So here's a couple of stats that I kicked around on Twitter after the Thunder beat Detroit last Friday night:
- The last time a Thunder center had a double-double was when Kendrick Perkins had 10 points and 12 rebounds in Game 3 of the 2012 NBA Finals.
- In 469 games of regular season and playoff action, OKC centers have only managed to put up a double-double 10 times. Unbelievably, or perhaps believably, Perk has only done it four times. That's less than Nenad Krstic, who's accomplished the feat five times. (The other came from Nazr Mohammed during a end of season game that the Thunder were tanking.)
- Steven Adams, in his fifth game out of Pitt, had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Game 1: At the Utah Jazz, W 101-98
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Perkins Analysis: For Perk, this was actually a really good game. You can't tell it from any of the stats above, but he was actually really involved in the offense. He seemed to touch the ball on over half the plays that he was on the floor for, and he was setting lots of screens (a few more of which should have been successful). In terms of rebounding, he was having few problems getting space against Gobert, whom Adams was clearly struggling with. Most surprising was his defensive presence. On two separate occasions, he was able to surprise Gordon Hayward with a trap and force a steal.
Still, you can't get a complete picture of Perk's game until I tell you about some of the things that you might not remember. Like when he held his ground against Kanter, allowing Sefolosha to swoop in for a steal. Or how he tipped away an entry pass, giving Sefolosha a fast break. Or even the two dishes he had to Sefolosha and Jackson, both of which were for wide open threes.
Of course, Perk also had his share of usual follies. He missed a point blank dunk because he couldn't jump high enough. He touched the ball after a made basket, sending the Jazz to the line. He had a three in the key. He ran ahead for a fast break, letting his man grab an offensive rebound. Most frustrating of all was his missed hook shot when the Thunder were up by three with less than a minute to go. He hadn't created a single shot until that point, so why start then?
The assets definitely outweighed the expenses, if you catch my drift. He faded a bit late and missed a crucial shot, but he basically created a 12 point swing in the Thunder's direction with his screens and help defense.
Adams Analysis: Steven Adams was extremely effective as a defensive presence in his first game, giving up no points to Rudy Gobert or Enes Kanter. (His two points allowed came when he hedged too high on a screen, letting Burks drive to the hole.) But his defensive presence was just that: presence. Kanter and Gobert simply weren't offensive options while Adams was on the floor, and the Jazz as a whole were seeing offensive success elsewhere.
Adams really made his mark in the second quarter. He was able to box out Kanter three times a row on the offensive glass, only not getting the third board because Derrick Favors swooped in and took it away. Both of his rebounds resulted in scores for the Thunder. But he negated that success later on, because he had a huge amount of trouble keeping Gobert away from the basket. In fact, Gobert was literally able to grab a board over Adams' back, simply because Adams didn't put his hands up in time.
All in all, it was a decent outing for a rookie, and he probably ended up treading water. He did accomplish some things, for sure, but it's hard to say a guy's impact was good when he was a complete offensive and defensive afterthought.
Game Winner: Kendrick Perkins. He was a large part of the game, both offensively and defensively. I won't go so far as to say that he could have prevented a run if he was given Adams' minutes, but I will say that he might have created a few more shots.
Game 2: At the Minnesota Timberwolves, L 81-100
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Perkins Analysis: This isn't a game that many people would like to remember, but when you do go back and look at it, you'll see that Perk was a lone bright spot. He was essential in keeping Pekovic off the offensive glass, and did a great job of limiting his ability to draw defenders and score. Most surprising were his three miracle baskets in the third quarter, the only source of consistent offense at that time. He also had a couple of near assists during that period, with Ibaka missing a wide open mid-range jumper and Sefolosha missing a point-blank layup.
