The Oklahoma City Thunder knew they would be strained offensively when Russell Westbrook went down with his knee injury. The Thunder are down, 2-1, to the Memphis Grizzlies, and Kevin Durant has done all of the offensive lifting he can. Now, Oklahoma City needs to limit the amount of time Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka share the floor in order to maximize Ibaka's effectiveness.
Without Westbrook, the Thunder have forced Durant to handle to ball on top of his scoring responsibilities. He has done a good job of driving into the lane and findingman, which is often Ibaka, but it has not been an effective strategy. Ibaka is shooting 27 percent from mid-range through the playoffs, which has allowed teams to pack the paint. Leaving Ibaka open to take jumpers is a sound tactic, especially after looking at his shot chart through the playoffs:
Ibaka's confidence is so shaken from the perimeter that he's passing up wide-open jumpers:
Ibaka passes the ball to Durant to reset the offense instead of taking this shot. Durant immediately passes the ball back to his teammate, but by now, the Thunder have lost their "best shot available" window when Ibaka, allowing Zach Randolph to recover in that time and challenge the shot. Ibaka has to take the initial shot in this scenario if the Thunder are going to park Perkins in the low post. Randolph contests and Ibaka misses the second shot:
While Ibaka's jumper has been awful, he's still shooting 67 percent at the rim and has shown he can be effective for the Thunder is in the low post. The Grizzlies are aggressively helping on Durant with their frontcourt, which opens the restricted area for Ibaka. When he cuts to the rim, like he does here, the Thunder benefit from having Ibaka on the floor:
Ibaka is isolated in the post against Jerryd Bayless -- a clear mismatch. The Thunder need Ibaka to convert in these situations to ease the pressure the Grizzlies are applying on Durant and also provide easy offense for a team struggling to score:
But the Thunder playing Ibaka and Perkins together in order to match up with Randolph and Marc Gasol is hurting Oklahoma City more than helping. Perkins' offensive utility is limited to standing around the rim and generating second-chance points. Otherwise, when Perkins is on the floor, the Grizzlies can send Perkins' man at Durant to help over the top, and the likelihood of Perkins making the Grizzlies "pay" is slim.
Here, Marc Gasol will help over the top of Tayshaun Prince and leave Perkins at the elbow. Durant passes it to Perkins who botches a wide-open jumper in the paint:
Perkins is ineffective on offense, and he negatively affects Ibaka's game as well, according to data from nbawowy.com:
|Ibaka's shooting distribution and percentages||% of shots taken at 0-3 ft||0-3 ft fg%||% of shots taken at 10-15 ft||10-15 ft fg%
|Perkins on floor||29.6%||68.8%||20.4%||27.3%
|Perkins off floor||35.3%||77.8%||15.7%||50%
Ibaka has shown a tendency to float around the perimeter and settle for jumpers when Perkins is in the game. Ibaka takes and makes significantly more shots 0-3 feet from the rim when Perkins is off the floor, a remarkable swing. In a seven-game series against the Grizzlies, those little inches of efficiency being lost can decide the series.
Too many possessions are ending with Ibaka on the perimeter. Here, Reggie Jackson gets into the lane off his own dribble penetration. Ibaka is supposed to be defended by Randolph, but he's already in the paint to cut off the drive:
Randolph stops Jackson, who kicks out to Ibaka as the release man. Ibaka takes a wide open jumper, but misses, as he has often recently:
The Thunder are banging their heads against the wall by continuing to use Ibaka like this and not inside in smaller lineups. Not only is Ibaka more effective around the rim than Perkins, he is also a better offensive rebounder. Through the playoffs, Perkins' offensive rebound percentage is 7.5 percent. Ibaka's sits at at 12.7 percent, while Nick Collison has more than doubled Perkins at 17.8 percent. A CliffsNotes bullet point version of Perkins in the Thunder's offense looks like this:
- He can be entirely neglected so the Grizzlies can help on Durant at all times.
- There are statistics that directly link him to pushing Ibaka's shot selection further from the rim while also dropping his field goal percentages across the board.
- His utility as an offensive rebounder is obsolete with both Ibaka and Collison grabbing a higher percentage of said rebounds.
An ideal Thunder possession, with Perkins out of the game, looks like the following play. Durant has the ball around the elbow and Ibaka is in the low post. Keyon Dooling does leave his man to help on Durant, but he isn't doing so aggressively like Gasol and Randolph do with Perkins in the game. Durant turns baseline and takes a tough shot, but he also had the option of passing the ball to Ibaka at the rim, who had Gasol sealed:
Even with Durant taking a tough shot, he was still able to get in an effective area. More importantly, having Ibaka at the rim instead of standing on the perimeter pays off for the Thunder, as he tips in the offensive rebound:
The Thunder's starting lineup that features both Ibaka and Perkins has been outscored by 20.1 points per 100 possessions in the 41 minutes it has played together this series, according to NBA.com. The Thunder's second-highest used lineup features Derek Fisher, Kevin Martin, Jackson, Durant, and Ibaka. That lineup has played 13 minutes overall and has outscored the Grizzlies by 14.3 points per 100 possessions. When the Thunder go even smaller and insert Collison into that lineup instead of Ibaka -- their third-most used lineup -- they have outscored the Grizzlies by a whopping 25.3 points per 100 possessions.
The bigger the Thunder go, the harder their numbers fall. The Thunder must play Perkins less often if they want to avoid a 3-1 deficit. If it doesn't work, so be it, but sticking to their current game plan goes against all the evidence.