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The Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Kendrick Perkins from the Boston Celtics at the trade deadline specifically for the Western Conference Finals. After the Los Angeles Lakers dispatched the Thunder in the first round last season Thunder General Manager decided that he needed to make a move to sure up the pivot defensively so that the likes of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol didn’t dominate the Thunder interior in the event that the two teams squared off against each other deep in the playoffs. At the time it seemed as a Lakers-Thunder match-up was destiny, not only for the respective teams but also for the league itself as the youth vs experience narrative would have been at full force.
It’s been three months since the trade was made and the Thunder have made the Western Conference Finals, which is where they had been expecting Perkins to go to work, protecting the rim and negating any size advantage the Lakers had over OKC. The problem is that the Lakers didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, getting swept in the Western Conference Semi-Finals by the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks are a unique team, devoid of post scorers even though they have one of the best post-up players in league history. The difference is: Dirk Nowitzki does his work in the pinch post and the Mavericks rarely through the ball down on the block for post-up chances (The one time they did last night, Brendan Haywood airballed a hookshot.).
Kendrick Perkins is one of the best individual defenders in the NBA but that’s when he’s asked to go one-on-one against players like Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum. Perkins’ strength and large frame pay dividends when his man is trying to back him down but when he’s playing against centers that don’t get post-up chances but are instead, like him, defensive specialists that get points on offensive putbacks and rolls to the basket, Perkins’ effectiveness is greatly limited.
Enter Tyson Chandler, a long, athletic defensive specialist that does all of his scoring at the rim on alley-oop lobs. Perkins is very, very good at stopping big men one-on-one but Chandler is essentially his kryptonite in that: a) Chandler doesn’t make an impact on the game as a post-up player, making Perkins a statue defensively, b) Chandler is extremely mobile and can use those attributes against the slower footed Perkins on basket cuts and rolls, and c) Chandler is more athletic, taller and longer than Perkins giving him the ability to outrebound him on the offensive glass. With Chandler winning those battles and with Perkins being an offensive liability himself, incapable of even making simple shots at the rim sometimes, Perkins is bringing little to the table for the Thunder in this series.
You may be asking yourself why Chandler, who is also limited offensively although not to the extent that Perkins is, is not having similar problems and the answer is simple: Perkins’ health issues prevent him from being a solid help defender and also negates any impact he usually as on the offensive glass while Chandler is an elite help defender and has done some good work on the offensive glass in this series. Perkins has never been a good pick and roll big man or a high jumper because he isn’t a great athlete but now that he is unable to move laterally quick enough to play helpside defense this is kind of the perfect storm of bad luck for the Thunder.
Perkins, once he has fully recovered from his knee issues, will be a great fit for this team as a defensive anchor but with his side-to-side movement limited he is unable to protect the basket on the helpside, he’s ineffective as an individual defender against the little used Chandler and his offensive ineptitude allows the Mavericks to play off of him and help onto the Thunder’s scorers, which makes a middling Thunder offense look even worse. Again, when Perkins is healthy, he will look great in the middle of the paint for the Thunder but in a series like this there is no denying the Oklahoma City’s best defensive match-up for the Mavericks at the post positions in Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka.
Ibaka provides similar length and athleticism and can cause more trouble for Chandler on basket cuts and Collison has played some excellent defense on Dirk Nowitzki in this series simply by using his brain and getting in good defensive position. We’ve seen for two seasons now that Scott Brooks is unwilling to change is starting line-up with Thabo Sefolosha and James Harden but it’s pretty clear at this point that Perkins brings absolutely nothing to the table for the Thunder right now other than a lot of technical fouls. If Brooks wants to give his team a chance to win this series, the right move to make is to take Perkins out of the rotation.