There were a few typical Perk downfalls, though. The most major of those came early in the game, when he committed two quick fouls, one of which was an illegal screen. This sent him out of the game early and forced Steven Adams into the firs. Furthermore, he didn't show a lot of hustle. On one occasion, he let Nikola Pekovic speed way ahead of him and clean up on a fast break. Another time, he ran back to participate on a fast break, leaving Pekovic and Love to battle Ibaka for offensive boards. Still, his most embarrassing moment was when he was totally turned around on a screen taken by Ricky Rubio. Rubio literally scored a layup behind Perk's back that could have otherwise been easily defended.
Overall, Perk was definitely a positive in this game. The fouls and few miscues take it down a notch, but he was absolutely essential to the offense, and did literally everything right in that category. Furthermore, his D on Pekovic was admirable.
Adams Analysis: Funaki really struggled out of the gate in this one, as he had to go head-to-head with one of the best frontcourt combos in the league. He was thrown into the fire in the early first as a result of two quick fouls from Perk, and ended up playing a ton of minutes because the game was out of hand by the mid-third. He definitely had some good moments, as he was able to hold Pekovic defensively early on, and he got a tiny bit offensively involved during garbage time.
But the rest of the game was overwhelmingly negative. Offensively, he was almost non-existant, spending the lion's share of his time either standing on the block or toeing the baseline, almost out of bounds. His only tactic seemed to be waiting for someone to dump it off to him on the block, with the rest of his time spent trying to grab an offensive board. Defensively, he committed a few grave errors. One of them was playing too high on screens, resulting in a couple of easy baskets for the Twolves. Furthermore, he committed an off-ball foul and a non-shooting foul, both of which occurred when the Timberwolves were in the bonus. Both plays resulted in easy points for them. Lastly, his matchup against Kevin Love in the third was a disaster, as he allowed Love to score on three separate occasions in a short time span.
Obviously, Adams was a bit out of his depth in this game, and I'm not trying to crucify him for it. But he did have a poor performance overall, and his stats were padded heavily during garbage time in the fourth quarter. What you've got to look for is the flashes of brilliance he had, like the time he had two offensive rebounds and scored.
Game Winner: Kendrick Perkins. No contest this time. Clearly the superior game, but that doesn't mean much in the context of the huge loss.
Game 3: Versus the Phoenix Suns, W 103-96
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Perkins Analysis: Ho-hum. Those are the best words I can think of when describing Perk's game that night. He never really pulled off anything impressive, yet he was rarely detrimental to the team. Highlights include admirable defense against Eric Bledsoe when Perk was forced to switch onto him, and a couple of nice give and go plays with Durant on the wing. Lowlights include getting the ball stolen on a routine pass from Sefolosha, and getting screened by Eric Bledsoe when Channing Frye shot a three.
This is the type of game where it's easy to point to Perk's statline and label him as a "do-nothing". He didn't get minutes when the team was in crunch time, and he failed to make a big impact on any level. But he was as active in the running of the offense as ever, his defensive assignment never really threatened to score, and he never really lost any boards to his opponent. So it's hard to really fault him for his performance, other than the fact that he didn't score. That's a big area to improve on, to be sure, but it's deifnitely not a bad outing for Perk.
Adams Analysis: 9 Minutes of action is hardly enough to judge a player on, but Adams did a pretty good job considering the circumstances. His two misses came from tips near the basket on offensive rebounds that he earned, so there was no negative impact there. His defense against Plumlee was solid, and he rotated over to play help defense really well. Furthermore, his role in the offense was a bit more prominent, though he still rarely touched the ball.
The most aggravating part of his night was the fact that it was the third game in a row where he was called for an off-ball foul when the other team was in the bonus. He blatantly reached over Morris' back on a rebound, unnecessarily sending him to the line. The next play saw Morris draw a charge on Adams while Adams backed him down. Ugh, I mean really? If that wasn't enough, on another play, Adams accidentally screened Reggie Jackson as Gerald Green rolled to the basket, giving the latter an unhindered layup.
All in all, those three plays I just mentioned were hard to watch, but they accounted for the only bad part of Adams' night. The rest of his impact was largely positive, so it all ends up being a wash.
