When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins in February 2011, the main draws were post defense and championship experience. Perk had helped the Boston Celtics win the 2008 NBA title, and earned a reputation as one of the nastiest interior defenders in the league. The Thunder were rawer than steak tartare, and relied on a very young Serge Ibaka and a crafty but undersized Nick Collison to protect the painted area. Perk was heralded as an immediate upgrade, someone who could help unseat the L.A. Lakers with their two inside kings from the Western throne.
That actually happened this season: The Thunder smoked L.A. in five games as the Lakers' bigs were stunted by OKC's big man corps, including starting center Perk.
And now Perk's championship experience should come into play as the Thunder seek to beat a team starring two players (Dwyane Wade, LeBron James) Perk is used to beating. The only problem is that instead of helping the Thunder set the tone in the first two Finals games, Perk has absolutely killed the Thunder, crushing OKC's own offense and being unable to make an impact defensively. He's a bulldog in a ballet, and while that vision might induce coos of amusement, cuteness just doesn't win games against talented teams.
Oklahoma City's offense relies on persistent movement and a rejection of stagnation. On offense, just about the only time Perk moves with purpose is when he's in the middle of setting a screen. He's so nonthreatening that there's no reason to mark him until he's within five feet of the rim. He's not a threat rolling off of a pick, and doesn't get the ball on the move too much at all. He's laughably poor in isolation; according to mySynergySports.com, he turned the ball over on half of his iso possessions this season. He ranked No. 391 on total offensive points per possession out of 400 or so players.
The OKC defense is a little better with him on the court -- about 1.1 points per 100 possessions better, according to 82games.com. But the OKC offense is a stunning 8.4 points per 100 possessions better when Perk sits. This includes replacing Perk with Collison (no great offensive savant, but someone with more skills and a much lower likelihood of committing a turnover) or playing a smallball line-up with Ibaka at center.
That was especially true in the Thunder's two games against the Heat during the regular season. When Perk was on the floor, OKC held an advantage of 1.5 points per 48 minutes, according to NBA.com's stats. When Perk sat, OKC was plus-13.5 per 48. In the first two games of the NBA Finals, it's been even more dramatic, as the Thunder have fallen behind early. In the 44 minutes that Perkins has played, the Heat are +19.6 per 48 minutes -- they've outscored OKC, 98-80. In the 52 minutes that Perk has sat, the Thunder are +23.1 per 48 minutes -- they've outscored Miami, 121-96.
That is obviously an extraordinary difference. When you add up what it looks like happens when Perk is on the court -- the Thunder look stagnant on offense and misappropriated on defense -- and the data, the picture is pretty darned clear: Perk is killing the Thunder, championship experience be damned. If the Thunder continue to perform so poorly when he's on the court, and Scott Brooks continues to put him on the court, we're not going to be seeing Lil' Perk celebrating on the sidelines in a clinching Game 6 or 7.
The Finals are no time to protect a player's feelings or stick with your gut in the face of overwhelming evidence that your gut is a liar. Perkins just wasn't made for these NBA Finals, and it's time for Brooks to acknowledge that and minimize Perk's minutes before it's too late.