Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins will miss up to six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a left groin strain, Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman reported Tuesday.
Perkins suffered the injury shortly after halftime during the Thunder's nationally televised meeting with the Miami Heat last Thursday:
After clearly being hobbled while setting a screen on Heat forward Shane Battier, Perkins left the game for sophomore Perry Jones III with 10:11 remaining in the third quarter and did not return. He finished with one rebound and one turnover in 7 1/2 minutes of playing time in Oklahoma City's 103-81 loss to the Heat. Perkins sat out Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers, with rookie center Steven Adams taking his place in the starting lineup. The Pittsburgh product chipped in one point, six rebounds and a block in 16 minutes, as the Clippers scored a 125-117 road win over the Thunder.
A six-week recovery timetable would put Perkins in line to return to the Thunder lineup on or around April 8, which would A) give him about a week's worth of games to get back in the flow before the start of postseason play and B) put him on the shelf for approximately the next 20 games. Oklahoma City's next 20 games are evenly split between teams above and below .500, and while 14 will come against Western Conference opposition, the grim part of the calendar (two games each against the Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks, plus meetings with the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies) gets balanced by some comparatively softer prey (two-fers with the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings, plus games against the reeling Denver Nuggets and competitive-but-bottom-feeding Utah Jazz).
It's not the most forgiving slate, but it should be something that the best team in the Western Conference can navigate without suffering too much blood loss. That's especially true because, while Oklahoma City has lost all three games Perkins has missed this season, the Thunder have generally performed better with Perkins off the floor than on it. It's long been a bugaboo with statistically inclined viewers, but the eye test bears it out against more athletic, small-ball-style opposition — Thunder opponents can largely ignore Perkins on offense, and when they spread it out and attack with quickness, he typically doesn't have a defensive matchup worth keeping him on the floor for very long.
In 1,066 minutes with Perkins in the lineup this season, Oklahoma City has scored an average of 102.7 points per 100 possessions. In 1,680 minutes without Perkins, the Thunder average a scorching 110.1 points-per-100. With Perkins riding the pine, the Thunder boast the best offense in the NBA. When he plays, that offense splits the difference between the Brooklyn Nets and Detroit Pistons with a mark that would rank 18th among 30 NBA teams. The Thunder defense actually improves on a per-possession basis with Perkins off the floor, too, albeit not nearly as much as the offense (100.3-per-100 allowed when he plays, 99.4-per-100 when he sits.)
Virtually no matter how you slice it, OKC's statistical profile looks markedly better without Perkins on the floor than with him in the lineup. The Thunder grab a higher share of available rebounds, on both the offensive and defensive glass, in non-Perkins minutes. They shoot 3-pointers more frequently and hit at a higher clip. They turn the ball over on a lower share of offensive possessions and draw fouls at a significantly higher rate.
They score more points off turnovers, off second-chance opportunities and on the fast break, and allow fewer points in those same categories, with Perkins on the bench. OKC manages about three more points per 48 minutes in the paint when Perkins plays, but they also give up about five more per-48 than when he sits. Opponents do take a larger share of their field-goal attempts from the less-valuable midrange area of the floor with Perkins playing than when he sits, but they also take more shots in the paint (49 percent of attempts compared with 45.4 percent of attempts) and convert at the same 55.5 percent clip, despite Perkins allowing one of the league's lowest marks on opponents' field-goal attempts at the rim when he's defending.
He still does have defined value as a low-post defender — the 29-year-old big man has allowed just 0.66 points per post-up play defended this year, according to Synergy Sports Technology's game-charting data, the 23rd-best mark in the league, and has held opponents to just 31 percent shooting from the floor on such plays — which could certainly prove useful in the playoffs should the Thunder find themselves squaring off against an opponent with a major offensive post presence, like LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers, Tim Duncan of the Spurs, Dwight Howard of the Rockets, or the Marc Gasol-Zach Randolph tandem in Memphis. Against teams whose offense doesn't run largely through traditional back-to-the-basket bigs, though — like, for example, the Golden State Warriors, Mavericks or Suns, who currently occupy the No. 6, 7 and 8 spots out West and profile as the Thunder's most likely opening-round opponent — Oklahoma City would likely be better served rolling out different lineups.
The good news: The Thunder have plenty of options there, starting with Adams, the rookie out of New Zealand to whom Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks told Mayberry he plans to turn first:
“Steven’s going to get opportunities,” Brooks said. “And he’s developed at a pace that we’re very happy with. He’s going to get more opportunities now. There’s going to be games where we can go with smaller lineups, games we can go with different guys in that (center) spot. But I think he’s done well in the minutes that he’s had, and it’s going to be another opportunity for growth in his development.”
And if a straight Adams for Perkins starting-lineup swap doesn't bear fruit — the Adams-Kevin Durant-Serge Ibaka-Thabo Sefolosha-Russell Westbrook five-man unit has been outscored by 47 points in 82 minutes of floor time — Brooks could elect to go small more often by sliding Ibaka to the five, Durant to the four and playing an additional wing (whether Jones, point guard Reggie Jackson or two-man Jeremy Lamb) to add some additional offensive firepower and floor-spacing. He could also turn to reliable backup big man Nick Collison, who hasn't seen much burn with the rest of the full starting five, but would offer some of Perkins' screen-setting/post-defending veteran acumen while doing a bit less gumming-up of the works offensively and providing a bit more quickness and versatility on the other end.
While it's never good to see a starting center and a respected veteran presence go down, if you have to suffer that type of injury, it's nice to be very deep with potential options and have two months to figure it out before the money's on the table. Best of luck shuffling up, Coach Brooks. You can bet the rest of the West will be watching what you come up with next.
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