Game Winner: Kendrick Perkins. This was a really close race, but Perk gets the nod because his errors weren't so egregious and because they were spread out over a larger period of time. Neither player really factored into the final outcome, but I would have rather had Perk on the floor when it's all said and done.
Game 4: Versus the Dallas Mavericks, W 107-93
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Perkins Analysis: This was a relatively solid game for Perkins overall, but it could have been a lot better if he didn't shoot himself in the foot during the mid-third quarter. All of the negative stats the you see above came right before he was taken out, and those don't even tell the whole story. He missed two point-blank layups, one of which was entirely uncontested. He also played lazier defense against Dalembert, giving him an open jumper and once forcing Sefolosha into a mismatch down low.
But earlier in the game, his impact was a lot more positive. As usual, he was involved in the majority of offensive sets on some level, setting a lot of screens and operating the offense from the top of the key. Defensively, he was extremely active in trapping the opposing team. Dalembert and Nowitzki form one of the slowest front court duos in the entire NBA, so Perk took advantage and was a lot more aggressive with his pick and roll defense. The result was a few missed shots and turnover for the Mavs. He also had an effect on the pace of their offense, because there were a couple of plays where his trap forced the Mavs to reset the play and look for another option.
Overall, Perk's game was average, at least for him. His streak of consecutive blown plays in the third actually came in the midst of a huge Thunder run, so he didn't really end up hurting the team. Still, it's hard to say that the positive things he did had that much more of an impact.
Adams Analysis: This might not be the game where Steven Adams started to shine in the eyes of the public, but it was certainly the game where he really started to ramp up the intensity. Offensively, Jeremy Lamb was using him in plays right off the bat, and later on Kevin Durant was quite keen on using Adams' screens.
However, It was still apparent that he didn't have a total grasp on the offensive scheme, and that he still wanted to fade into the background sometimes. There were times where it looked like he was surprised to get the ball at all, and he was much worse at getting things moving when he received the ball at the top of the key.
The key thing that separated his game from Perk's game tonight was his hustle. Hustle is a nice buzz word, but it really rings true here. Adams was able to rush out to a few three point shooters because of his awareness and energy on defense, which is really rare for a center. He was also one of the first players to get up and down the floor, which is really refreshing when you have to watch Perk trodge back and forth. I think the best example of his hustle came on a Vince Carter drive. The drive sent Adams spiraling to the floor, but a no call and offensive rebound saved possession for the Mavs. In a matter of seconds, Adams got back up, saw that Marion was driving the baseline alone, and blocked the shot. That's just straight ballin'.
In terms of negative aspects, Adams didn't have a lot, but Dejuan Blair was able to get the best of him on a couple of plays. In general, he traps really aggressively, so Blair was able to sneak a few unguarded baskets down low. He also had a really bad attempt against Nowitzki, shooting a turnaround jumper that had no shot of going in. Aside from that, Adams game was pretty much flawless.
Game Winner: Steven Adams. No question here. Adams was a huge factor in the Thunder's victory, playing a role in several points offensively and defensively. He had very few rookie mistakes, and was far more active than he had been all year up to that point. Even if Perk didn't have that disastrous stretch in the third, Adams would still be quite a bit ahead of him.
Game 5: At the Detroit Pistons, W 119-110
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Perkins Analysis: Complete and utter disaster. That's all you can really say about Perk's performance that night. He nearly single-handedly tanked the team's lead at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half. He couldn't box out Greg Monroe to save his life, and his slow footspeed up and down the floor was really killing the team. Furthermore, he really regressed offensively, hardly involving himself in any plays. Instead, he'd just sit on the block next to Drummond or Monroe and hope he could somehow grab a board. Furthermore, his one-on-one defense with Monroe left a lot to be desired, because he simply couldn't keep Monroe away from the rim.
To be perfectly honest, it's hard to think of a single positive thing he did. He had one nice defensive play where he stopped Brandon Jennings at the rim. And he had a nice block on Singler, who kind of lucked into an offensive rebound. But aside from those two plays, Perk's impact was either neutral or negative. His rebounds were inconsequential, and the other block he had was followed by a rebound and score from Monroe.
