Kevin Durant has gone on an impressive scoring run since the Thunder lost Russell Westbrook to complications with his knee injury. While his scoring spree has been enjoyable, the team’s results have not, with Westbrook’s absence shining a light on other problems with the roster.
Reggie Jackson has filled in admirably for Westbrook, but he’s not in the same league as a player, putting an extra scoring burden on Durant. Jackson’s move to the starting lineup also creates a hole on the bench, which has seen Derek Fisher playing entirely too many minutes (at this point that would be any minutes).
The most obvious problem wasn’t caused by Westbrook’s absence however, and everyone already knows about it: Kendrick Perkins simply can’t play. At this point he only vaguely resembles an NBA player, much less one who can start for a contender. His minutes load is relatively low, but dropping them even further is sure to yield some benefits.
OKC has several options for filling the void. One appealing solution would be to go small. Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison can both work as serviceable small-ball centers. Going small will become much more appealing when Westbrook returns, allowing units such as Jackson-Westbrook-Jeremy Lamb-Durant-Ibaka to see some time. In years past the Thunder’s small-ball units have been dominant in small stretches, and with Ibaka’s improvement in the last couple of years they should be seeing a lot more floor time.
Adams has his share of problems – he’s a late-lottery rookie, a distinction that usually means his team can expect little to no production from him. He’s also turning the ball over a ton and has fouled out of the last three games, but his turnover problems pale in comparison to Perkins’, and he is at least capable of drawing some offensive attention.
That’s all the starters will need, especially when Westbrook returns. The Thunder are already deadly, and that’s with the opposing center free to roam the lane without fear of his man making him pay. All OKC needs from their center on offense is to require the other team to put a man on him – or make the defense pay for ignoring him. Perkins does neither.
The greater argument in favor of Perkins, and the one that has likely allowed him to remain on the court, is that his defense is worth the hit the team takes on offense. It’s true that the Thunder have defended better with Perkins on the floor this season – the team’s defensive efficiency with Perkins on the floor is 98.6 compared to 99.8 with Adams – but the margin is too small to justify the massive black hole on offense.
Working Adams in now will allow the team to incorporate him on offense while he learns more of the subtle nuances of NBA-level defense. Letting Perkins continue to drag the team down because of his defense, leadership, or any other excuse would be a huge detriment to the team in both the short and long run.
Adams may not be the answer, but it certainly isn’t Perkins, and Adams has at least earned the chance to show what he’s got in a bigger role. Here’s hoping that this will finally be the year that Brooks gives someone other than Perkins a shot.