It was a rough Western Conference Finals for Kendrick Perkins. At some point, the Dallas Mavericks realized that a limited Perkins could not keep up with Tyson Chandler and exploited the matchup for easy looks. Perkins exacerbated the issue with ill-advised postups that resulted in costly Game Five turnovers. It was not, it’s safe to say, his finest hour.
Still, I can’t say I understand the belief that seems to be growing that trading for Perkins somehow held the Oklahoma City Thunder back during the playoffs. For example, this popped up in friend of BBP Jonah Keri‘s defense of the Perkins trade from the Celtics’ perspective. As part of his conclusion, Keri writes, “Kendrick Perkins didn’t work out this year for OKC, and Jeff Green didn’t work out this year for Boston.”
It’s an unknowable alternative, but without the Perkins deal I don’t think the Thunder reaches the Western Conference Finals. Yes, that’s in part testament to Oklahoma City improving with the subtraction of Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, but Perkins’ addition had an immediate positive impact on the Thunder’s defense.
The counter-argument here is how much better Oklahoma City was in the playoffs with Perkins sitting on the bench. His -15.6 net plus-minus was worst of any player who saw at least 250 minutes of postseason action, per BasketballValue.com. As in the case of Russell Westbrook‘s negative net plus-minus, the Thunder’s lineups force us to go deeper. This wasn’t a Perkins issue as much as it was a starting lineup issue; Serge Ibaka (-13.1) and Thabo Sefolosha (-13.5) also had tremendously negative plus-minuses, but received less flak for it. To the extent Ibaka rates better, it’s partially because he played more of his minutes with plus-minus superstar Nick Collison than Perkins (25 percent of his playoff possessions to 21 percent for Perkins).
As I’ve noted repeatedly, Oklahoma City’s best lineups include Collison, Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden. Scott Brooks used a variety of different players alongside those four, and their performance with Perkins was competitive with any of them.
Player ORtg DRtg Net Pos Ibaka 114.6 98.2 +16.4 110 Perkins 121.1 91.4 +29.7 95 Cook 143.8 106.4 +37.4 48 Mohammed 120.6 100.0 +20.6 34
As always, the sample sizes here are not reliable, but there’s no indication that when Perkins got to share the floor with his best teammates he was holding the Thunder back. In fact, he was better with them than Ibaka, who received none of the same criticism for his postseason plus-minus. Oklahoma City’s defense was best with Perkins on the floor despite his obvious physical limitations. With a full offseason to improve his conditioning and rest his left knee (which was bothering him, he told ESPN’s Ric Bucher during the Memphis series, not the right knee in which he tore his ACL less than a year ago), Perkins should be an effective starting center for the Thunder.