Thunder center Kendrick Perkins will miss the next six weeks or so after undergoing a surgical procedure on his left groin.
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks says it won’t just be rookie center Steven Adams who fills in over the next month and a half.
After talking with Brooks and Thunder players, it's clear everyone will have to play a role in filling the void left by Perkins' absence.
“We all have to figure out ways to get better,” he said. “We’re not gonna use it as an excuse. We just have to adjust and a lot of times that has to be on the fly. But we have ample practice time to work on things we have to do to get better.”
Perkins left Thursday’s game with Miami with what was at first diagnosed as a strained left groin. But after consulting with a specialist it was determined some repair work needed to be done.
Perkins has been criticized by fans and some media for his lack of offensive skills. some people wanted him amnestied, some wanted him traded, some just wanted him gone.
There is no questioning Perkins impact on defense, nor his impact in the lockerroom.
“The thing we can’t replace is his experience, he’s an anchor defensively,” said Brooks. “Perk gives us a lot and he definitely will be missed.”
According to NBA.com Advanced Stats, opponents are shooting just 40.2 percent at the rim against Perkins. That's the lowest shooting percentage being allowed by a starting center in the NBA this season. By comparison, Marc Gasol, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year last season, is allowing opponents to hit 50.9 percent of their shots at rim this season. Indiana's Roy Hibbert is close at 41.1 percent. Perk's own teammate, Serge Ibaka, isn't too far off at 44.9.
After being healthy for much of their time in Oklahoma City, the Thunder have battled the injury bug all season. 3-time All-Star Russell Westbrook is just getting back into the lineup after missing 30 games and having three different surgical procedures done on his right knee. Perkins was injured during Westbrook’s first game back.
“It’s gonna be different, Perk is a big asset to our team, especially defensively” Westbrook told reporters after Thunder practice. “Now it’s time for Steven and Hash (Thabeet) to step up and be ready to play.”
Adams started for Perkins against the Clippers on Sunday and will again Wednesday night against Cleveland. Adams also started two other games earlier this season when Perkins missed games because of the death of his grandfather.
“I think he’s gonna do well,” said Thunder forward Nick Collison of his teammate from New Zealand. “I think the minutes will be good for Steven. I think the challenges for him are just to consistently be in the right place and hopefully be able to avoid the tick-tack fouls because we need him on the floor.”
The Thunder have great flexibility within their roster to change things up with coverages and to go small with Collison or Ibaka playing center and Kevin Durant moving to the power forward spot.
“The versatility that we have on our roster has won a lot of games for us,” Brooks said. “Kevin can polay every position on the floor. The only position he doesn’t like is sitting next to me on the bench.”
Right now Brooks seems comfortable moving forward with two healthy centers on the roster, Adams and the seldom used Thabeet. But the Thunder do have two open roster spots and a little bit of wiggle room under the luxury tax line.
“One thing that (Thunder GM) Sam (Presti) has done is put together a great roster and I always have trust that he always does what’s best for the organization,” Brooks said. “I have 13 guys, well 12 now, that can compete and all you need is five. So we have enough on our roster to continue to get better.”
Oklahoma City is 0-3 this season without Perkins anchoring the defense and in those three games he's missed opponents are averaging 117 points against the Thunder, compared to OKC's season average of 98.
But Adams should only get better and given those numbers he and his teammates need to quickly learn to live life in the NBA without Big Perk watching over them.