Category Archives: Oklahoma City Thunder

How Kendrick Perkins’ offense can be salvaged

It’s long been an adventure watching Kendrick Perkins with a basketball in his hands. There have been passes to both empty spaces and opposing players, post ups that went nowhere and mid-range jumpers that barely grazed the rim.

Despite those moments, Scott Brooks still likes to involve his starting center in the offense because of all the other good things he does. After all, it’s damaging to have a player on the court who never shoots the ball, and Perkins is already in the bottom-10 in the NBA in field goals attempted per-36-minutes (Steven Adams also, to be fair). Arguably the easiest and most valuable solution would be to not start him. A second, similar solution would be to play him the least possible minutes he’s content with. Both seem to have little to no chance of happening outside of a Finals matchup with Miami, so another alternative is to make halfway-decent lemonade with $9 million worth of lemons.

Just where Perkins is best with the ball, though, is tough to answer. He’s usually not quick enough to contribute to fast breaks and has trouble finishing around the rim in general, second-worst among big men with 50 or more attempts within the restricted area. The extra half-second he takes to bend his knees before elevating impacts him the most around that part of the floor, allowing quick-recovering defenders to turn open layups into heavily contested ones. That’s a problem nobody else in the Thunder’s otherwise freakishly athletic rotation seems to have.

Another option is post ups, one of the most frequent looks for Perkins even though they’re a shaky choice at best. He’ll often take a second too long to measure up his defender, overthinking the process of scoring. Perk can physically impose his will to a decent spot, one that allows him to use a jump hook that sometimes doesn’t look half-bad but other times appears clunky, but when matched with a player that gives up little ground he’ll attempt a turnaround fadeaway that doesn’t exactly mimic LaMarcus Aldridges. Movement from every other Thunder player often comes to a screeching halt.

Then there’s Perkins’ jump shot, one that gets little to no respect for good reason but I can’t blame him for hoisting one anyway. It’s often an attempt to penalize his defenders for choosing to disrupt off-ball movement, but some jumpers come in the flow of the game like as the beneficiary of a drive-and-kick. Percentage-wise, Perkins’ shot hasn’t been bad over the last two seasons, shooting 39.8 percent. The sample size is small, though, as he’s only averaged less than one mid-range jumper per game, and I’m not sure there’s ever been a ~40 percent shooter from that area who has air balled or barely grazed rim on so many shots as he has:

So what scoring options are left if Perkins has a tough time near the rim, in the post, and from 15 feet?

Believe it or not, he’s shown off a floater. It doesn’t exactly mimic Shawn Marion’s, but the floater from the 280-pound center has been an effective way (he’s 10-for-15, according to video from NBA.com) to capitalize on attention Durant draws from multiple defenders. Surely he’d benefit off Russell Westbrook too if he were healthy.

Below are a few examples in slideshow format.

The floater solves a ton of Perkins’ problems. He takes those shots just outside the restricted area where he struggles mightily, and the extra time he needs to bend his knees and elevate doesn’t pose as much of a problem when he’s catching passes mid-stride. Perk will stop and ready to shoot just outside of a help defender’s reach, though it’s fine if he causes them to contest his shot. Serge Ibaka, the Thunder player whose defender is most likely to rotate, often waits for the offensive rebound.

The floater also keeps Perkins free from thinking. It’s similar to what Seth Partnow at Where Offense Happens wrote about Harrison Barnes a few weeks ago, for example. Keep it simple, and Perk does when he goes with the floater. It means he doesn’t pump fake or back his defender down with a series of dribbles, but takes that silky, silky, silky smooth shot before the defense adjusts towards the paint. Like mentioned before, the quick floater by Perkins also gives Ibaka a greater chance at an offensive rebound since there’s one less opponent in the paint.

There’s also the realization from the opposition that Perkins is scoring on them. Back in the lockout-shortened 2012 season there was the game between the Timberwolves and Clippers where Kevin Love sank a game-winning three, but before that shot was a series of events that included Darko Milicic banking a floater off the dribble. Hubie Brown called it “demoralizing” for the Clippers. I’d like to it’s the same for anybody beat by the Thunder not because of Durant or Ibaka, but Kendrick Perkins.

The sample size is small for that shot, but going 10-for-15 is a nice start. Factored in with the rest of Perkins’ shots from five to nine feet out, he’s one of the best shooters in the league from that area. It won’t turn the world upside down if Oklahoma City gets him more of those looks than post ups (unless you’re netw3rk), but even if the floaters balance out to roughly 50 percent they’re still a two dropping at a similar rate as open mid-range jumpers from Ibaka. It’s also a nice alternative in the playoffs when pace slows down and every scoring option counts.

Going forward, whether that unusual shot from Perkins is enough to deflect attention from his flaws is hard to tell. If Scott Brooks continues to designs scoring options of Perkins, hopefully he helps the center become less of a comedic adventure with the basketball in his hands and more of a finisher.

A look at 50-point games among active NBA players

Keith Allison | Flickr

Keith Allison | Flickr

Last night’s matchup between Golden State and Oklahoma City became the 70th time an active NBA player scored 50 or more points. Cheers to Kevin Durant, who scored 54 points on just 28 shots. I’ll take a look at that night and the 68 others that featured 50-point scorers who have yet to hang it up, or so I think. Basketball-Reference lists players like Tracy McGrady, Jerry Stackhouse, and Richard Hamilton as active, but probably because it’s only a matter of time before they play for Brooklyn and round up an All-2000s squad. (For a simple table of the 50-point scorers, click here.)