I think Perk's night can be summed up by one play, which was his last of the game. Brandon Jennings had a short pass tipped by Russell Westbrook, which sent the ball flying to Perk in the paint. He picked up the ball and attempted to throw an outlet pass down the court, but the ball just ended up going right back to Jennings. Turnover. Perk then gets back to play defense on Monroe, but Monroe easily establishes position. A quick pass from Jennings gets it down to Monroe, who pump fakes, scores, and draws the foul. Perk was yanked, never to return.
Adams Analysis: It goes without saying that this was one of the best performances put in by a Thunder center. Ever. The fact that that's apparent and not surprising shows how much of a hole we've had at that position for quite some time, but it's also extremely exciting news. Steven Adams absolutely manhandled Greg Monroe in the post. The four points that Monroe managed to muster were well-defended and extremely difficult to make, so you can't really blame Adams for those.
You might notice that Adams' scores in the green category of my stats are kinda low for the amount of minutes that he played. That fact is true, but he was so actively involved in the team's actual offense that it doesn't matter. Not to mention the fact that he was setting tons of screens for his fellow players that ended up in fouls and turnovers, which was no fault of his own. Monroe was also pretty good about keeping him out of the way on drives to the basket, which is natural given his offensive ability.
The one thing that stood out about Adams' performance in this game as opposed to earlier matchups was his athleticism. He was really good about getting up and down the floor, and that allowed him to collect a fast break block here or a transition layup there. Just having another man on the right side of the floor was really beneficial. His athleticism also helped him rotate out to the perimeter and effectively defend three point shooters, something Perk could never do. Adams' confidence was also greatly improved. He very rarely lurked in his usual spot, and played a much more active role in the offense, even if his moving around didn't do anything positive. Defensively, he did a better job of committing to trapping or going into the paint, and very rarely got stuck in no-man's land, defending no one.
Adams didn't do very much wrong tonight, but there are a few things to pick at. He played really physically and racked up quite a few fouls. His rate was lower than usual, but I spotted a few plays where he could have been called for his 6th foul and ejected from the game. His help defense also needs work. Not much to say here, other than that he needs to do a better job of anticipating when guards are coming into the lane, and how to block their shot.
What do you take away from his performance against the Pistons? His ability to shut down the opposing big. A lot of his points were garbage buckets or via offensive boards, so his long-term ability to be an offensive option (at least during this season) is limited. But his defense on Greg Monroe, domination of the offensive boards, and ability to keep his cool during key plays were really key to the Thunder's victory tonight. And those skills, which Steven Adams is assured of having right now, will be key to the Thunder's success in this year's campaign.
Game Winner: Steven Adams, DUH.
Game 6: Versus the Washington Wizards, W 105-106
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Perkins Analysis: Two steps forward, one step back. That's what probably best describes this game for Kendrick Perkins. He had a lot of plays that turned out positively for him, took his usual active role in the offense, and played admirable defense on Marcin Gortat. But the lingering issues were still there. He wasn't quick enough to defend Gortat, who stretched him out for a shot on a couple of separate occasions. Moreover, he couldn't score a basket to save his life, missing three shots near the rim that could have been put in by a center with more finesse.
The one thing to take away from Perk's game that night was his offensive awareness. He always seemed to make the right pass, and had a couple of hockey assists on top of his 3 regular ones. It's no coincidence that he touches the ball way above the three point line. Sometimes he reads the defense really well, and gets KD some free points down low. He also backs down into the post effectively, because he's good at reading who's open from that position.
Of course, he'd be a lot more effective if he was any sort of offensive threat, and his physical limitations always seem to catch up to him. More than once I saw him streaking across the floor trying to play help defense on a three, only to be far too easily juked by the guard. Obviously he's making up for another player's mistake in that instance, but it's something that Adams can do a lot better.
