Portland without Serge.
The Thunder is 4-0 this season without Thabo, beating the Lakers at home and the Grizzlies, Hawks and Bucks on the road. Last season, OKC won at Portland without Sefolosha. The year before, Thabo missed 24 games, and the Thunder was 16-8 in those games.
But the Thunder tends to struggle without Perkins.
Eight games is not a huge test case. But the Thunder rarely has gone through 3-5 in any eight-game sequence.
The truth is, the Thunder needs Kendrick Perkins. Or someone like him. Someone to plug the middle on defense. Someone to body up on big post men. Somebody to defend the pick’n roll. Doesn’t have to be Perkins. But it needs to be someone like him, because he’s very effective at what he does.
Perkins is a polarizing figure because he’s so bumbly on offense. He has bad hands, very little touch and no hops. When Perkins gets an offensive rebound even under the basket, he’s rarely capable of getting the ball into the hoop.
He’s not a good offensive player. In fact, I assume he’s the worst offensive player among all NBA starters. Can’t imagine a worse one.
But that just shows how good he is on defense. The Thunder excels with Perkins in the lineup. And it is below .500 without him.
His six-week absence will give rookie center Steven Adams plenty of opportunity to develop and mature. But Adams is not going to play Perkins-level defense anytime soon. The Thunder misses Gran Torino. It will miss him these six weeks.