Overall, 25 active players make up the list of 70 fifty-point outings across over 15 different seasons. 23 teams have been the victim of 50-point games while seven remain free of the embarrassment, though that could change while Kevin Durant continues his efficient explosion without Russell Westbrook. It only makes sense that teams with the 50-point scorer have won 50 of those 69 games.

Kobe Bryant has 24 of the 70 fifty-point occurrences with 16 coming post-Shaquille O’Neal and pre-Pau Gasol. The Lakers were 17-7 in those offensive explosions, including four consecutive wins in March 2007 (he averaged 40.4 points per game for the month). Bryant and Antawn Jamison are the only active players to score 50 points both against each other and on the same night, which is why there are 69 different games instead of 70. Jamison had back-to-back 50 point games in December of 2000.

Age

Brandon Jennings is the youngest player (20 years, 52 days) to ever score 50 points. I miss comparing him to Allen Iverson, which didn’t last long at all but nevertheless long live ‘Fear the Deer‘. As far as active players go, Andre Miller is the oldest (33 years, 317 days) to score 50. Both outings for the two players happened in the 2009-10 season, and their shot charts greatly differentiate from one another. 

Least and most attempts

The least amount of field goal attempts on a 50-point night belongs to Kevin Martin, who relied on 23 free throws and a good chunk of threes. Bryant’s 62-points-on-31-shots on December 20, 2005 could’ve given Martin a run, but he needed a few more shots to hit the 50-point mark. Instead, Bryant’s needed the most field goal attempts to get to 50 points (42 shots) when he finished with 53 points off 44 attempts in a loss to Houston. Surprisingly, Jerry Stackhouse’s 50-point night didn’t need 50 shots. He took 36, tied for 13th-most.

Other stats with 50 points

20 double-doubles (three from 10+ assists, 17 from 10+ rebounds) have been recorded from players scoring 50 points. Eight of those came from players logging over 48 minutes. As far as tons of minutes are concerned, sixteen 50-point games were recorded while playing over 48.

Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Love each had 50-point games without logging a single assist with Love’s coming while playing 49 minutes. As for Bryant and Anthony, they also had 50-point games where they didn’t record a single turnover. Surprisingly, that’s happened to Kobe not once but twice. Rashard Lewis is the only other player to accomplish such a feat.

Starting games versus coming off the bench

Every one of those seventy 50-point nights were from players who started, but a (currently active) player off the bench has scored 40+ points 14 times. That features nine different players who all needed starter-level minutes (30 or more). Each one of them also made at least one three-pointer.

A BOLD statement

The three-pointer brings me to my closing remarks regarding these high-octane outings. Only four times has a player who scored 50 points not made a three with those games belonging to Jermaine O’Neal, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tim Duncan, and Paul Pierce.

Going forward, I’ll go on a limb and say no 50-point game will happen again without a made three-point shot.

Kevin Durant’s efficient explosion since Christmas

Tonight’s matchup between Oklahoma City and Denver should be another one of those I-CAN’T-WAIT-TO-SEE-THESE-TEAMS-IN-THE-PLAYOFFS kind of games we regularly see out West. Denver’s offense is back to lighting it up, scoring over 110 points in their last three games, with 137 and 129 coming against the Lakers and Celtics, respectively.

The most recent stretch for the Thunder has been bitter-sweet, however. The bitter is from going 4-3 since Christmas, when Westbrook last played. There are losses at Utah and Brooklyn but they took care of a back-to-back between Minnesota and Boston. 

The sweet comes from Kevin Durant‘s explosion while Russell Westbrook works his way back to the court. Obviously winning is more important, but check out Durant’s stat lines before (28 games) and after (seven) Westbrook last played:

durant avgggggggg

Clicking on the image gives you a less blurry view. My apologies.

Durant’s also been both as efficient with his scoring and productive in other areas of the game since Christmas, at least offensively:

durant advanced

Arguably most impressive is Durant taking on a higher usage rate while turning it over only half the frequency as before. Some of that is attributed to taking more shots, but Durant’s also assisting a higher percentage of the time.

As far as being fed the ball, Durant’s field goals have been assisted only 32.1 percent of the time after Christmas compared to 59.0 before. The main feeders have been Jackson and Kendrick Perkins (!!!), according to NBA.com, each recording seven assists to Durant. In the 28 games before, they combined for 31 assists while Westbrook racked up 78.

Here’s the before and after of Durant’s shot chart and shot distribution:

shot chart before

Very few to no corner threes, but still attacking the paint!  (Click to enlarge)

shot dist after

More threes, but also more free throw attempts.

Defensively, the Thunder’s allowed five more points per 100 possessions with Durant on the floor but they’re nonetheless elite in either situation. What’s odd about that, though, is the starting lineup being so stingy on that end with Reggie Jackson compared to Westbrook. With Jackson, the Thunder’s allowed 16 less points per 100 possessions than with Westbrook and 25 points better overall, per NBA.com. That net rating with Jackson starting will be put to the test over the next 12 days as Oklahoma City plays the likes of Houston, Golden State, Portland, and San Antonio during that time (and playoff-contending Denver tonight). The other 12 games before the all-star break feature eight on the road.

By then, Westbrook should be nearing a return to the court. It’d be interesting to see him in the situation Durant’s currently in, and maybe sometime in early April that’ll happen if the league’s leading scorer needs a few games off. For now, though, we’ll have to settle for Durant’s remarkable production. Over his career, he’s averaged 30 points per game against Denver.

Let’s see if that gets a swift uptick tonight.

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