In the end, Perk had a decent game here, but it was nothing to write home about. His impact was definitely on the positive side, but he couldn't do much to help his team get out of the rut.
Adams Analysis: This game was mostly forgettable from Adams standpoint. He didn't do a lot of good, and he didn't do a ton of bad, either. He mostly just got out of the way. He had a few nice looking drives to the rim and had the same opportunities to score that he had in previous game, but the shots just didn't go down. He did get to the line once, but his offense was lacking overall.
Defensively, Adams had a couple of nice blocks, including a run back on transition to save a Trevor Ariza layup. He also did a decent job against Gortat and Seraphin, but neither of them were very involved in the offensive game while Adams was logging minutes. This gave him less opportunities to trap and play transition defense, so he was kind of shoved off to the side.
There's not much else to report, but he did make one rookie mistake in goaltending an Al Harrington floater that had absolutely no chance of going in.
Game Winner: Kendrick Perkins. He just had a few more things going for him, and I'll take his good with his bad over Adams' no-impact game.
Final Averages/Totals (Through 6 Games)
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- He directs traffic well. When Perk gets the ball near the top of the key, he's really adept at setting up plays and directing the offense. He knows the offense well, and very rarely looks lost in this situation.
- He has good court vision for his position. He's no Steve Nash, but every game usually brings a glimmer of greatness, whether it be through finding the open man on the wing or catching Durant cutting to the basket.
- He has a working knowledge of the offense. It's no surprise, but he's a lot better at recognizing what play the Thunder are running and finding a way to be a part of it. His movement has really helped keep alive what's been a super-simple Thunder offense.
- He plays better help defense. Both centers are fond of trapping and hedging, but Perk is more mindful of not leaving the rim unguarded, particularly when a guard is driving the ball.
- He defends smaller players really well considering his size and speed. Seriously, just watch him. Every time he's lured into a matchup with a guard, he claps his hands and goes to work. More often than not, the shooter ends up missing. Why? I don't know.
- His screens are some of the best in the league. He knows exactly where to stop, and he knows exactly how to get every inch that he wants.
- He's a better one-on-one defender near the basket, but only barely.
- His offense is virtually non-existant. He was working on a jumper last season, but that's gone by the wayside. He blows a lot of easy layups, and really struggles to create his own shot.
- He has really bad hands. Sometimes, Perk just fumbles the ball.
- He's slow.
- He has no stamina. I'm really not sure whether he could handle 30 minutes a game night to night, because he usually looks pretty winded by the end of his stints. I've also caught him "watching" a play more than once, when he could be in the scrum fighting for the rebound.
- He commits the same mistakes over and over. Three in the key, moving screen, badly lobbed pass. Ugh.
- He can't jump. This has hindered him from scoring on more than one occasion.
- He's not a good rebounder. Basically, this stems from the above problems, because his awareness and positioning is good. But when you're the least athletic guy on the court with the least stamina, it doesn't lend well to your rebounding totals. Most of the time, he's just concerned with wrapping his opposing matchup up and letting KD or Ibaka grab the ball.
- He's athletic. He can jump really high, dunk the ball impressively, and block some mean shots.
- He's fast, for a center. It's really helpful to have him running up and down the court, because he'll involve himself in 2-3 plays that Perk just wouldn't be able to participate in.
- He has good stamina. I've never really seen him get tired.
- He can box out almost anybody. I've seen him push his way around guys his size, and re-gain position that he lost. This enables him to be a much, much better rebounder than Perk.
- He has scoring moves that actually work consistently. I love his short, close-to-the-body hook. It's refreshing after Cole Aldrich's terrible Kareem impersonation that I saw during the Summer League.
- He has good hands. He's fumbled it a couple of times, but compared to Perkins, his hands are made of glue.
- He's a better trapper. This is mostly because of his quicker speed and long arms, but generally speaking, his traps are just a lot more effective than Perk's.
- He can't create his own shot. Yes, he does have a nice hook, but that's all he's relying upon at the moment. He still needs a lot of development before you can rely on him for anything more than garbage points.
