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'Big' Decisions For Scott Brooks

The Oklahoma City Thunder have played half of the 13-14 season without their star point guard, Russell Westbrook. However, the recent loss of Kendrick Perkins might teach us more about the Thunder than anything we learned while Westbrook was injured.

The injury to Perkins presents Scott Brooks with an opportunity to give many Thunder fans what they’ve been hoping for by embracing “small ball” for the first time. On the other hand, Brooks might stick to his tendencies and simply replace Perkins with backup big man Steven Adams. Let’s examine the potential effects of both decisions. 

Those who criticize Perkins are quick to point out his excessive flaws on offense. It does not take long to notice that Perkins has no post game, no jump shot, and terrible hands. Not only does he not pose a threat to score, but he actively damages the offense by taking up space and frequently committing turnovers. In fact, he has the highest turnover ratio (number of turnovers per 100 of the possessions that a player uses) in the league amongst players who average more than 10 minutes per game. Perkins has also been criticized for his defense, as quick opposing ball handlers attack his slow feet in the pick & roll.   

It is obvious that playing an excellent spot-up midrange shooter like Ibaka at center rather than Perkins greatly benefits the Thunder offense. 

Lineup

Minutes

ORTG

DRTG

NETRTG

Ibaka at Center

632

114.1

99.4

+14.8

Ibaka & Perkins

994

102.4

100.3

+2.1

The fact that lineups with Ibaka and Perkins have played 362 more minutes than lineups with Ibaka at center reveals Brooks’ preference for “big” lineups. His penchant for such lineups has remained evident with Perkins sidelined, as Brooks has responded by simply increasing the playing time of Adams.

Adams is similar to Perkins on offense in that he doesn’t have a broad skill set. He is a below-average finisher at the rim and he doesn’t have any post game or jump shot at this early stage in his career. 

Player

Points

FTM

FTA

FT%

OREB

AST

TO

Adams

8.2

2.6

4.2

61.5%

4.7

1.5

2.3

Perkins

6.2

1.1

2.0

55.9%

2.4

2.1

2.9

- All stats per 36 minutes 

Adams is, however, able to contribute offensively by grabbing offensive rebounds and converting foul shots at almost twice the rate at which Perkins does. Those extra possessions and extra trips to the foul line can mean the difference between winning and losing in close contests.

The next logical question then is whether or not Adams’s offensive advantage over Perkins is enough to warrant playing Adams alongside Ibaka rather than playing Ibaka at center while Perkins is out.

Lineup

Minutes

ORTG

DRTG

NETRTG

Ibaka at Center

632

114.1

99.4

+14.8

Ibaka & Perkins

994

102.4

100.3

+2.1

Ibaka & Adams

290

109.2

109.4

-0.2

The answer seems to be a definitive “no,” as lineups with Ibaka and Adams have been horrendous on the defensive end, posting a defensive rating of 113.5, which would rate as worst in the league. While Adams may represent an upgrade over Perkins on offense, he is surely a downgrade on the other end of the floor. Adams moves more fluidly than Perkins, but he has yet to grasp the nuances of help defense. It can be very difficult for a defense to get stops when its backline help defender consistently makes rotational mistakes. Therefore, the numbers seem to dictate that Brooks would be best served by avoiding playing Ibaka & Adams together too much during Perkins’ absence. 

“Small ball” generally means playing a perimeter-oriented player at power forward. Many teams around the league have had success employing such configurations. For instance, the Miami Heat have thrived playing Lebron James at the “4” rather than at the “3” because the former lineups have more shooters, which gives LeBron more space to operate. Many Thunder fans have clamored for Brooks to adopt the same strategy with the hope that such a change would provide the same benefit for Durant and the Thunders’ offense. However, Brooks has consistently demonstrated an unwillingness to make the aforementioned adjustment.

One way that Brooks can compromise between the “big” lineups with Ibaka and Adams and the “small” lineups with Durant at power forward would be to give more minutes to veteran big man Nick Collison. While Collison is not as big as 7-footers Perkins and Adams (Collison is listed as 6’ 10”), he is still an effective interior presence. He is a skilled pick & roll player, which enables him to thrive playing alongside good ball handlers like Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Furthermore, Collison contributes on the offensive glass and he is a very capable finisher and jump shooter. On the other side of the ball, he has proven to be a rugged defender who is willing to sacrifice his body and take charges. Let’s see how lineups with Collison and Ibaka have fared relative to those listed above. 

Lineup

Minutes

ORTG

DRTG

NETRTG

Ibaka & Perkins

994

102.4

100.3

+2.1

Ibaka & Adams

290

109.2

109.4

-0.2

Ibaka & Collison

273

110.5

93.9

+16.6

Ibaka and Collison seemed to have developed a nice rapport in the frontcourt as lineups with the two big men have posted an impressive +16.6 rating in 273 minutes thus far this season. If Scott Brooks continues to be indisposed to the idea of “small ball” and playing Kevin Durant at the 4, he would be wise to give more minutes to Nick Collison while Kendrick Perkins is injured. Perhaps doing so will persuade Brooks to change his rotation come playoff time.

**** Thanks to NBA.com/stats and NBAwowy.com for stats

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