Thunder have options with Kendrick Perkins injured

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the Thunder don't need their starting center to be at their best.

With the news that Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins will miss up to six weeks with a groin injury he suffered on Feb. 20, coach Scott Brooks must figure out how to replace the big man in the rotation.

The irony of the situation is that Perkins' long-term absence may have a silver lining that bodes well for the Thunder's ability to make a deep run in the playoffs. The more confidence rookie center Steven Adams can gain, the better.

The 29-year-old Perkins is a known commodity in the league who brings toughness to both ends of the floor. What he doesn't bring, however, are numbers that jump out in the box score.

His measurable impact is modest -- in 54 games during the 2013-14 season, he's averaged 3.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest. But what Perkins brings to the table beyond the stat sheet is a presence in the middle that keeps opponents from finding any level of comfort in dribble penetration. Coupled with Serge Ibaka's shot-blocking prowess, the two frontcourt mates form a formidable pair on defense.

But there's more to it. There are a lot of moving parts to consider, the first being how the development could help Adams' growth at just the right time.

Could the injury be a good thing for OKC?

There are a whopping eight lineups that score more efficiently without Perkins in the game. That's a telltale sign that the kids could be alright without their enforcer. In addition, they have a similar player knocking on the door.

Given the talent across the NBA, it's often opportunity that stands in the way of a young player showing what he can do at the game's highest level. The Thunder have gotten similar production from Adams in the form of 3.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 14.2 minutes per game.

In an expanded role, Adams could see his production, and more importantly his confidence, spike. In the postseason, having frontcourt depth is a major advantage, and one that they can capitalize on if Adams turns out to be capable of building upon his relative success so far this season.

If he can figure out how to stay out of foul trouble, they'll be in even better shape. The rookie is averaging 6.6 fouls per 36 minutes. At that rate, he won't be able to stay on the floor long enough to take on a starter's role. Over the next several weeks, Oklahoma City will see what they have in the New Zealand native; if it's not enough, they have more options.

Embracing small ball

If trying to replace Perkins with another big body doesn't work, then going with a smaller lineup could. Ibaka has shown he's capable of protecting the rim on his own, leaving Kevin Durant to shift to the power forward spot. Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson could shuffle around at the perimeter positions.

If that happens, then seeing how the team defense adjusts will be worth following. Through Feb. 25, the Thunder are seventh in opponent points per game (98.2) and fourth in points allowed per 100 possessions (102.6). In losing Perkins, they lose some of the edge that's continued to make them a defensive force.

On offense, the potential starting combination of Westbrook, Sefolosha, Jackson, Durant and Ibaka is outscores teams by 43.6 points per 100 possessions in just over 44 minutes this season, per Basketball Reference. That's the second-best combination Oklahoma City has put together this season from an offensive standpoint. Head coach Scott Brooks was already limiting Perkins' minutes, and now he has more reason to do so down the stretch and learn more about players who could make a greater impact in OKC's quest to unseat the Miami Heat as NBA champions.

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