- He's way too physical. Basically, the man is always in danger of a foul. He'll grab, push, and do whatever he can to get where he needs to be.
- He's way too physical....off the ball. He's committed way too many unnecessary fouls off the ball, especially when the team is in the bonus. That's got to stop.
- He's still awkward in the offensive scheme. He's gotten better over the course of the first six games, but he still hangs out on the block a bit too often, and he's not very good at reading where players will be when he gets the ball on the top of the key.
- He needs to learn better defensive positioning. Just things like where to be on the floor, how to move his feet, et cetera.
- He commits a ton of rookie mistakes. They're small things that are hard to notice here or there, but there will be a day soon where he has a Perk-like disaster of a game. Not that I'm hoping for it, but it just happens.
The question surrounding this battle of the centers isn't "If?". Rather, it's "When?" Barring a colossal setback, at some point in his career, Steven Adams will be a better player than Kendrick Perkins. And if current trends are to be believed, he'll be a ton better than Kendrick Perkins.
Still, the question of when we replace Kendrick Perkins is a very pertinent one. He's a very unique presence on the team, acting as a peacemaker and enforcer in the lockerroom. His effect on the team has been obvious since Day One, as the team is a lot more motivated and emotional than they were before he was on the roster. Their technical foul count alone could tell you that. Furthermore, Perk has played a starter's role since 2007, so the sudden demotion could have a negative effect on his game.
There's also the question of whether Steven Adams is ready to take on such a big role. He's had one impressive game so far, but he's also shown himself to be rather inconsistent. The guy is only 19, and forcing him to go against the NBA's top bigs night after night might not do wonders for his confidence. It wouldn't be the first time a promising young center has tanked for such a reason. It's also worth noting that Adams mainly played against the second units of other teams, so his stats might have been easier to come by.
If you've been a Thunder fan for a long time, this situation might remind you of when Serge Ibaka joined the team in 2009. He was extremely raw, and wasn't expected to be much more than a end-of-bench prospect in his first season. So Etan Thomas was brought in to spell Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green early in the season. But Ibaka was quick to impress in the few minutes he got, and Etan Thomas quickly faded into obscurity.
But this situation is inherently different, because Perkins has a history and relationship with this team. Thomas was little more than a ringer. In the end, I don't think that his reign as the starter will be over any time soon. Even if Adams does prove himself to be a lot better over the next few months, I could see Perk remaining as a starter in name only, grabbing token minutes in the first and third quarters.
So, who's the better player right now?
Quite honestly, it depends on the game and your perspective. Perk is more consistently in the green, doing positive things for his team. But he's liable to have really bad games against certain types of teams, and can let his emotions get the best of him. Adams, on the other hand, has higher highs and lower lows. His game is more flexible, so it doesn't depend on the opponent. But he won't be as effective as Perk from night to night, simply because he's still carving out his role on the team and is still learning various aspects of the game.
I will say that, for now, I'm simply more comfortable with Perk as the starter. You avoid the issues that I mentioned above, and he's had years of work with the starting five. The offense will run better and the rim will remain protected. Adams, meanwhile, gets to work with other young players in Jones and Lamb and gets to offset Nick Collison's lack of athleticism. And if Adams is having one of his nights, I have absolutely no problem with him playing with the starters at the end of the night.
The one point I really wanted to make with this column is that Kendrick Perkins is absolutely, positively, a worthy basketball player. He's definitely a shell of what he was in Boston, but he brings a lot of things to the floor that you don't see, and that don't show up on the stat sheet. Seriously, next time you watch the Thunder, keep an eye on him. He's always doing something.
By the beginning of next season, Adams will probably have established himself as the superior player, and it will probably be time for a change. Steven Adams is the future of this team. A offensive presence down low is something this team has always seriously lacked, and he's the Thunder's best shot at that in their entire franchise history. But heck, at this point, it's all just conjecture.
Who do you think should get the starting job? Let us know in the poll and comments!